A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

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?

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9 responses to “The Book of the City of Ladies: Discussion Post

  1. jeanlp March 20, 2012 at 2:40 am

    Testing comments

  2. jeanlp March 20, 2012 at 3:30 am

    Jarrah at Gender Focus hasn’t been able to get her comments to post, so here is her blog post for you to peruse: http://www.gender-focus.com/2012/03/10/gender-focus-reads-the-city-of-ladies/

    Thanks Jarrah!

    • Jarrah Hodge March 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm

      Thanks Jean – seems like it worked when I hit reply using FB login.

      I was also going to respond to the question about calling Christine a feminist. I don’t think you can because the word feminism came after she did and its tenets have changed so much over the years. You might be able to call her a proto-feminist: even though her support of essentialist ideas and separate spheres wouldn’t be very popular among today’s feminists she does defend against several criticisms women and feminists face even today.

  3. amymckie March 20, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    Great discussion points. I love the way she does the whole devil’s advocate thing. I wonder if the myths and legends have perhaps changed through time too, so she is going by the common knowledge at the time?

    In terms of calling her a feminist, I think it’s hard to retroactively use labels like that, but she certainly gave a great place to start. Clearly in today’s age she wouldn’t be called one and we would argue she was working against feminism, but in her time she certainly did quite a bit in the ways she could. It’s always a progression and would we be where we are now without women like her through history challenging the basic misogynistic views? It’s hard to say isn’t it?

    • amymckie March 21, 2012 at 3:11 pm

      So I’ve just finished the book, and am working on gathering my thoughts in order to write a review. It’s hard to ignore or downplay the race, class, religious and other forms of oppression de Pizan uses, but by pointing that out I don’t mean to say that we shouldn’t still read and get what we can from her work. Certainly interesting, especially given the time in which it was written.

  4. Pingback: The Book of the City of Ladies: Women and Goddesses | onereadleaf

  5. christine March 27, 2012 at 2:58 am

    I haven’t finished reading yet but my impressions so far are 1) that I would consider Christine a feminist – in terms of her interrogation of oppressive & marginalising practices; I agree that there are many feminisms today and these are fluid over time & suspect that Christine opened some windows for critical thinking in HER time; 2) I am interested & engaged by her use of myth etc; I confess to not knowing some of the people/figures, so am not bothered by “historical” discrepancies–I just relax & ride with the stories & arguments. On a second reading I will likely have a reference book handy–but for my first reading I didn’t want to fragment the experience!

  6. MJ March 29, 2012 at 1:51 am

    I’ve read a chunk of this, although I’m not as far along as I’d hoped I’d be by now. I am struck by how often it seems de Pizan really wants to push the envelope even further than she already is, but then she pulls back. Maybe she was afraid that if she fully expressed her views she’d be completely discredited? I don’t know.

    She does seem to fall into the “exceptional woman” trap, but the fact that she’s listing so many “exceptional women” seems to show that there’s really nothing exceptional at all about them. There’s nothing inherently “lesser” about women as compared to men.

    I do like Harrah’s description of de Pizan as a “proto-feminist.” I hope that if she’d have lived in the present time that she’d be a full fledged feminist, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

    I have to agree with Amy that the race/class stuff is pretty jarring. #intersectionalityfail, yet again 😦

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