Marie de Gournay and the Engendering of Equality

Teaching Philosophy 22 (1):53-76 (1999)
Abstract
This paper exposits and defends the ideas of Marie de Gournay , a Parisian essayist and literary critic. Reading her as an early feminist, the author argues that Gournay’s work merits far more attention than it has received, especially her arguments which track the social formation of sex, her conscious opposition to male defamation of and mistreatment of women, and her appreciation of how male misogyny reflects the social privilege of the men who advance it. Gournay’s true genius, however, lies in her argumentative method. Her goal is to get women to break the habit of deferring to men’s opinions about women and women’s experience. To do this, however, Gournay must first authorize her own arguments within a misogynist context and thus deploys the argumentative strategy of first appealing to socially sanctioned authorities to argue her points. Having framed Gournay’s work in these terms, the author considers several of Gournay’s interpretations of canonical figures, replies to contemporary critics of Gournay, and concludes by discussing the inclusion of Gournay’s work in an early modern Western philosophy course
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