The descent of man and the evolution of woman

Hypatia 19 (2):35-55 (2004)
Abstract
: This paper addresses the appropriation of theories of evolution by nineteenth-century feminists, focusing on the critical response to Darwin's The Descent of Man by Eliza Burt Gamble (The Evolution of Woman, 1893) and Antoinette Brown Blackwell (The Sexes Throughout Nature, 1875) and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's social evolutionism. For Gilman, evolutionism was a revolutionary resource for feminism, one of its greatest hopes. Gamble and Blackwell revisit Darwin's data with the aim of locating, amidst his ostensive conclusions to the contrary, his implicit "defense" of either the equality (Blackwell) or the superiority (Gamble) of women. This article identifies the reasons for, and limitations of, this enthusiasm. To some extent, the basis of this feminism is provided by its keen perception of disparities between what a text does, and what it says it is doing. But these feminists did not think through the implications for their own rhetoric about race hierarchy. Darwin's trope of the "savage" would return in the work of some of these feminists, occasionally displaced or rejected, but usually reiterated, and sometimes integral to the feminism in question
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