Feminist Reader #2 – F. Poullain de la Barre “On Equality of the Two Sexes”
This column focuses on commentary focused on feminist texts, starting with documents from the Middle Ages all the way to contemporary writings. Here’s the second one…
F. Poullain de la Barre – “On Equality of the Two Sexes”
De la Barre’s treatise stands out as both an early for equal opportunity and “environment” for women (such as allowing them to study) and as a radical proposition coming from a male author nonetheless. The latter point shouldn’t be as celebrated as the arguments made in the text themselves, which are succinct, brilliant, and constructed in such a Cartesian fashion that most people who believe in reason could have little ammunition with which to counter.
De la Barre’s initial exploration of the mind as a sexless element of humanity sets the tone and the foundation for the rest of his argument. In a way, his point can be summarized for what we would call nowadays an “equal playing field” for both sexes—mainly in education and social status. After all, only when reproduction is concerned does sex matter, De la Barre suggests.
Ultimately, even though the mind is sexless, people use language to adjudicate a sex to it, thus casting judgment and perpetuating wrongful myths. “Effeminate,” “manly,” “hit like a girl,” “dress like a woman,” “man up,” and plenty of others are contemporary (if not timeless) examples of how language has been enthrone one sex and denigrate the other by connotation.
Perhaps it’s time to start rethinking our language at a personal level in order to use its power better.