A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Book of the City of Ladies: Discussion Post

I hope you’ve all been able to find copies of the book and are enjoying it.  I have been having a great time with Christine!  Her book is so medieval in its logic and sort-of-allegory, and so different in content from any other medieval text I’ve ever read.  I enjoy how Christine poses a question about the misogynist point of view and then answers it with examples from history (or legend, as the case may be).  I particularly like how she takes tradition and Christianity and uses them to support her points.  She makes her ideas sound obvious and like plain common sense, and yet they must often have been quite stunning to her readers.

Some questions we might discuss:

Sometimes Christine changes the story she’s telling for her own purposes: Minerva, Ceres, and other figures we know as mythological goddesses become historical women, Biblical characters act a little differently than we might remember, or stories from history are changed.  Some of this probably comes from Christine’s source material; she worked from fewer texts than we have now.  Some of it must come from Christine herself.  What do you think about this, and was it effective for her purposes?

Some people argue over whether Christine de Pizan can really be called a feminist.  What is your opinion?

Once you get to the end, tell me what you think of Christine’s recommendations for society. What changes does she imagine?  What do you think of her critique of her society and women’s place within it?

Introduction to The Book of the City of Ladies

I’ve so been looking forward to this book!  I’ve never done a group discussion blog or anything before, though, so I hope you’ll forgive me for being a newbie.

Christine de Pizan (1363-c.1430) was quite a well-known poet in her day.  She was born in Venice, but her father accepted a position at the French court soon after.  Christine grew up in Paris, privileged with with unusual opportunities for self-education, which she pursued with zeal.  She married at 15 and was widowed at 24, at which point she started writing as a professional pursuit in order to support herself and several dependents.  Over a 30-year career, she wrote exclusively in Middle French and moved from ballads and courtly poems to longer works and discussion with literary intellectuals of the time.  She was deeply involved in the “Querelle du Roman de la Rose,” an argument over the merits of of that work, and her Book of the City of Ladies is her answer to that rather misogynistic poem (which I just read!) and other texts that slandered women as weak, morally corrupt, and generally impossible to live with.

In her book, Christine builds an entire metaphorical city out of noble, heroic, or righteous women.  She creates three allegorical women, Reason, Justice, and Rectitude, who engage in a dialogue with her about why women are slandered and how to show that women do not deserve this reputation.  They help her to build the City of Ladies out of stories: first by dismantling literary lies about women, and then by building their city out of stories about great deeds done by women.  Finally they choose a queen for their city, and Christine appeals to her readers to refute the lies of men.

The Book of the City of Ladies was a big deal in 1405, but in the intervening centuries it fell into obscurity–in the English language, at least.  Simone de Beauvoir knew of it, but a modern English translation did not appear until the early 1980’s.  Scholars have brought Christine de Pizan back into prominence over the last few decades, for which I am thankful.  I hope you’ll join us in reading this early defense of women’s rights.

Feminism is for Everybody

Feminism is for Everybody cover

If you’ve missed the discussion on this title so far, do check out the introduction and discussion posts to see what participants have been saying. Though work has been busy and I’ve not had time to respond to everyone or interact as much as I wanted to, I’ve loved following the points that everyone has been making.

Here I’m going to talk a bit about some of my favorite parts of the book, and I hope that you will do the same in the comments! I’d love to discuss further. Remember of course that these are my own thoughts only and I share them not as anything other than my own, and to get discussion started!

I really enjoyed the read, and while I thought it didn’t quite reach her stated goal of being a primer or introduction for those who don’t know about feminism, I think it definitely works well as a book showing an overview to those already familiar with the basics of and reasons for feminism. I like her definition which is short and to the point, and which acknowledges the fact that feminism isn’t about putting women above men, it is about ending sexist oppression – any form of sexist oppression, and that women can be just as sexist as men sometimes. We all need to acknowledge the ways in which we oppress other women, she says, and work to eliminate that in ourselves.

Personally, I just love intersectionality. Nothing gets me as excited as books that deal with them full on and dissect and discuss multiple issues and oppressions – because that is how life is. Life isn’t compartmentalized so how can we theorize as such? I loved the way hooks discusses how feminism needs to consider the intersectionality of other identities and oppressions. I find it hard to understand how you can stand up against one type of injustice while turning a blind eye to others. Clearly if we all stand together we have a much better chance, and we are all suffering in some way be it via sexism, classism, racism, homophobia, or anything else. If we say we don’t care about any issue but the one that affects us, we lose the chance to make allies who can also be there for us when we need support. If we care only about instances where we are oppressed without caring about instances where others suffer similar oppressions, how can we not  be seen as being hypocritical in some way, seen as showing that ending oppression isn’t our goal, but rather only furthering our own interests?

Another part I loved was the section on global feminism and the way hooks discusses the issues inherent in the way that many American women think of feminism around the world, and try to control the discussion and the issues. I’m so glad that through this project we’re learning more about feminism around the world and from various voices. I would agree with what she says too on the importance of consciousness raising groups… while I’ve never been a part of one, discussions online have definitely helped me to see so much more than I would have myself. In fact, perhaps this site functions like that in a way, allowing us all to learn more about various feminist issues and ideas and discuss them together.

bell hooks is an author who seems to always get me thinking. After now reading two of her works I’m looking forward to reading more by her. Anyone have some favorites by her they might recommend to me?

What about you, what was your favorite part of the book? (Also, please leave links to your review in the comments!)