Study Guide

Having Our Say Gender

By Sarah and A. Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth

Gender

That was a time when a colored woman wasn't safe in the least. Men could do anything to a colored woman and they wouldn't get in trouble with the law, not one bit. (2.6.12)

We can imagine that this was a rough time for women period, but black women like Sadie and Bessie had even less recourse than their fair-skinned counterparts. This was a man's world.

But since we were girls, our every move was chaperoned. All little girls and young women were chaperoned in those days. (2.6.8)

This might seem like typical parental paranoia to our modern eyes, but we come to learn that these fears are quite justified. In fact, the only time Henry ever physically punishes the girls is when they violate this rule.

She was really a "working" mother, with a job outside the home, making sure everything ran smoothly at Saint Aug's. (3.8.5)

Never underestimate the power of a positive role model. After all, Nanny was inspired by her own mother's entrepreneurial spirit and fearlessness. That's what we call paying it forward.

Well, here I am an old maid. Oops, I shouldn't say "old maid" 'cause it makes Bessie mad. Bessie says we're "maiden ladies." Well, whatever we are, I have no regrets about it. (3.13.25)

The biggest reason the sisters don't need men is that they have each other. Sure, a husband might be nice at times, but they can get all the companionship they need from each other.

You see, a lot of this Jim Crow mess was about sex, about keeping the races separate, so they wouldn't interbreed. (4.10.4)

This is because interracial relationships have that nasty side effect of teaching people that we're all really the same. Remember: although James Miliam and Martha Logan acted as man-and-wife, the law forbade them from actually getting married.

Here I was, traveling around the countryside, a grown woman with professional responsibilities. Yet Pap was still in charge of my social life. (4.13.22)

Again, we see the blatant contradictions between the sisters' responsibilities and their father's control of them. C'mon dad, be cool! But we've learned by now that Henry's conservative streak affects the way that he treats his daughters vs. his sons.

Don't go thinking because we are maiden ladies that Sadie and I didn't have a lot of beaus. We were popular, good-looking gals, but I think we were too smart, too independent for most men. (4.14.3)

What would the sisters have gained by getting married? Regardless, we'd guess that they'd be hard pressed to find a guy who lives up to their standards—or, to be frank, a guy who could handle either one of these fierce maiden ladies.

There were eleven women out of a class of about 170. There were about six colored men. And then there was me. I was the only colored woman! (5.17.3)

Bessie has to overcome two completely distinct forms of prejudice at Columbia. But we all know that Bessie isn't one to back down from a challenge, and this is no exception to the rule.

Why would I want to give up my freedom and independence to take care of some man? [...] Honey, I wasn't interested! (5.17.15)

At the time, women certainly were expected to be their husband's housekeeper. Would the life of a married woman really have suited either one of our sumptuous sisters? Thank goodness times have changed!

See, I think white people would rather die than vote for a N**** president. I predict there will be a white woman president before there is a N**** president. (7.30.38)

Although we now know that Bessie's prediction was wrong, it's an interesting moment to look at because it shows us how she views the country's power structure. In her eyes, people of color are still lower on the totem pole than women—white women, that is. Women of color are so mistreated that they don't even make it onto her list.