I recently picked up The Essential Feminist Reader (which I’ll be shortening to TEFR) a collection of 64 essays and excerpts on feminist from the last six hundred years. Because they’re all delightfully short (an average of about seven pages each) it seems like an approachable way to dive into what I hope will be a much larger self-directed course of study around feminism. My goal is to read at least one essay a week from TEFR and respond to each one over the course of the coming months. I expect the responses to be varied a summary and commentary (like today), a free-writing process, a poem, whatever feels right at the time. All of these posts will be under the tag TEFR.
Been under the weather, so bad at posting. Sorry! Today, I’m going to combine my responses to the third and fourth pieces in TEFR, The Reply to Sor Philotea by Juana Inés de la Cruz, and A Serious Proposal to the Ladies by Mary Astell. I’m lumping them together because they’re both very much about religion (Christianity, specifically) and women’s place in the world. My quick response to both pieces is as follows: The Bible can be used to support just about anything, from total equality of the sexes to the utter subjugation of women.
My own religious views are agnostic with occasional slants towards atheism. I don’t believe in a bearded man in the sky, and so am (quite literally) a-theistic. At the same time, I want to believe that there is more to reality than that which we can directly see, and that there is some continuity of consciousness after death. I realize my desire to exist after I die probably doesn’t impact reality, which is why I’d describe myself as somewhere between agonistic and atheist.
All of that is to provide background for why I don’t really care what the Bible (or the Torah, or the Koran) says about the place of women. Or rather, I care in the sense of “it’s important to how the world has been shaped for the last 3,500 years, and how it continues to be shaped,” but I don’t care in the sense that I find it personally meaningful to my own world views. The authors in #3 and #4 from TEFR disagree, which is not surprising for women writing in 1691 and 1694, respectively.
Both pieces fall into fundamentalist patterns of sexism as well: de la Cruz describes the “no little harm” done to women by associating closely with men and Astell describes a life of pursuing education as an alternative to marriage, not a part of it. As such, neither of these pieces really resonated with me, although I completely understand why they were included in TEFR: religion has been (and continues to be) a huge driving force in the Western World, so it would be inappropriate to leave it out of any comprehensive look at the development of feminism. Still, I’m selfishly looking forward to pieces that are less religiously focused.
I’ll end with this, a line from A Serious Proposal to the Ladies with which I definitely agree:
For since GOD has given Women as well as Men intelligent Souls, why should they be forbidden to improve them?