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Monday, February 24, 2014

Introduction to Feminism

Feminism as a movement seeks justice and emancipation of women and eradication of all kinds of sexism. Resistance to male domination has been seen throughout history but feminism as a political movement questioning male authority can be traced back to the 19th century Europe. It soon spread through Europe and to United States with women demanding representation in social, political and economic matters—a position that patriarchal history had denied them.

Women in medieval literature were often defined by their domestic roles as 
mothers and wives. They were considered subordinate to men and their literary 
representation was most often derogatory. Medieval fabliaux (an obscene comic tale in verse) represented women as nagging and unfaithful wives. An example of such representation can be found in Wife of Bath’s tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. 

A slight shift from this base representation can be found in courtly love poems 
during the Renaissance where woman becomes a distant object of desire. It must however be remembered that the courtly love poems were the luxury of the elite and most of these were written to please the patrons—the kings and queens.

The modern feminist though builds from the Kantian philosophy. Kant argued 
that the experience of a world is possible only through mental structures. The world we experience is not ‘out there’; it is something we perceive. Thus human experience becomes subjective. This thought immediately changed women’s position in society from natural or metaphysical to circumstantial.

While the undercurrents of dissonance were felt throughout ages, women started 
working as a group only in the second half of the 19th gained grounds important feminist writers spoke and wrote for the cause of women more vociferously, drawing from various theories and philosophies. Simone de Beauvoir for 
instance incorporated the existentialist philosophy in feminist theory. Sartre existentialist philosophy argues that ‘existence precedes essence’ this became the central argument in Beauvoir’s major work The Second Sex, where she states ‘one is not born a woman but becomes one’.

(Class notes prepared on 10th and 11th February by Mansi Joshi)


Vijayganesh A and Pinto, Anil. Christ Univesrity. Bangalore. 10, 11 January 2014. Lecture.

Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. Critical Essay. Print

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