New Perspective: Cherokee Women

This semester I’ve been taking a really thought-provoking class: Early American Women Writers. It’s made me consider women’s history in a whole new perspective. In thinking about women’s equality, I typically operate off of two baseline perceptions: 1) that, for centuries, women were not viewed as strong or worthwhile and 2) it is because of the strides we have made in the last century that we are able to re-evaluate societal perception of women. In the days of hunting and gathering, men provided for their families, leaving women to tend to children and cook. Consequently, as society “civilized,” it made sense that the men, who already left the home more and were viewed as the protectors of their families, took charge of politics. Female power grew gradually but steadily since the inception of humans, expedited in contemporary times as physical, masculine strength has become less essential for survival.

The structure of the Cherokee Nation did not operate at all like typical Western-societies. Family lines were traced through the mother. The husband often lived in a house belonging to his wife. Additionally, Cherokee women had a voice in the Cherokee political structure. One Cherokee woman addressed other Cherokees on the importance of peace with the United States, saying “I am in hopes that if you Rightly consider that woman is the mother of All — and the woman does not pull Children out of tress or stumps…but out of their Bodies, so that they ought to mind what a woman says.” In the Cherokee culture the unique role of a mothering is an asset political world, whereas in other cultures, it was this same role that confined them to the private sphere.

The clash of the American and Native American cultures eventually resulted in the adoption of a patriarchal society and an exclusion of women from politics. Today, in school, students learn about the female struggle for suffrage, but strangely not about cultures where women actually historically had power. The narrative of female inferiority and weakness seems to be less universal than the American education relays. As a woman, it was empowering to recognize that women’s lack of political power did not naturally occur, but resulted from certain social constructions in certain cultures.