History of feminism
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Eighteenth century: the Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was characterised by secular intellectual reasoning, and a flowering of philosophical writing. Many Enlightenment philosophers defended the rights of women, including Jeremy Bentham (1781), Marquis de Condorcet (1790), and, perhaps most notably, Mary Wollstonecraft (1792).
The remarkable utilitarian and classical liberal philosopher Jeremy Bentham said that it was the placing of women in a legally inferior position that made him choose the career of a reformist, at the age of eleven. Bentham spoke for a complete equality between sexes including the right to vote and to participate in the government, and opposed the strongly different sexual moral standards to women and men.
In his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1781) Bentham strongly condemned the common practice in many countries to deny women's rights because of their allegedly inferior minds. Bentham gave many examples of able female regents.
Marquis de Condorcet
The mathematician, classical liberal politician, leading French revolutionary, republican and Voltairean anti-clericalist, Marquis de Condorcet was a fierce defender of human rights, including the equality of women and the abolition of slavery, already on the 1780s. He advocated women's suffrage for the new government, writing an article for Journal de la Société de 1789, and by publishing De l'admission des femmes au droit de cité ("For the Admission to the Rights of Citizenship For Women")] in 1790.
Wollstonecraft and A Vindication
Perhaps the most cited feminist writer of the time was Mary Wollstonecraft, often characterised as the first feminist philosopher. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) is one of the first works that can unambiguously be called feminist, although by modern standards her comparison of women to the nobility, the elite of society (coddled, fragile, and in danger of intellectual and moral sloth) may at first seem dated as a feminist argument. Wollstonecraft identified the education and upbringing of women as creating their limited expectations based on a self-image dictated by the male gaze. Despite her perceived inconsistencies (Brody refers to the "Two Wollestonecrafts") reflective of problems that had no easy answers, this book remains a foundation stone of feminist thought.
Wollstonecraft believed that both genders contributed to inequality. She took it for granted that women had considerable power over men, but that both would require education to ensure the necessary changes in social attitudes. Her legacy remains in the continued need for women to speak out and tell their stories. Her own achievements speak to her own determination given her humble origins and scant education. Wollstonecraft attracted the mockery of Samuel Johnson, who described her and her ilk as "Amazons of the pen". Given his relationship with Hester Thrale
it would appear that Johnson's problem was not with intelligent educated women, but that they should encroach onto a male territory of writing. For many commentators, Wollstonecraft represents the first codification of "equality" feminism, or a refusal of the feminine, a child of the Enlightenment.
Other important writers
Other important writers of the time included Catherine Macaulay who argued in 1790 that the apparent weakness of women was caused by their miseducation. In other parts of Europe, Hedvig Charlotta Nordenflycht was writing in Sweden, and what is thought to be the first scientific society for women was founded in Middelburg, in the south of Holland in 1785. This was the Natuurkundig Genootschap der Dames (Women's Society for Natural Knowledge).
which met regularly to 1881, finally dissolving in 1887. Journals for women which focused on science became popular during this period as well. Other authors, however, point out that women have been scientists for 4,000 years.
- Radical Women
- Feme covert
- New Woman
- Women's Music
- Timeline of Womens Rights (other than voting)
Feminism and costume