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The Deconstruction of Gender: Seventeenth-Century Feminism and Modern Equality

  • Siep Stuurman

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Seventeenth Century Intellectual Life Female Author Male Supremacy Female Learning 
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Notes

  1. 2.
    See Baldesar Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, transl. and intr. George Bull (London: Penguin, 1976), 210–25; on its reception, see Peter Burke, The Fortunes of the Courtier: The European Reception of Castiglione’s ‘Cortegiano’ (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  2. 45.
    Marguerite Buffet, Nouvelles observations … (Paris: Jean Cusson, 1668), 199–200.Google Scholar
  3. 65.
    See Francisque Bouillier, Histoire de la philosophie cartésienne (Paris: Delagrave, 1868), 436–7.Google Scholar
  4. 66.
    See Gustave Reynier, La femme au XVIIe siècle: ses ennemis et ses défenseurs (Paris: Tallandier, 1929), 165.Google Scholar
  5. 68.
    See Geoffrey V. Sutton, Science for a Polite Society: Gender, Culture, and the Demonstration of Enlightenment (Boulder & Oxford: Westview Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  6. 70.
    See Patricia H. Labalme, ‘Women’s Roles in Early Modern Venice: An Exceptional Case’, Beyond Their Sex: Learned Women of the European Past, ed. Patricia Labalme (New York & London: New York University Press, 1980), 129–52.Google Scholar
  7. 73.
    See Joan De Jean, Ancients against Moderns: Culture Wars and the Making of a Fin de Siècle (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 59–66.Google Scholar
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    See Aileen Douglas, ‘Popular Science and the Representation of Women: Fontenelle and After’, Eighteenth-Century Life, 18 (1994), 1–14; Mary Terrall, ‘Gendered Spaces, Gendered Audiences: Inside and Outside the Paris Academy of Sciences’, Configurations, (1995), ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+); Harth, Cartesian Women, ch. 3.Google Scholar
  9. 75.
    See Alain Viala, Naissance de l’écrivain (Paris: Éd. de Minuit, 1985).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Siep Stuurman 2005

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  • Siep Stuurman

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