Extending the ‘Right of Election’: Men’s Arguments for Women’s Political Representation in Late Enlightenment Britain

  • Arianne Chernock

Abstract

In recent years, historians have presented a more optimistic vision of enlightened gender relations in late eighteenth-century Britain. Where we once spoke of the consolidation of ‘separate spheres’ for men and women, we now identify flux, fluidity and substantial possibilities for creativity. As Barbara Taylor notes in this collection, ‘[B]y the mid eighteenth century, men and women of the British middle ranks were becoming more like each other — in social attitudes and behaviour, in educational and professional aspirations, in conversational codes, even in their reading matter — than at any previous point in history.’1 There is one area of discussion, however, that has not as yet been subject to this same critical revaluation: notions of citizenship. While we happily acknowledge women’s involvement in eighteenth-century political life as canvassers and advisors, we continue to insist that the concept of citizenship itself, associated as it so often was with ‘masculine’ qualities of rationality, virility and independence, resisted feminist interpretation.2 Even Mary Wollstonecraft could only ‘hint’ at the prospect of women one day serving as electors or parliamentarians — surely a benchmark for the most radical enlightened views.3

Keywords

Europe Explosive Assure Hunt Lution 

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Notes

  1. 3.
    Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (London: Everyman, 1995 [1792]), p. 167.Google Scholar
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    Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man (Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett, 1992 [1791]), p. 39.Google Scholar
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© Arianne Chernock 2005

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  • Arianne Chernock

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