Woman: Beyond the Adamic Myth; (Lecture Delivered during the First Luzviminda D. Puno Memorial Lecture, on December 6, 2007, at the University of the East, Manila.)
Byline: Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno
One day in May 1851, a convention on women's rights in Akron, Ohio, USA, was being held.
It was distinctly a women's gathering, but the galleries were also filled with men who heckled and sneered at the women who dared to speak before the crowd. The speakers were on the verge of losing dignity and the atmosphere was tension filled, when slowly, from her seat in the corner, rose a black woman who walked to the front, laid her frayed old bonnet at her feet, and turned her face to the toastmaster to ask permission to speak.
There was, immediately, a hissing sound of disapprobation from the audience and the gallery. "Don't let her speak!" was the audible cry, but the toastmaster signaled the crowd to be silent. The tumult at once subsided, and every eye was fixed on the black woman who stood nearly six feet tall, head erect, with eyes piercing the upper air "like one in a dream." At her first words, there was a profound hush as she spoke in deep tones, which, although not loud, reached every ear in the hall, through the windows and doors to the throngs that gathered outside. She said:
"[W]hat's all this here talking about? That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mudpuddles, or gives me any best place! Ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have ploughed and planted, and reaped and husked and chopped and gathered animals into barns, and can any man do more than that? Ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne 13 children, and seen almost all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?
"That little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. If Eve, the first woman God ever made, was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, do give her the chance to get it right side up again!"
Dr. Ester A. Garcia, President and Chief Academic Officer of the University of the East, Distinguished School Officials and Members of the Academe, Students, Honored Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
My family and I are deeply honored and grateful beyond measure that you commemorate, through this first Luzviminda Delgado Puno Memorial Lecture, the memory and legacy of Luz, beloved wife and mother; faithful public servant of the Supreme Court and the Philippine judiciary; and dedicated alumna of this great institution of learning, the University of the East and its College of Law.
And what better way to honor her memory and a life well lived than a disquisition on the status and rights of women - beyond the myth of Adam! For Luz was indeed the compleat woman - an ardent disciple of women's rights who, in her very own inimitable way, always advocated the equality in the law between men and women and ensured in ways and means, and upon resources that were available to her, that women's rights in the Court were amply promoted and protected! That was why I started this discourse with the anecdote I just recounted. For, in many ways, I see the indomitable spirit, the optimism, and the never-say-die attitude of Luz in this black woman, who against all odds challenged the old structures of thought and behavior of her time.
The woman - and she was called Sojourner Truth - was a Negro slave turned abolitionist and activist in the deep south of the United States. Her plaintive cry encapsulates, then and now, the frustrations, the discontentment and the disillusionment that women have experienced in the hands of society from the earliest dawning of humankind up to the present time. …