noc18-hs31 Lecture 29-Feminism and Literature I:Mary Wollstonecraft


Hello and welcome back to a new lecture in
this series on literary theory ah, in our last lecture we have completed discussing
psychoanalysis and today we are going to move on to the topic of feminism and how feminism
relates to the field of literary studies? Now ah feminism appears to be a much maligned
term and someone like Margaret Walters. For instance in her book feminism; A Very
Short Introduction, devotes the whole of the first chapter, to trace the long history of
opposition to the term feminism and what is interesting? Is that, this opposition does not merely come
from people, who are opposed to the idea of equality of women, but also from people like
Virginia Woolf ah, whose works are regarded as central to contemporary feminist theory,
we will talk more about Virginia Woolf says opposition to the term feminism later on when,
we discuss her in more details. But what I want to focus on right now? Is that, there is a problem involved in dealing
with a theoretical term that is. So, regularly vilified and the problem is
that in such cases, we end up with a purely negative ah theoretical category of sort of
a blank, ah a perversion, a lack, which becomes difficult to study in itself. So, one of the first things that, we need
to do here, I think is to try and fix ah some sort of a positive understanding, positive
definition of feminism. As a theoretical category, which can act as
the basis for our exploration, I think a good definition of feminism is provided by Chris
Weedon, at the very beginning of her book titled, Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist
Theory. Where we do not rights and I quote, Feminism
is a politics. it is a politics directed at changing existing
power relations between women and men in society. These power relations structure all areas
of life, the family, education and welfare, the worlds of work and politics, culture and
leisure. They determine who does what and for whom
what we are and what we become. Now, this definition is particularly good,
because by explaining feminism in terms of resistance to patriarchy, it reveals feminism
in it is full scope. So, just as patriarchy is ubiquitous and ah
just as it structures all areas of life, feminist resistance to it is also equally ubiquitous. But for a lecture series like ours, this very
ubiquity of feminism poses a problem. If feminism pervades every aspect of our life
or can potentially pervade, every aspect of our life ah that is structured by patriarchy. Then how do we even start studying it? How do we find the beginning of feminism? How do we trace it is history? What social cultural and political or economic
context do we locate feminism? Within since these questions cannot be satisfactorily
answered with the help of Whedon’s definition ah I propose moving on to a narrower definition
of the term, which we can find in Oxford English dictionary. In Oxford English dictionary after defining
feminism as a movement associated with the advocacy of equality of the sexes and the
establishment of political social and economic rights of the female sex, the note then goes
on to add section, a kind of a footnote which is, which is very important for our purpose
and this footnote or this annotation reads as follows. The issue of rights for women first became
prominent during the French and American revolutions in the late 18th century, with regard especially
to property rights, the marriage relationship and the right to vote. In Britain it was not until the emergence
of the suffrage movement in the late 19th century that there was a significant political
change. A quote unquote second wave of feminism arose
in the 1960s, concerned especially with economic and social discrimination, with an emphasis
on unity and sisterhood. A more diverse quote unquote third wave is
sometimes considered to have arisen in the 1980s and 1990s, as a reaction against the
perceived lack of focus on class and race issues in earlier movements. Now, this particular definition and the note
accompanying it, do it lacks the kind of comprehensiveness offered by Whedon’s definition makes up for
it. In terms of practical usefulness by providing
us with some definite spatial and temporal coordinates from ah within, which to study
feminism so, according to this definition feminism, as it is popularly understood, is
a cluster of movements for women’s rights that can be traced back to the late 18th century. These movements played out in the context
of the post enlightenment west and largely remained confined to western Europe and America
at least till the 1980s and 1990s ah since then according to this definition and the
note attached to it. Feminist movements have become more inclusive
of race and class and have consequently spilled beyond the bourgeois white woman centric discourse. Now, there are of course, some very obvious
problems with ah this particular definition for instance, it may be quite justifiably
argued that this definition is too west centric in it is orientation and does not take into
account the long history of movement for women’s rights that took place within other socio
cultural contexts ah. For example, this definition does not allow
us to take into account the anti patriarchal activism of individuals like Savitribai Phule
for instance or Bingham Rukia or Tarabai Shinde or Pandita Ramabai. But then this is a gap that haunts not just
this definition in particular, but indeed how feminism is popularly understood? And popularly discussed the mainstream discourse
of feminism considers the post enlightenment west to be the major wellspring of feminism
and in this lecture series, we will use this mainstream understanding of feminism, but
at the same time even while working within ah this particular west centric definition
of feminism, we should be definitely conscious about it is limitations, which is why I pointed
this out to you. And. In fact, if you find interest in feminism,
I would definitely encourage you to go beyond the confines of post enlightenment western
feminism and to do a more exhaustive research on the different ways in which, women’s rights
has been advocated in different cultures and in different historical periods. So, with these introductory comments about
defining feminism, let us ah now move on to the study of some of it is major aspects. Now one of the ways of studying feminism has
been ah by looking at the different waves of feminist movement, but since we have been
approaching theoretical categories, in this lecture series by focusing on individuals
and their works, we will continue with that convention even here ah. So, when we will talk about the waves, we
will talk about them in our discussion of some figure or the other ah. So, in this lecture series, I will try and
introduce feminism to you of course, in the more spatially and temporally limited sense
of the term through the works of 3 different intellectuals ah, we will deal with the works
of Mary Wollstonecraft then Virginia Woolf and then we will move on to Simone de Beauvoir. So, let us start with ah Mary Wollstonecraft
today, we will be dealing with Wollstonecraft ah in this lecture and then in our next lecture,
we will move on to Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir. Now, Wollstonecraft her dates are 1759 to
1797 and she was born in a middle class English family. Which had fallen on bad deeds in many ways
ah her upbringing was representative of the upbringing of any girl within lower middle
class families of 18th century England. So, since her family had fallen to poverty
only one among the 7 Wollstonecraft siblings, where ah chosen ah to receive formal education
and given the patriarchal norms of the day. It is unsurprising to note that neither Mary
nor any of her sisters qualified for formal education rather, it was her brother Edward,
who was chosen for that privilege and who was deemed to be the most suitable for formal
education simply, because he was a boy. Now, here ah let me briefly stop ah and clarify
the term patriarchy used it again just now ah I am sure, it is a very well understood
term in general, but nevertheless ah it is always good to have a definition at hand and
this is a definition, which I have borrowed from the same book of Chris Weedon from which
I had quoted a few moments ago. So, as per Weedon in, the term patriarchy
or patriarchal refers to power relations, in which women’s interests are subordinated
to the interests of men. These power relations take many forms from,
the sexual division of labor and the social organization of procreation to the internalized
norms of femininity by which, we live. In patriarchal discourse, the nature and social
rule of women are defined in relation to a norm, which is male. Now, I will not try to elaborate on this definition
because ah, it is assertions are lucid enough and are known enough to be understood clearly. So, let us move on with Wollstonecraft life
ah though, Wollstonecraft did not receive any formal education, she was taught to read
and write and she used that to become an autodidact or a self talk person from quite early on
in her life. In contemporary England the occupations that
were available to a gentlewoman like Wollstonecraft were severely limited and they constituted
primarily of a either being a governess or a companion to a lady or being a teacher to
young children. Mary Wollstonecraft tried out most of these
professions during her lifetime, but he really came on her own, when her publisher friend
and patron Joseph Johnson offered her the role of a contributor in his analytical review. One of the chief disappointments of Wollstonecraft’s
life was her relationship with American merchant named Gilbert Emily ah with whom, she was
passionately in love and with whom ah she had a child named Fanny, outside the wedlock
ah. After her separation with Emily Wollstonecraft
married the English journalist and radical philosopher, William Goldwin and on august
1797, she gave birth to a daughter who would be known in history as Mary Shelley, the author
of the famous novel Frankenstein. Mary Wollstonecraft would; however, die shortly
after giving birth to her daughter and this would bring to an end one of the most exemplary
lives led by a woman in the 18th century. During her comparatively brief lifespan, Mary
Wollstonecraft was able to produce a significant amount of a writings, which included some
fiction, but also more importantly socio political treaties, which would question some of the
fundamental aspects of her contemporary society. The best known among these, treatise is a
piece titled a Vindication of the Rights of ah Woman. Which was published in 1792 and this ah piece
is widely regarded as one of the earliest tracts of modern feminism ah with it is main
thrust ah being on the idea that, women should be put forward as rational subjects, women
should be understood as rational subjects Now, ah we will have to come back to this
idea of women as rational subjects later on, but ah before I ah do that I would like to
briefly dwell on the qualifier earliest that, I have used to describe ah Wollstonecraft’s
a vindication of the rights of woman, I said it is one of the earliest tracts of modern
feminism. Now, if we are looking for treatise extolling
the role of women in society within the context of the western world. Then the year 1792, we saw the publication
of a vindication is actually rather elite date. .
And for instance we already find a full, fledged polemic written in English and discussing
the superiority of women over men, as early as 1589 ah and this was a tract that was written
by one Jane Anger and it was published under the title protection for women and it makes
this very interesting argument about eve the biblical figure, eve being better than Adam,
because eve was made not from the dust of the ground as was Adam, but rather she was
made from the flesh and bones of Adam. So, she was better and purer than Adam. Now, ah as is evident from this particular
argument mobilized by ah Jane Anger to elevate the status of women, such early feminist texts
that preceded Wollstonecraft’s a vindication, we are all using various interpretations of
the bible, to make their point and the bible in turn provided these early advocates of
women’s rights or women’s superior within a society with a number of significant woman
figures ah, whom they could evoke to make their argument starting from Mary the mother
of Jesus to Mary Magdalene, who repented for her sins to Jesus. The use of these Christian figures and the
bible to promote the status of women within society is also understandable, because these
tracts are being written, within the context of a geocentric society. Where all major social and political arguments
are god driven, but the spirit of enlightenment that swept through Europe, during the 18th
century brought about a paradigm shift, divinity was replaced by rationality as the key argument
underlying human social and political life and this ideological refreezing of mans position
within the socio political matrix was most decisively acted out on the world stage in
the form of two revolutions The first was the American revolution, that
took place between ah 1765 and 1783 and the second was the French revolution, which started
as we all know in 1789 with the storming of Bastille and then in the 1790’s it went on
to unseat the Borba monarchy. Now, both these revolutions produce 2 very
significant documents, the first being United States Declaration of Independence and the
second being Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and both of these documents
undermined, the earlier belief in a divinely ordained hierarchical society and established
a new idea of mans pleas in the society based on principles of rationality. Thus ah for instance, the Declaration of Independence
um asserts and I quote, we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created
equal that, they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among
these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Now, note here that, though the divine creator
is evoked, the basic rights of man are regarded as self evident truths ah, this means that
they are truths, that are understandable by the application of a common sense rationality
and ah does not require any reference to the divine ah for justification. Mary Wollstonecraft with her treatise on the
vindication of women’s rights tries to intervene, in this changed scenario and she tries to
foreground women not with reference to theology auto bible as was the norm before her, but
with reference to rationality, she tries to place woman on the same platform of rationality
that the contemporary discourse of human rights and political citizenship was placing man
on ah. So, in other words Wollstonecraft’s a vindication
can be seen as an attempt to extend the discourse of rights ah, which was otherwise centered
on man on to the figure of the woman as well and this was a novel effort, which you know,
we started what we understand as the modern feminist discourse? And this is why, I have referred to Wollstonecraft’s
of vindication as one of the earliest tracts of modern feminism. Now, ah coming to the actual arguments contained
in a vindication. Wollstonecraft asserts, that women by the
virtue of being humans are as rational as men and therefore, as much a claimant to not
rights as men, if this status as rational subjects are at all denied or questioned then
they are denied by men who do so, without consulting the women. This in itself is a sign not only of injustice,
but also of tyrannical irrationality. So, in ah Wollstonecraft’s own words, when
men fight for their freedom, fight to be allowed to judge for themselves concerning their own
happiness, is not it inconsistent and unjust to hold women down? Who made man the exclusive judge of that if
woman shares with him the gift of reason? Now, here Wollstonecraft does something very
interesting, she does away with the question, whether women are rational or not? And in it is place, she asks another question,
which is who says women are irrational? And then she goes on to show that, any statement
regarding women’s irrationality is itself made from a position that is inconsistent,
that is unjust and that is not rational enough. Wollstonecraft; however, argues that most
women do appear to be ignorant lazy and irresponsible within society, but she argues that this is
not, because of any inherent lack of rationality in them rather it is because, they are denied
proper education by their fathers and because any exercise of their reasoning faculty is
looked down upon by a society at law, which regards such exercise of the reasoning faculty
as unfeminine. Wollstonecraft’s suggestion is therefore,
to completely overhaul the education system for women that would allow them to emerge
as fully rational beings, who are at par with the men. But she is also aware that it requires more
than the change of heart of individual patriarchs within the family about the education of their
daughters to establish women as rational beings. This is because, Wollstonecraft argues that,
both men and women were ultimately and I quote educated in a great degree by the opinions
and manners of the society and the notion of femininity. Wollstonecraft finds it too deeply rooted
within the patriarchal society to allow women to emerge on the socio political arena as
rational citizens She therefore, advocates that society itself
should be radically transformed. So, as to quote bring about a revolution in
female manners, in the next lectures, we will see, how these early pronouncements of women’s
rights is rephrased? And rearticulated and indeed rethought by
later feminists of the 20th century feminists like Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir. Thank you for listening.

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