Associate Professor Jacqueline Broad smiling wearing a red top.

Agora Speaker Series 2022 - Associate Professor Jacqueline Broad

Was there any such thing as feminism prior to the late eighteenth century?

There is a common view that, prior to the Enlightenment period in late eighteenth-century Europe, there was no such thing as feminism and no recognisably feminist arguments for women’s rights. Some scholars claim that it is in fact anachronistic to regard pro-woman treatises of this period as feminist in the proper sense of the word. The purpose of this talk is to demonstrate that that view is mistaken. I argue that pro-woman authors of the early modern period (from roughly 1600 to 1750) had the appropriate conceptual tools to develop feminist arguments for women’s rights. They argued not only that women had the requisite moral standing to make normative demands on others but also that others were obliged to respect those demands. To substantiate this point, I identify a recurring pattern of argument in early modern women’s writings that appeals to women’s dignity, nobility, and/or excellence as the basis of their moral standing.