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Feminist Sundays,  General Fiction

Feminist Sundays: Christine de Pizan

Long ago I had this idea of writing a weekly post on Sundays about feminism, sexism, women’s representation or relevant women. These posts would come under the name “Feminist Sundays” and they would have a free format: from long, philosophical posts to simply facts about women and their works. And today I have decided to make this little dream come true. A post a week is not so difficult to schedule and it will help me lots to organise all the information – and my own ideas – that I get every week during my lessons. This will be a place for discussion and tolerance and feminism will be discussed, praised and criticised, but the aim is to talk about everything.  I hope you enjoy these new series and you find them inspiring or enraging, but I hope we get to share our ideas and hopes. You will find all the posts filed under “Women’s Representation” at the top bar menu. Enjoy!

So, let’s start! A quick profile on Christine de Pizan.

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  • Name: Christine de Pizan.
  • Dates and place: Born in Italy in 1365. Later on she moved to France, where she died in 1430.
  • Historical period: Renaissance.
  • Famous for: Her work The Book of the City of Ladies (1404-05) which allowed her to break with traditional feminine roles and support herself after becoming a widow.
  • The Book of the City of Ladies (1404-05): This work makes her the first feminist since it tells the story of a city populated only by women (does it ring a bell?). However, Christine was a woman of her times and social class – she lived in court – and she cannot escape some “duties” such as honouring their parents. But, still, she managed to make herself heard and she acknowledge her voice and her right to produce an artistic work where she fought naturalistic views that stated women were inferior due to their biology and the mere fact of being women. It must be highlighted that the next well-known woman to live by the pen is the English Aphra Behn, three centuries later.
  • An excerpt on The Book of the City of Ladies (1404-05):

One day as I was sitting alone in my study surrounded by books on all kinds of subjects, devoting myself to literary studies, my usual habit, my mind dwelt at length on the weighty opinions of various authors whom I had studied for a long time. I looked up from my book, having decided to leave such subtle questions in peace and to relax by reading some small book. By chance a strange volume came into my hands, not one of my own, but one which had been given to me along with some others. When I held it open and saw its title page that it was by Matheolus, I smiled, for though I had never seen it before, I had often heard that like books it discussed respect for women. I thought I would browse through it to amuse myself. I had not been reading for very long when my good mother called me to refresh myself with some supper, for it was evening. Intending to look at it the next day, I put it down. The next morning, again seated in my study as was my habit, I remembered wanting to examine this book by Matheolus. I started to read it and went on for a little while. Because the subject seemed to me not very pleasant for people who do not enjoy lies, and of no use in developing virtue or manners, given its lack of integrity in diction and theme, and after browsing here and there and reading the end, I put it down in order to turn my attention to more elevated and useful study. But just the sight of this book, even though it was of no authority, made me wonder how it happened that so many different men – and learned men among them – have been and are so inclined to express both in speaking and in their treatises and writings so many wicked insults about women and their behavior. Not only one or two and not even just this Matheolus (for this book had a bad name anyways and was intended as a satire) but, more generally, from the treatises of all philosophers and poets and from all the orators – it would take too long to mention their names – it seems that they all speak from one and the same mouth. Thinking deeply about these matters, I began to examine my character and conduct as a natural woman and, similarly, I considered other women whose company I frequently kept, princesses, great ladies, women of the middle and lower classes, who had graciously told me of their most private and intimate thoughts, hoping that I could judge impartially and in good conscience whether the testimony of so many notable men could be true. To the best of my knowledge, no matter how long I confronted or dissected the problem, I could not see or realize how their claims could be true when compared to the natural behavior and character of women. Yet I still argued vehemently against women, saying that it would be impossible that so many famous men – such solemn scholars, possessed of such deep and great understanding, so clear-sighted in all things, as it seemed – could have spoken falsely on so many occasions that I could hardly find a book on morals where, even before I had read it in its entirety, I did not find several chapters or certain sections attacking women, no matter who the author was. This reason alone, in short, made me conclude that, although my intellect did not perceive my own great faults and, likewise, those of other women because of its simpleness and ignorance, it was however truly fitting that such was the case. And so I relied more on the judgment of others than on what I myself felt and knew. I was so transfixed in this line of thinking for such a long time that it seemed as if I were in a stupor. Like a gushing fountain, a series of authorities, whom I recalled one after another, came to mind, along with their opinions on this topic. And I finally decided that God formed a vile creature when He made woman, and I wondered how such a worthy artisan could have designed to make such an abominable work which, from what they say, is the vessel as well as the refuge and abode of every evil and vice. As I was thinking this, a great unhappiness and sadness welled up in my heart, for I detested myself and the entire feminine sex, as though we were monstrosities in nature and in my lament I spoke these words:

Oh, God, how can this be? For unless I stray from my faith, I must never doubt that your infinite wisdom and most perfect goodness ever created anything which was not good. Did You yourself not create woman in a very special way and since that time did You not give her all those inclinations which it please You for her to have? And how could it be that You could go wrong in anything? Yet look at all these accusations which have been judged, decided, and concluded against women. I do not know how to understand this repugnance. If it is so, fair Lord God, that in fact so many abominations abound in the female sex, for You Yourself say that the testimony of two or three witnesses lends credence, why shall I not doubt that this is true? Alas, God, why did You not let me be born in the world as a man, so that all my inclinations would be to serve You better, and so that I would not stray in anything and would be as perfect as a man is said to be? But since Your kindness has not been extended to me, then forgive my negligence in Your service, most fair Lord God, and may it not displease You, for the servant who receives fewer gifts from his lord is less obliged in his service.

I spoke these words to God in my lament and a great deal more for a very long time in sad reflections, and in my folly considered myself most unfortunate because God had made me inhabit a female body in this world.

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