Study Guide

Ain't I a Woman? Themes

By Sojourner Truth, a.k.a. Isabella Baumfree

  • Women and Femininity

    Shocker: a speech made during a conference on women's rights is going to have women as a theme.

    Sojourner challenged the long-cherished and idealized view of women as something to be protected and coddled. (White) women were considered child-like creatures that had no intellectual capacity for handling the right to vote. Black women were treated so differently as to not even be considered women, which denied them even more of their identity than slavery already had.

    "Ain't I a Woman" was intended as a kick in the pants to the chauvinists and hypocrites who neglected to include Black women in discussion of abolition and to the white women who neglected to think beyond their own race when trying to gain the vote.

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. Why was Sojourner actually mentioning Black woman as part of the general cry for suffrage considered so outspoken at the time?
    2. How did her acknowledgement of being a female slave make her argument stronger?
    3. Why would "Ain't I a Woman?" become a rallying cry for women's rights?
    4. How do you think the more prim and proper of the audience reacted to her challenging their cherished beliefs in the inferiority of the woman?

    Chew on This

    Truth's most important statement is about equality between women and men.

    Truth's most important statement is about white women's racism towards Black women during the suffrage movement.

  • Slavery

    Sojourner Truth was unapologetic about growing up a slave…and suffering because of it. She didn't argue the moral standpoint—there was no need. Instead, she let her experience speak for itself and if the audience couldn't see it was wrong, well, they were probably deaf.

    The references to slavery in "Ain't I a Woman?" hammer home the point that a) women are fully as capable as men of working and being beaten and b) they should therefore have the same rights as men. It's both evil and illogical (double threat) to force Black women to do the same back-breaking labor as men and then suggest that women are feeble.

    Questions About Slavery

    1. How does Truth use references to slavery to make her suffragist points?
    2. Why is it significant that Truth suggests that abolition and women's rights are equally important?
    3. How does "Ain't I a Woman?" argue against slavery, without directly arguing against slavery?

    Chew on This

    Sojourner Truth never actually says to abolish slavery, but the audience would be pretty dense to miss her pointing out that it was a truly brutal and nasty institution that went against all notions of equal rights.

    "Ain't I a Woman?" was given to a conference on women's suffrage, but Sojourner double-billed abolition and equal rights for Black woman.

  • Injustice

    We'll take Obvious for 500, Alex. Any speech on equal rights is going to address some kind of injustice.

    "Ain't I a Woman?" was focused on the unfairness of coddling white women while condemning Black women to hard labor. The double standards in treatment only served to further hide Black woman from discussion of abolition and equal rights.

    And Truth doesn't stop there. She also mentions that injustice of the inequality between white women and men—white women were deemed too dainty to involve themselves in political acts like voting but white men could vote.

    Basically, injustice was everywhere you turned back in 1851.

    Questions About Injustice

    1. Which of Truth's points focus on racial inequalities and which on gender inequalities? Are there any that overlap?
    2. How did the tone of the speech help make Truth's points about injustice?
    3. There are a bunch of other injustices from the first half of the 19th Century Sojourner could have also addressed. Would mentioning them have weakened her main points?

    Chew on This

    In less than three minutes, "Ain't I a Woman?" managed to remind the audience about both racial and gender injustices.

    The passion Sojourner Truth felt about the injustice done to Black woman came through without condemning white women, making her argument all the more powerful.

  • Religion

    Sojourner didn't make any moral demands on her audience. Despite being devoutly Christian and having a firm faith in God's ability to help change the status quo, she trusted the common sense of the listeners to realize the truth of her words.

    This isn't to say she didn't make several allusions and invocations of God throughout "Ain't I a Woman?" That was only good speech-making sense, given that a large portion of her audience was somehow involved in religious groups. She played to her strengths without preaching at the attendees.

    Questions About Religion

    1. Which Biblical figures does Truth reference? How does she use them to make her message stronger?
    2. Why would some of her Biblical allusions have been seen as radical?
    3. Would a similar speech today be well received if it used the same references to Biblical figures?

    Chew on This

    "Ain't I a Woman?" turned conservative religious arguments on their heads, and upended an entire basis for denying women the vote.

    Truth should have picked a less divisive Biblical character than Eve to make her point about the accomplishments of strong women.