Enlightenment Thinkers and Gender Sarah Richardson
Outline • What is the Enlightenment? • Historiography • Geography • Women and the Enlightenment • Rousseau and Gender • Men and Feminism
What is the Enlightenment? • Summed up by Immanuel Kant’s slogan: ‘Dare to know!’ • Offered new perspectives on topics such as: political theory, economics, science and medicine, philosophy, education, literature, and history. • Aimed for general progress of humanity. • Referred to as an ‘Age of Reason’ • Modern scholarship suggests instead thinkers began to trust in experience and empirical testing
Historiography • Peter Gay came to the conclusion that ‘there was only one Enlightenment’. Gay focused on the elites of the Enlightenment, which raised questions of how deeply the Enlightenment actually penetrated society.
Historiography • Robert Darnton argued Enlightenment was a ‘social history of ideas’. • Darntonidentified a ‘high’, and ‘low’ Enlightenment. • High: access to learned academies, money and printing facilities • Low: earned their livings as hacks who were lucky if they were published at all. • Darnton questioned ‘the overly highbrow, overly metaphysical view of intellectual life in the eighteenth century’. A schematic model of a communication circuit. From Robert Darnton, The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France (New York, 1995)
Historiography • In his ground-breaking work on the ‘public sphere’, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1956; trans 1989), JürgenHabermasargued a new civic society had emerged in the eighteenth-century • A space where state power could be publicly monitored • Coffee houses allowed unfettered opinion to develop
Coffee houses. In 1739 there were c. 551 coffee houses, 207 inns and 447 taverns in London
Geography • Are rich national and regional variations of Enlightenment • France is considered the centre but are distinct branches in Scotland, the Germanic states, the Italian city states, Austria, Switzerland, Russia, Spain, Portugal, and the North American colonies • Scottish Enlightenment was identified in the 1960s as a unique expression of enlightened ideas • Alasdair MacIntyreenvisaged a hierarchy of enlightenments which relegated France to the most backward of the enlightened countries • Roy Porter cited the French philosophes’ admiration for their English predecessors, as an example of the importance of the English enlightenment. • There is a danger in insular and nationalistic approaches
Women and the Enlightenment • Often Enlightenment viewed as overwhelmingly masculine • Women have been established as active participants in the Enlightenment process • Salons in France and England provided an access point for women who wished to engage in the philosophical discussions of the age • Coffee Houses also provided venue for enlightened discussion • Women also took part in debating societies • Carla Hessedemonstrated that women were involved in publishing their writing
Salon of Madame Geoffrin Voltaire Diderot Rousseau Madame Geoffrin Montesquieu
Nine Living Muses including Elizabeth Montagu, Angelica Kauffman, Catharine Macaulay
Rousseau • Born in Geneva in 1712 • 1728 left Switzerland travelled through France, Italy, England and Switzerland. • 1750 published Discourse on the Arts and Sciences in which he argued that morality had declined with the progress of culture • Discourse on Inequality attacked private property • Social Contract (1762) offered a model of man's political redemption • Emile a treatise on education written in 1762 • Died in 1778 near Paris
Rousseau and Gender • Clear distinction made between men and women • Natural and hierarchical order in the family predicated on sexual difference which denies women any directly public role • Women should be trained for their particular role in a manner different from that of men • General Will an ideal and not necessarily something expressed as the will of the majority • Society needs to be governed by good laws which provide the initial education that will set the people on their way to civic virtue • Most obvious conclusion is that women should participate as citizens if the general will is to manifest itself • Yet in Emile it is made clear that participatory citizenship is to be a specifically male prerogative • In Social Contract Rousseau promotes the patriarchal family as the only natural society.
Emile • Account of women and education occurs primarily in book 5 of Emilealthough also in the novel, Julie ou La Nouvelle Héloise. • Men are strong and active, evincing power and will • Women are weak and passive, lacking resistance • Her duties are to please, attract, counsel and console her mate to make his life pleasant and happy. • She has rights only so that she might perform her duties better. • If a woman possessed true literary or artistic talents she should not aspire to cultivate them at the expense of her domestic duties
Sophie • Her dress is extremely modest in appearance, and yet very coquettish in fact: she does not make a display of her charms, she conceals them; but in concealing them, she knows how to affect your imagination. Everyone who sees her will say, There is a modest and discreet girl; but while you are near her, your eyes and affections wander all over her person, so that you cannot withdraw them; and you would conclude, that every part of her dress, simple as it seems, was only put in its proper order to be taken to pieces by the imagination.
Wollstonecraft’s critique • Wollstonecraft used the ‘association of ideas’ to counter Rousseau’s views:Everything they see or hear serves to fix impressions, call forth emotions and associate ideas, that give a sexual character to the mind… this cruel association of ideas which everything conspires to twist all their habits of thinking, or to speak with more precision, of feeling, receives new force when they begin to act a little for themselves; for then they perceive that it is only through their address to excite emotions in men, that pleasure and power are to be obtained. • She also argues against Rousseau's dictum that The male is only a male now and again, the female is always a female, or at least all her youth; everything reminds her of her sex; the performance of her functions requires a special constitution • For Wollstonecraft: 'women would not always remember they were women, if they were allowed to acquire more understanding'.
Assessment • Rousseau ultimately displays contradictions and ambiguities in his writing on gender roles and on sexual politics. • Views on gender are too complex to reduce to one coherent system. Rousseau himself admits the contradictory nature of his thinking, writing in the Preface to Julie:You want us always to be consistent; I doubt this is humanly possible; but it is possible always to be truthful and frank and that is what I hope to be. • It is possible that the very ambiguities of Rousseau’s writings on women and the possibility for multiple readings gave him widespread appeal to contemporaries.
Men and Feminism John Jebb – religious and political reformer Charlotte Smith – Romantic novelist, poet and political writer Thomas Cadell - publisher Thomas Garnett – lecturer, physician and natural philosopher Catherine Macaulay – historian