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Location: Austin, TX, United States

Scholar, Writer, Mother, Dreamer. Editor of Luminarium, an online library for English Literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Eighteenth Century Feminism: Mary Astell (1666?-1731)

 Truth is strong, and sometime or other will prevail.
Some Reflections upon Marriage

Women need not take up with mean things, since
(if they are not wanting to themselves) they are
capable of the best.
A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, Part I

If GOD had not intended that Women shou'd use their Reason,
He wou'd not have given them any, for He does nothing in vain.
The Christian Religion

I've just finished a Mary Astell site for Luminarium. Hundreds of years before her time, and a century before Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Astell wrote impassioned treatises on women's position in the world, a woman's right to education, male-female relations. She did all this, not because she herself would have called herself a feminist, although she is nowadays considered a proto-feminist, but because she was a brilliant mind in an era when it was socially unacceptable for women to have minds and voices to speak them—she saw an iniquity and she had to speak against it.

Many people have a skewed view of feminists as women who hate men, or treat matters unjustly to another extreme in their arguments. This is a misconception about most feminists, and should especially not be applied to Astell. Her view was that women and men were equal in capabilities, and should be treated as such. She was a forerunner for equality. Perhaps that is what we should change the moniker to — equalists. In Astell's own words:

He who will be just, must be forc'd to acknowledge,
that neither Sex are always in the right.
Some Reflections upon Marriage

Her works ranged from educational to political and theological writings, all written in a marvellously fluid style. Having received an extensive education to complement her inborn intelligence, her works are rhetorical masterpieces. Her education in logic shines through everywhere, and her passion for her subject matters cannot help but sweep the reader along.

I must say I quite fell in love with Astell. It is a crime how little she is studied and how rarely included in "Survey class" curricula. With excellent new editions of Astell's works now in print by Patricia Springborg and with more forthcoming, I do not doubt but that in the future Mary Astell will be raised to the literary status she so amply deserves.

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Blogger SzélsőFa said...

What I don't see clear in claiming women being equal with men when they are not. How would you compare a taste of apple to that of a broccoli?
When and/or where were women thrown down to inferiority do you think? I have my own ideas, I'm just asking....

January 04, 2007 8:47 AM  
Blogger Anniina said...

Well, I wasn't thinking "equal" as in "same" - I meant more as in equal in worth, equal in standing. Just as each individual's gifts and abilities are different from each other. Preference or demerits should not be given by gender, but by each person's individual merit.

As for broccoli, I hate broccoli :P

When and where? My feeling is that patriarchal societies and men as the holders of power dates back to the hunter-gatherers, when physical strength was key to the survival of the species, although matriarchal systems did exist even then. The judeo-christian (and islamic) religions did much in establishing and maintaining the fallacy that man is somehow superior to woman. It's hard to believe that any intelligent human being in this day and age would still hold that, but religion and reason still today are often at odds.

I want to hear your thoughts, SF!

January 04, 2007 9:30 PM  
Blogger Katja said...

Kiitti avusta :) Meidän (=töissä) NYC metrokortit on menneet vanhaksi 2004, onneks ei olla niitä myyty.

Hain muuten alkuviikosta kotiin yhden pienen, pienen pingviinin... Voi olla, että sekin joutuu lähtemään leikkimään kaksosten kanssa mun ja Stitchin mukana :) Kiitos pinkusta !

halein, Kiu

January 05, 2007 12:41 AM  
Blogger SzélsőFa said...

Allright, I understand your explaining the difference between equal and same, but I feel most feminists don not think this way. But I do not happen to know many feminists...
And wow, your thoughts meet mine as I blame it on those religions, too. Too bad these bad ideas * have creeped into the subconscious of almost everyone, including those who claim themselves to be atheists.
(* that women are less valuable)

When the feminine power, principle, entity whatever was cut out of the Trinity that was a slap in the face of all women, thus, eventually to mankind.

PS:I might write sg on this in my place but I have too many things to write at the moment...I owe you the kinesiology thing, this meme on books, and so on...

January 05, 2007 9:57 AM  
Blogger Anniina said...

Oh, don't worry, you can do it all over the next year, I'm not going anywhere :)

January 05, 2007 4:39 PM  
Blogger SzélsőFa said...

Next year? Y'mean 2008??

January 06, 2007 8:13 AM  

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