The Deconstruction of Gender: Seventeenth-Century Feminism and Modern Equality
In the course of the seventeenth century, the notion of the ‘equality of the sexes’ became part of the vocabulary of many educated Europeans, especially in France, and probably elsewhere as well. While mainstream educated opinion continued to take male domination in all walks of life for granted, there was a — perhaps increasing — number of men and women who refused to accept is as a ‘natural’ or ‘divine’ ordering of the world. Many of them believed that the opportunities open to women should be enlarged, in particular in intellectual life. The notion of the ‘equality of the sexes’, though it was sometimes also applied to the body, usually foregrounded the equal cognitive potential of men and women. It is important to note that this feminist voice made itself heard well before the onset of the Enlightenment.1 Early-modern feminism cannot, therefore, be explained as a belated application of Enlightenment philosophy to gender: it should rather be regarded as one of the critical discourses that went into the making of the Enlightenment.
KeywordsSeventeenth Century Intellectual Life Female Author Male Supremacy Female Learning
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