From nobility and excellence to generosity and rights: Sophia's defenses of women (1739-40)

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Abstract

This article examines two early modern feminist works, Woman Not Inferior to Man (1739) and Woman's Superior Excellence Over Man (1740), written by "Sophia, A Person of Quality."Scholars once dismissed these texts as plagiarisms or semi-translations of François Poulain de la Barre's De l'égalité des deux sexes (1673). More recently, however, Guyonne Leduc has drawn attention to the original aspects of these treatises by highlighting Sophia's significant variations on Poulain's vocabulary (Leduc 2010; 2012; 2015). In this article, I take Leduc's analysis a step further by demonstrating that Sophia's variations amount to unique and distinctive arguments for the restoration of women's rights, based on both the natural equality and the moral superiority of women compared to men. I argue that Sophia goes beyond Poulain's Cartesian insights to mount a critique of male tyranny characterized as a lack of generosity toward women. My contention is that Sophia's texts represent a culmination in a line of reasoning that extends from the querelle des femmes of the Renaissance to Poulain's Cartesian feminism of the seventeenth century, through to arguments for women's rights in the eighteenth century. Her works thus warrant greater recognition as significant turning points in the history of feminist thought.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-59
Number of pages17
JournalHypatia
Volume37
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 29 Nov 2022

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