The woman question (XVIth-XVIIIth centuries): What is woman?

A short reminder

  • The Middle Ages = Vth [476: the fall of the western Roman Empire: the surrender of Rome to the Goths] - XVth c [1453: the taking of Constantinople by the Turks, i.e. the end of the Byzantine empire / the end of the Hundred Years’ war between France and England; only Calais remained English).
  • The Renaissance = XVth-end XVIth centuries (1640) [1]
  • The early modern period = 1450-1660? 1500-1700? 1400-1700? 1300-1700?
  • The modern period = until 1789
  • The contemporary period = after 1789


Some quotations

« les femelles sont par nature plus faibles et plus froides, et il faut considérer leur nature comme une défectuosité naturelle. » [2]

« [la femme est] un mal nécessaire, une tentation naturelle, une calamité désirable, un péril domestique, une fascination fatale. » [3]

Jean Chrysostome (344/349-407)

“Thus in the state of nature, every woman that bears children, becomes both a mother and a lord […] at this day, in divers places women are invested with the principal authority […] which in truth they have by the right of nature […] Add also, that in the state of nature it cannot be known who is the father, but by testimony of the mother; the child therefore is his whose the mother will have it, and therefore hers.” [4]

« Les femmes n’ont qu’à se souvenir de leur origine; et, sans trop vanter leur délicatesse, songer après tout qu’elles viennent d’un os surnuméraire où il n’y avait de beauté que celle que Dieu voulut y mettre. » [5]

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« L’Esprit n’a point de Sexe. » [6]

“Let us […] not entertain such a degrading thought of our own worth […] We value them [men] too much, and our selves too little […] and do not think our selves capable of Nobler Things that the pitiful Conquest of some worthless heart.” [7]

“If all Men are born free, how is it that all Women are born slaves? as they must be if the being subjected to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary Will of Men, be the perfect Condition of Slavery?” [8]

Alas! A woman that attempts the pen,
Such an intruder on the rights of men,
Such a presumptuous creature is esteem’d,
The fault can by no virtue be redeemed. [9]

“[a wife] has nothing she can call her own.” [10]

“a wife being as much a man’s property as his horse, or his ass” [11] (2.11.158).

“The institution of English patriarchy, inherited from Hebrew and early Christian societies, rested upon twin pillars: the subordination required of women as a punishment for Eve’s sin, which was fundamental to biblical teaching, and an understanding of men’s and women’s bodies, evident among early modern medical writers […] in terms of relative strength and weakness. Patriarchy was thus founded upon God’s direction and woman’s natural physical inferiority. [My underlining].” [12]

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See Robert Filmer: Patriarcha; or, The Natural Power of Kings (written in 1640, published in 1680). In 1690, Locke objected these points in the first of his Two Treatises of Government and in a large part of his second treatise.

« Le patriarcalisme de Filmer se distingue de ces approches en faisant système de la sujétion naturelle des hommes vis-à-vis du chef de famille et, à travers lui, vis-à-vis d’Adam, ancêtre unique de l’humanité dont la toute-puissance supposée sur les êtres et les choses s’est transmise aux rois de la terre. » [13]


The woman question is the name of a debate in Western literature starting in the Renaissance which is a landmark since, for the first time in England, women started to write their own defences and a significant number of women started to publish defences.

Then, at that time, the controversy on women became more comprehensible to the modern reader since texts were written in English and no longer in Latin or in middle English, the tongues used for earlier attacks and defences.

Besides, the pamphlets published during the Renaissance refer to a way of life which is closer to ours even if many ideas and conventions still belong to the Middle Ages. They were written for a reading public belonging to the urban middle class, in a world increasingly dominated by commerce and individualism.

Finally, those pamphlets contain some prefeminist elements and herald some modern prefeminist ideas. To understand the contents of those pamphlets, it is necessary to give a short survey of the sources on the woman question and of the popular controversies between 1540 and 1640.

The way woman was viewed little changed between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The fundamental question is that of her nature: can woman be man’s equal? Must she be his equal? Not to forget the prevailing conception at the time together with its ideological roots. Plato’s doubts were still present: can woman be considered a reasoning creature? Others wonder about the existence of woman’s soul. The physical, spiritual and intellectual aspects of woman’s specificity were at the core of the debate. Men, who felt threatened by women who show intellectual ambitions, develop arguments in the philosophical, physiological and theological fields so as to preserve their superiority.

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I. Woman’s body

In the early modern period, sexual identity “was not rooted in an understanding of the body,” historian Fletcher stresses [14].14 “The body” was “invented as a topic for historical study” thanks to the works of Mikhael Bakhtin, Nobert Elias, and Michel Foucault but what was created was an “implicitly male early modern body.” [15] The cultural construction of the female body (that is both natural and social) rested on diverse sources, mainly prescriptive literature (conduct books, popular devotion, medical books, childbearing guides...).


1. Philosophical arguments

The philosophical argument of the hierarchy of sexes is developed by Aristotle (384-322 BC) for whom the male sex is the normal one and woman a natural aberration. In his treatise on natural sciences, On the Generation of Animals, he wrote: « les femelles sont par nature plus faibles et plus froides, et il faut considérer leur nature comme une défectuosité naturelle. » [16] And added: « la femme ressemble à un mâle sterile » [17] since he thought that, in generation, woman played only the passive role of a vessel of male semen. [18]

Thus, woman is an incomplete being, « le fruit d’une insuffisance de l’accomplissement naturel, » « un mâle raté, » as Marc Angenot puts it. [19] Yet woman does not belong to the category of monsters that are, for Aristotle, rare and extraordinary beings, which is not the case of women. Male superiority is an undeniable principle that he confirms in his Politics so as to legitimize women’s subordination in marriage: “the courage of a man is shown in commanding, of a woman in obeying” (1260a 23-24).

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2. Physiological arguments

In the early modern period, the understanding of the body rested on two elements: the
humoral theory and a structural homology.

a) The theory of the four humours

“Bodies were fundamental to early modern conceptions of sexual difference […] The female body was explained in terms of humoral theory.” [20] From the time of Hippocrates (ca. 460-ca. 370 BC) and Galen (129-199/217 AD), physicians had believed that bodies were composed of four humours (blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm). Each humour had two characteristics: blood was hot and wet, yellow bile was hot and dry, black bile was cold and dry, phlegm was cold and wet. Man was hot and dry, woman was cold and moist. [21] “Thus man was active, woman passive; man was energetic, brave, and strong, while woman was gentle, tender, kind, and timorous. Anatomically, women were less healthful because their passivity subjected them to diseases.” [22]

“An individual’s sexual temperament, in effect gender, was a question of the balance in the body of the hot and cold, dry and moist qualities. [23] This gender system had nothing whatsoever to do with the sexual orientation of men and women. Nor was the visible genital difference, except in so far as it reflected and symbolised someone’s place on the continuum between human strength and weakness, of significance. Sex, in other words, was still a sociological and not an ontological category.” [24]

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b) The structural homology

  • i) Isomorphism (one-sex model)

Thomas W. Laqueur very clearly explains the shift that took place: “For thousands of years it had been a commonplace that women had the same genitals as men except that ’theirs are inside the body and not outside it […] Galen, who in the second century A.D. developed the more powerful and resilient model of the structural, though not spatial, identity of the male and female reproductive organs, demonstrated at length that women were essentially men in whom a lack of vital heat - of perfection - had resulted in the retention, inside, of structures that in the male are visible without.” [25] That is called the isomorphism between the two sexes. As a consequence, as Karen Harvey stresses: “men and women were placed on a vertical, hierarchical axis, in which their bodies were seen as two comparable variants of one kind. Underpinning this ’one-sex model’ was the humoural system […] differences of sex were differences of degree.” [26]


  • ii) Dimorphism (two-sex model)

“Sometime in the eighteenth century, sex as we know it was invented […] Here was not only an explicit repudiation of the old isomorphisms but also, and more important, a rejection of the idea that nuanced differences between organs, fluids, and physiological processes mirrored a transcendental order of perfection. Aristotle and Galen were simply mistaken in holding that female organs are a lesser form of the male’s and by implication that woman is a lesser man. [27] […] structures that had been thought common to man and woman - the skeleton and the nervous system - were differentiated so as to correspond to the cultural male and female.” [28] “[there was] a grand effort to discover the anatomical and physiological characteristics that distinguished men from women […] This did not happen all at once, nor did it happen everywhere at the same time, nor was it a permanent shift.” [29] Karen Harvey draws the following conclusion: “Women and men were now arranged horizontally, anatomical differences were stressed, and their bodies were regarded as qualitatively distinct […] while differences had once been determined by cultural ’gender,’ during the eighteenth century differences were increasingly thought to stem from biological ’sex.’” [30]

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c) A change in the theory of conception

The Aristotelian one-seed theory that maintained that “only the male seed played an active role in generation” (female orgasm was unnecessary for conception) was challenged by the Hippocratic and Galenic two-seed theories of reproduction: “human beings were created like other animals as a result of the fusion of two active principles: the male seed and the female menstrual blood, both said to be ejaculated in orgasm.” [31]

“During much of the sixteenth century, medical writers treated the ancient medical texts as authoritative and concentrated on expounding the ideas of Hippocrates (ca. 460-ca. 370 BC), Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) and Galen (129-199/217 AD) as the basis of knowledge about conception. By 1500, the commonly accepted view of the theories of Aristotle and Galen was that the child was formed from the active principle in the male sperm shaping the female matter of menstrual blood. However, Hippocrates’ view that the child was formed from a mixture of the male and female seed was more popular […] simultaneous orgasm […] would hasten conception. In the later seventeenth century, physicians developed new theories of generation, which shifted the paradigm of sexual knowledge. Most physicians were influenced by theories of the pre-formation of the child in the seed of either the man or the woman.” [32]

“Until the end of the seventeenth century, most writers insisted that sexual pleasure was necessary for conception […] For women and men the implications of these theories differed. There were both positive and negative consequences for women in the theory that simultaneous orgasm was necessary for conception. They could veto a marriage partner whom they found sexually unattractive […] The negative implications were seen in legal attitudes to rape. If a rape were followed by pregnancy, the law deemed it no rape because the woman had, by definition, enjoyed the encounter. By the eighteenth century, however, the change in medical theories of conception was reflected in the justices’ handbooks; a charge of rape was allowed even if a woman were pregnant.” [33]

According to Laqueur, the two-seed theories dominated the one-sex model in scientific and medical texts. [34] Yet “two-seed theories were undermined during the eighteenth century, and ultimately women’s sexual pleasure - symbolised by orgasm - was regarded as dispensable to conception and women were imagined as desexualised, maternalised individuals.” [35]

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d) Consequences

When men saw in women beings different from themselves, an evolution of the nature of patriarchy (“founded upon on God’s direction and woman’s natural physical inferiority” [36]), due to a new interpretation of sexual identity, was possible. [37] As to physical specificities and advantages, a distinction becomes a principle: man has strength, woman beauty, the fatal tool of man’s fall. Philogynous writers oppose two objections. The prefeminist Poulain de la Barre, unlike his predecessors, does not deny physical weakness but is to consider it in context /keep it in perspective. For him, strength cannot be credited to men, otherwise “les bêtes auraient l’avantage par dessus eux.” [38] Moreover it is alien to merit. For those who were brought up on Platonic philosophy, beauty became the mirror of an inner perfection. Beauty and physical love, which were the reflects of the soul, favoured the elevation of man. The physiological arguments underlining woman’s inferiority are numerous.


3. Theological arguments

The Christian Church does not see any contradiction/ paradox in the fact of praising the worship of the Virgin Mary - “[la] gloire de son sexe” - [39] and denouncing the wicked nature of woman, as the daughter of Eve. John Chrysostom defined woman as « un mal nécessaire, une tentation naturelle, une calamité désirable, un péril domestique, une fascination fatale. » [40]

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a) Woman’s inferiority since Eve’s creation

The misogyny of the Church is based on the Bible. Antifeminists and prefeminists wanted to go back to the origins of the Scriptures so as to know the Creator’s will. Religious discourses demonstrating woman’s inferiority since the creation of Eve rested on three reasons:

First, a chronological one: Adam was created before Eve. Yet, prefeminists objected that Adam was just a sketch, and Eve, the masterpiece.

The second was substantial, that is the nature of the materials for the creation of Adam and Eve: silt/alluvium [limon] for Adam, and a human rib for Eve. One can refer to Bossuet’s sentence: « Les femmes n’ont qu’à se souvenir de leur origine; et, sans trop vanter leur délicatesse, songer après tout qu’elles viennent d’un os surnuméraire où il n’y avait de beauté que celle que Dieu voulut y mettre. » [41] Prefeminists retort that, on the one hand, Eve, created in Paradise and not in the countryside, was created out of a bone, a material more noble than earth; on the other hand, if chronology meant superiority, then preference had to be given to animals, created first; all that proving that God created his master piece in the last place.

The last one is teleological (telos meaning the aim): Eve was created not for herself, but as a companion to Adam; so she was created for man, [42] as Paul puts it in his Epistle to Corinthians: “L’homme n’a pas été créé pour la femme, mais la femme pour l’homme” (2.9). [43] Arguments stressing that Eve was responsible for man’s Fall were added. However, philogynists answered that etymology proves Eve’s noble superiority since, as “Adam” means “earth” and “Eve,” “life”; earth deprived of life is nothing. Likewise, this hypothesis omits the sentence that is repeated in Genesis: “Il les créa mâle et femelle” (1.27, 5.2), tending to prove the equality of the sexes before the Fall.

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b) Woman’s inferiority since the Fall

The other problem is to know if the inequality of sexes was predestined before the Fall or not. Quite often the arguments drawn from the Bible go in the same direction as those borrowed from Aristotle. Genesis 3.16 is used: “Ton élan sera vers ton mari et lui te dominera” whereas before the fall power was granted to man and woman (Genesis 1.26). [44] According to the Aristotelian principle, man’s superiority, due to the strength of his reason, precedes the Fall. For him and for Augustine, woman’s subordination is not a punishment but a submission to a greater reason, in keeping with God’s primitive design. In De l’égalité des deux sexes (1673; faithfully translated into English as early as 1677) by the (Catholic turned Protestant) French clergyman,
Poulain de la Barre, man and woman were naturally equal before the Fall. [45]

Here are the philosophical, physiological and theological arguments presented to defend man’s superiority.


II. Woman’s soul

The question of the existence of woman’s soul still existed in the XVIth century. In 1613, Count Massino says in The Insatiate Countess by John Marston: “Women were made / Of blood, without soules,” [46] a cynical assertion that John Donne thinks necessary to expose in a sermon he delivered at Easter 1630 (St Paul’s cathedral). [47] The stress laid on woman’s moral inferiority comes from the Church fathers: she was the first to be deceived, sin and she corrupted man. Female thirst of knowledge (the apple from the tree of knowledge) led man to the Fall. Eve’s punishment was to be submitted to her husband but, as is emphasized Marie le Jars de Gournay, submission does not mean inferiority. [48] To deny that woman has a soul means to consider her as an animal. In the XVIIIth century, the soul, Paul Hoffmann writes, is « [un] terme polysémique et d’un usage commode [qui] recouvre aussi bien le concept cartésien de substance que la notion sensualiste de faculté; dans l’idéologie physiologiste, l’âme ne désignera qu’un certain aspect du corps. » [49]

If women are denied the capacity to develop their own moral independence, it is because the greatest part of reason was granted to man because of the biological frailty of her brain. See Halifax in The Lady’s New-Year’s Gift (1688): “Your Sex wanteth our reason for your Conduct.” [50] The result is that the pretended weakness of her understanding makes woman’s moral life dependant on man. The two sexes would be complementary, man being necessary to woman since she is handicapped by her inferiority.

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III. Woman’s understanding

The soul and the understanding were refused to woman because of Aristotle’s theory which mixes up the level of the body and that of the mind in order to show woman’s intellectual weakness. That postulate was invalidated/contradicted by the philosophy of Descartes. In his Discours de la méthode (1637), he demonstrates the separation of the soul and the body and, in the sixth of his Méditations métaphysiques, the full autonomy of thought. [51] From then on, in the XVIIIth century, the independance of thought from the physical conditions of sexuality was asserted, an idea that is epitomized, in. 1673, by Poulain de la Barre in “L’Esprit n’a point de Sexe,” a phrase that was to be very often used afterwards. [52] Descartes’s teaching grants man and woman the same ontological status, an essential identity concerning the soul and the body, the substance of which is invariable, whatever the physiological functions of procreation.

However, that philosophical theory, known and accepted by some, was far from being the prevailing opinion. « On croit, » historian Roland Marx writes, « à une ’inaptitude naturelle’ de la femme à apprendre des notions que seuls les hommes seraient capables de comprendre et retenir. » [53] To be under moral and consequently legal tutelage was woman’s lot.

The consequent question of the existence of female understanding is that of the equality or the inferiority of woman’s intelligence to that of man, and that of its nature (comparable or different). Woman seems to be gifted with a kind of intelligence that is different from reason, a kind of “surrationalité feminine” to take up Angenot’s expression. [54] For Christians, that conception rests on Jerome’s authority; these dispositions are to be linked with instinct, of an innate knowledge superior to acquired knowledge.

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Man and woman, nature and culture

The scientific revolution that took place in the XVIIth century paved the way for a new attitude to Nature, that was directly connected with an increasing submission of woman. Man’s perception of nature had changed, as is explained by Sylvana Tomaselli: “Treated as something external, disenchanted, to be studied, analysed and probed into by man, nature becomes a thing to be used, mastered and overcome.” [55] The link between man and culture, between woman and culture cannot be neglected. [56] It already existed in the first Christian readings of the Bible. There was an ambiguous relation between nature and woman. Because of Eve, Adam was not able to transcend his terrestrial desires; yet Eve led Adam to the tree of knowledge; hence she is linked to culture and civilisation. The Enlightenment saw woman as a civilizing agent of man.

At the same time, woman’s relative ignorance was linked to the supreme value of the Enlightenment, Nature. Heroines in eighteenth-century novels had a kind of intelligence called « intelligence sauvage » by Pierre Fauchery in La Destinée féminine dans le roman européen du dix-huitième siècle: « On peut presque dire que c’est grâce à leur ignorance qu’elles développent cette sagesse insigne, non-apprise, qui est l’authentique apport de la femme à l’intelligence du monde. » [57] Rather than a rational understanding, woman would have a more acute and refined sensitivity and artistic capacities that could enable her to excell in arts such as poetry and music.

Annex: Women’s conception from lust (the early modern period) to modesty (the
Enlightenment) to passionlessness (the Victorian age)

Historian Nancy Cott refers to a “traditionally dominant Anglo-American definition of women as especially sexual which was reversed and transformed between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries into the view that women […] were less carnal and lustful than men.” [58] She adds, “At least three phases of British opinion contributed to the development of the idea of passionlessness.” [59] At the beginning of the XVIIIth century, in “the new professional and commercial middle class”, an opposition to aristocratic libertinism (Defoe, Steele, Richardson) “led to an ideal of sexual self-control, verbal prudery, and an opposition to the double standard of sexual morality (for the sake of the purity of men, not justice for women).” [60] According to etiquette manuals available to middle-rank women (such as George Savile’s A Lady’s New Year’s Gift; or, Advice to a Daughter [1688] and John Gregory’s A Father’s Legacy to His Daughter [1761]: “woman was made for man’s pleasure and service; woman was strong only insofar as she could use her own weakness to manipulate the opposite sex (within the bounds of social propriety).” [61] Restraint was advised. “According to Keith V. Thomas, [62] the idea of passionlessness emerged in this context as an extension of the ideal of chastity needed to protect men’s property rights in women […] Modesty was the quintessential female virtue […] that women had to appeal to men turned modesty into a sexual ploy, emphasizing women’s sex objectification.” [63]

At the close of the century, there was a shift “from modesty to passionlessness” [64] under the influence of the Evangelicals (working “to regenerate Protestantism” [65]): for them, “women were made for God’s purposes, not man’s” and “the collective influence of women was an agency of moral reform.” [66] Women were deemed virtuous by nature, hence their “moral potential.” Hannah More’s Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education (1799) “transformed woman’s image form sexual to moral being […] the price [was] a new level of self control […] Her outlook revealed to women a source of power (in moral influence) and an independence of men (through reliance on God) in a female world view that inspired and compelled women throughout the nineteenth century.” [67] Mary Wollstonecraft and Hannah More “wished to emphasize women’s moral and intellectual powers rather than their ‘mere animal’ capacities, and expected reformed women to reform the world.” [68]

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Towards women’s moral superiority

“The new focus on moral rather than sexual determinants of female character in didactic works at the end of the eighteenth century required a reversal in Protestant views of women. In Puritan ideology, earthly women were the inheritors of Eve’s legacy of moral danger […] Nineteenth-century Protestantism relied on women for its prime exemplars and symbols. Between 1790 and 1820 particularly […] the clergy intensified their emphasis on women as crucial advocates of religion […] The tacit condition for that elevation was the suppression of female sexuality […] The clergy thus renewed and generalized the idea that women under God’s grace were more pure than men […].” [69]

“The evangelical view, by concentrating on women’s spiritual nature, simultaneously
elevated women as moral and intellectual beings and disarmed them of their sexual power. Passionlessness was on the other side of the coin which paid, so to speak, for women’s admission to moral equality […] To women who wanted mean of self-preservation and selfcontrol, this view of female nature may well have appealed […].” [70]

“In this perspective, women might hail passionlessness as a way to assert control in the sexual arena-even if that ’control’ consisted in denial […] passionlessness served women’s larger interests by downplaying together their sexual characterization, which was the cause of their exclusion from significant ’human’ (i.e. male) pursuits […] The belief that women lacked carnal motivation was the cornerstone of the argument for women’s moral superiority, used to enhance women’s status and widen their opportunities in the nineteenth century.” [71]


[1See Joan Kelly-Gadol, “Did Women Have a Renaissance?,” Becoming Visible: Women in European History, ed. Renate Bridenthal and Claudia Koonz (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977) 137-64, and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, “Do Women Need the Renaissance?,” Gender and Change: Agency, Chronology and Periodisation, ed. Alexandra Shepard and Garthine Walker (Chichester/Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) 109-32.
See too Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe 1450-1789 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009) 113-14.

[2Aristote [384-322 BC], De la génération des animaux (4.6.775a), ed. and trans. Pierre Louis (Paris: Belles
Lettres, 1961) 167.

[3Quoted in Chilton Latham Powell, English Domestic Relations 1487-1653: A Study of Matrimony and Family Life (New York: Columbia College, 1917) 50.

[4Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), Philosophical Rudiments Concerning Government and Society, 1651, The English Works of Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury, ed. William Molesworth (Aalen: Scientia Verlag, 1962) 116-17.

[5Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627-1704), « IIe Élévation, » Élévation sur les mystères, 1695, Œuvres choisies de Bossuet, évêque de Meaux, 39 vols. (Paris : Gauthier, 1828) 9: 117.

[6François Poulain de la Barre, De l’égalité des deux sexes, 1673, ed. Marie-Frédérique Pellegrin (Paris: Vrin, 2011) 1.99.

[7Mary Astell, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies. Parts I and II, 1694, 1697, ed. Patricia Springborg (London: Pickering, 1997) 8.

[8Astell, Some Reflections upon Marriage, Some Reflections upon Marriage, Occasion’d by the Duke & Dutchess of Mazarine’s Case; Which Is Also Consider’d, 1700, Astell. Political Writings, ed. Springborg Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996) 18-19.

[9Anne Finch, countess of Winchilsea [1661-1720], “The Introduction,” Miscellany Poems, On Several Occasions, 1713, Major Women Writers of Seventeenth-Century England, ed. James Fitzmaurice et al. (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1997) 336.

[10Mary Wollstonecraft, The Wrongs of Woman; or, Maria. A Fragment in Two Volumes, 1798, Mary and The Wrongs of Woman, ed. Gary Kelly (1976; Oxford: Oxford UP, 1980) 2.11.158.

[11Wollstonecraft 2.11.158.

[12Anthony Fletcher, Gender, Sex, and Subordination in England 1500-1800 (New Haven: Yale UP, 1995) xvii.

[13Franck Lessay, « De la Renaissance à la Restauration, » Histoire des idées dans les îles britanniques, Alain Morvan, Jean-François Gournay and Lessay (Paris: PUF, « Perspectives anglo-saxonnes, » 1996) 69-70.

[14Fletcher xvi, xvii.

[15Mary Fissell, “Gender and Generation: Representing Reproduction in Early Modern England,” Gender & History 7.3 (1995): 433.

[16Aristote, De la génération des animaux (4.6.775a), ed. and trans. Pierre Louis (Paris: Belles Lettres, 1961) 167.

[17Aristote, De la génération des animaux (1.20.728a) 36.

[18Aristote, De la génération des animaux (726a-9a) 1127-32. See, later, the expression “the weaker vessel” (Paul, Ephesians 5.23-24 and 1 Peter 3.7.20).

[19Marc Angenot, Les Champions des femmes (Montréal: P de l’U du Québec, 1977) 110. See Aristote, De la génération des animaux (737a) 62, (766b) 144.

[20Sara Mendelson, and Patricia Crawford, Women in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998) 19-20.

[21See “Figure 27” in Londa Schiebinger, The Mind Has No Sex? Women in the Origins of Modern Science (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1989) 162.

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[22Mendelson, and Crawford 19-20.

[23Fletcher xvii.

[24Fletcher xvii.

[25Thomas W. Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1990) 4. See Laqueur 80, figure 18 (“Male and female organs displayed to demonstrate their correspondencies”) reproducing an illustration from Andreas Vesalius ‘s Tabulae sex (1538).

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[26Karen Harvey, “The Substance of Sexual Difference: Change and Persistence in Representations of the Body in Eighteenth-Century England,” Gender and History 14.2 (2002): 202.

[27Laqueur 149; see too “Near the end of the Enlightenment […] medical science […] ceased to regard the female orgasm as relevant to generation […] The purported independence of generation from pleasure created the space in which women’s sexual nature could be redefined, debated, denied, or qualified” (“Of Language and the Flesh,” 3).

[28Laqueur 149-50.

[29Laqueur 150.

[30Harvey 203.

[31Laurence W. B. Brockliss, and Colin Jones, The Medical World of Early Modern France (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997) 109.

[32Patricia Crawford, “Sexual Knowledge in England, 1500-1750,” Sexual Knowledge, Sexual Science: The History of Attitudes to Sexuality, ed. Roy Porter and Mikulàs Teich (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994) 85-86.

[33Crawford 87-88.

[34See too Laqueur 186: “As late as the early 1850s no one had a clear idea of the circumstances governing the production of the egg” and 9: “Until the 1930s, even the outlines of our modern understanding of the hormonal control of ovulation were unknown.”

[35Harvey 205.

[36Fletcher XVII.

[37Fletcher xix.

[38Poulain de la Barre 2.129.

[39Le Triomphe des femmes, tiré de plusieurs auteurs (Châlon, 1700) 6.

[40Quoted in Chilton Latham Powell, English Domestic Relations 1487-1653: A Study of Matrimony and Family Life (New York: Columbia College, 1917) 50.

[41Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, « IIe Élévation, » Élevation sur les mystères, 1695, Oeuvres choisies de Bossuet, évêque de Meaux, 39 vols. (Paris: Gauthier, 1828) 9: 117.

[42Genesis 2.18 (« Iahvé Elohim dit: ’Il n’est pas bon que l’homme soit seul: je veux lui faire une aide qui soit semblable à lui.’ […] mais pour l’homme on ne trouva pas une aide qui fût semblable à lui. Alors Iahvé Elohim […] prit une de ses côtes et enferma de la chair à sa place […] »)

[43See too his Epistle to Ephesians 5.23-24: « car le mari est le chef de la femme comme le Christ est le chef de l’église, lui, le sauveur du corps. Mais comme l’église est soumise au Christ, qu’ainsi les femmes le soient aussi en tout à leurs maris. »

[44Genesis 1.26 (« Elohim dit: ’Faisons l’homme à notre image, à notre ressemblance! Qu’ils aient autorité sur les poissons de la mer et sur les oiseaux des cieux, sur les bestiaux, sur toutes les bêtes sauvages et sur tous les reptiles qui rampent sur la terre!’ Elohim créa donc l’homme à son image, à l’image d’Elohim il le créa. Il les créa male et femelle […] ») and in Paul’s Epistle to Galatians 3.28 (« Il n’y a pas de Juif ni de Grec; il n’y a pas d’esclave no d’homme libre; il n’y a pas de mâle ni de femme; car tous, vous êtes un dans le Christ, Jésus »).

[45See Poulain de la Barre 101.

[46John Marston, The Insatiate Countess, 1613, The Plays of John Marston, ed. H. Harvey Wood, 3 vols. (London: Oliver & Boyd, 1933) 3: 3.4.51.

[47See John Donne, “Sermon n°8,” The Sermons of John Donne, ed. Evelyn M. Simpson et George R. Potter, 10 vols. (Berkeley: U of California P, 1958) 9: 190 (“some men out of a petulancy and wantonnesse of wit, and out of the extravagancy of Paradoxes, and such singularities, have called the faculties, and abilities of women in question, even in the roote thereof, in the reasonable and immortall soul”).

[48Marie le Jars de Gournay, Égalité des hommes et des femmes (Paris, 1622) 27-28: « Et quand bien il seroit véritable, selon que quelques-uns maintiennent, que cette soumission fut imposée à la femme pour chatiement du peché de la pomme: cela encores est bien esloigné de conclure à la pretendue préférance de dignité en l’homme. »

[49Paul Hoffmann, « L’Héritage des Lumières: Mythes et modèles de la féminité au XVIIIe siècle, » Romantisme 13-14 (1976): 11.

[50George Savile, first marquis of Halifax, The Lady’s New-Year’s Gift; or, Advice to a Daughter, 1688, The Complete Works of George Savile, First Marquis of Halifax, ed. Walter Raleigh (Oxford: Clarendon, 1912) “Husband,” 8.

[51René Descartes, Le Discours de la méthode, 1637, ed. François Misrachi (Paris: Union Générale d’Éditions, 1951) 62 (4e Partie), 243-66 (6e Méditation).

[52Poulain de la Barre 2.99.

[53Roland Marx, « De l’éducation des femmes aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, » La Femme en Angleterre et dans les colonies américaines aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, ed. Michèle Plaisant (Villeneuve d’Ascq: Publications de l’U de Lille III, 1976) 22.

[54Angenot 137.

[55Sylvana Tomaselli, “The Enlightenment Debate on Women,” History Workshop Journal 20 (1985): 104.

[56That idea has been taken up again in feminist literature and criticism since the publication of de Beauvoir’s Second Sex (1949) that opposes nature and culture/nurture, woman and man, the oppressed and the oppressor.

[57Pierre Fauchery, La Destinée féminine dans le roman européen du dix-huitième siècle (Paris: Colin, 1972) 164.

[58Nancy F. Cott, “Passionlessness: An Interpretation of Victorian Sexual Ideology, 1790-1850,” Signs 4.2 (1978): 221.

[59Cott 223.

[60Cott 223.

[61Cott 224.

[62See Keith V. Thomas, “The Double Standard,” Journal of the History of Ideas 20 (1959): 214.

[63Cott 224.

[64Cott 225.

[65Cott 225.

[66Cott 225.

[67Cott 226.

[68Cott 227.

[69Cott 227.

[70Cott 228.

[71Cott 233.