Competing narratives of Christian womanhood in Sarah Grimké's "Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Woman"
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The focus of this study is Sarah M. Grimké's Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Woman as a response to nineteenth-century Christian narratives of True Womanhood. I use Walter R. Fisher's narrative paradigm theory to analyze Grimké's argument for women's equality. Fisher views all human communication as storytelling, and argues that human beings choose to believe narratives on the basis of their internal coherence, reflection of reality, and alignment with values. I argue that Grimké's Letters are a response to the Christian narrative of True Womanhood, a narrative based on biblical texts and an appeal to God's design, and which emphasized male-female difference and prescribed a private, domestic, and subordinate sphere for women, while mitigating women's restricted role by promising women safety, honor, and powerful moral influence on both public and private spheres. Grimké analyzes both woman's inferiority as rationale for her subordination and woman's difference as rationale for her subordination, ultimately rejecting both female inferiority and difference, as well as subordination, and constructing instead a gender inclusive narrative of humanity and order based on capability and supported by the Bible. Further, I argue that Grimké's use of Christianity in her own narrative provides narrative coherence, accurately portrays the reality of women's lives, and aligns Grimké's narrative with values held by other nineteenth-century women; Grimké's use of Christianity, therefore, makes it possible for others to accept her otherwise radical narrative of women's equality.