Friday, March 20, 2015

The First Afrikaner Feminist?

Ready or not, here she is! So the past several days I have been doing various Google searches trying to find just the right woman to highlight for the African continent. During these searches I found several amazing women, some who were actually from a country in Africa, some who were born elsewhere and moved there. Some of these women were dead, most were still alive. However, none of them were quite what I was looking for.

Sometime either yesterday or the day before I stumbled across a journal that had been put online from a few different woman who had been in the concentration camps during the Boer War. These were interesting, but there was not quite what I wanted. (Really, I do not think I could tell you exactly who I was searching for, or what I wanted, but I felt like I had not found the right individual yet.) After finding these journals I decided to do a bit of digging around to see if I could find a woman who lived somewhere around that time period that felt right.

Concentration Camps during war (1899-1902).

Yesterday I came across a name and a short blip about a woman and it struck a nerve.

       "A single Afrikaans woman raised her voice against this ideology. She was Marie du Toit, the             sister of Prof. J.D. du Toit, popularly known as the Afrikaans poet Totius. In her book, Vrou en           feminist, of Iets oor die vrouevraagstuk, published in 1921, she objected against the                            recommendation of a committee headed by her brother that, on biblical grounds, women should          not be allowed to vote, neither in church nor in parliament."

I hadn't read much more than that, but I felt like here was a woman who was power. A woman who had stood up for something she believed in, against something she felt was wrong. The fact that she wrote a book going against something that her brother was backing, something that she objected to, was an idea that I just loved. 

I started digging around online, trying to find more information about this woman. I did not have a ton to go on, so I just searched for her name. Apparently there is/was an actress with the same name. I tried different search tactics to try and find more about her. 

Some back history to why Marie du Toit wrote her book and what was going on around her at that time. Several years prior to the publishing of her book, a monument, The Women's Monument was built in Bloemfontein. This monument was in recognition of the state and bravery of the Afrikaaner women. While this monument sounds like a great idea, no women were able to participate in the inauguration of monument, no women were interred there, and the suffering of the women was used to garner worldwide sympathy for the cause of the Boers. Actually, a man who allowed women to have a bake sale so that he could have funds to write a history of the woman, wrote the history to show that these women's souls "were too pure for politics, and that they had no intentions of becoming suffragettes like the women in Europe who worshipped the ideals of the French Revolution." 

Basically, at this time, in this country, women were applauded for show submission and being subservient to their husbands. Since their souls were too "pure and fragile" for much else, they were expected to stay at home and take care of the family. (Now, I am not saying that no woman should ever stay home and take care of their family, I think that this is something that is actually a noble calling, and not something to be looked down upon.) Women were not allowed any power, political, religious, etc. and were seen as not strong enough, smart enough, etc. to hold any power or position. 

Marie du Toit wrote her book in response and reaction to the decision made by the Reformed Church of South Africa in 1920, of which her brother had a part of, that stated women would not be permitted to vote about matters of the church. Apparently, this committed had found verses in the bible that they believed supported their decision to deny women the ability to vote in both state and church matters. Marie du Toit, however, debated that it was not Jesus nor nature that kept women held to private life, but rather men who did this. She, in fact, argued that it was a time when  those suffering from poverty and oppression needed the insight and intelligence of women to help. In addition to this she believed that women should be allowed equal access to education and pay. She stated that the restrictions placed on women and the subservience expected of them was unnatural, and her interpretation of the Bible was that Jesus sought for women to be human beings, free akin to men. It was not the right of men to choose whether or not women could vote and be involved in public and political life. She asked Afrikaaner women to stand up and stand together to get their rights and to not feel unworthy. She wanted women to moved out of the private life in their home, and to move into a world where they could hold political power and make a difference in the world.

As far as Marie du Toit's life, little can be found on the internet. She was born in 1880 and remained an unmarried school teacher until her death at 51 in 1931. She did have tuberculosis, and I am assuming that this is what she died of. At the time of the publishing of her book she was little known, with apparently no supporters. She was a lone voice in a time and a country where her views were much before their time. Even today in a world of feminism and a struggle for equality between men and women, she is a unheard of individual.

*Once again this is a post from my other blog. To see this one as well as a couple backstory posts for it please visit, it at Inspiring Women to Empower Others.

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