When feminists argued for political rights in the context of liberal democracy they faced an impossible choice. On the one hand, they insisted that the differences between men and women were irrelevant for citizenship. On the other hand, by the fact that they acted on behalf of women, they introduced the very idea of difference they sought to eliminate. This paradox--the need both to accept and to refuse sexual difference in politics--was the constitutive condition of the long struggle by women to gain the right of citizenship. In this new book, remarkable in both its findings and its methodology, award-winning historian Joan Wallach Scott reads feminist history in terms of this paradox of sexual difference.
Focusing on four French feminist activists--Olympe de Gouges, who wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and Citizen during the French Revolution; Jeanne Deroin, a utopian socialist and candidate for legislative office in 1848; Hubertine Auclert, the suffragist of the Third Republic; and Madeleine Pelletier, a psychiatrist in the early twentieth century who argued that women must "virilize" themselves in order to gain equality--Scott charts the repetitions and variations in feminist history. Again and again, feminists tried to prove they were individuals, according to the standards of individuality of their day. Again and again, they confronted the assumption that individuals were men. But when sexual difference was taken to be a fundamental difference, when only men were regarded as individuals and thus as citizens, how could women also be citizens? The imaginative and courageous answers feminists offered to these questions are the subject of this engaging book.
In her subtle and provocative new book, Joan Scott convincingly argues that the exclusion of women was central to the logic of French republicanism in the 19th century, and she traces the workings of this logic through the eyes of its most persistent feminist critics.
Readers of this book will enjoy discovering (or rediscovering) four compelling women, while marveling at how the terms of earlier feminism are at once familiar and strange. Rather than taking the category of women for granted as the subject of feminist discourse and politics, Scott argues that feminist agency is itself profoundly paradoxical...[T]his book contributes a probing intellectual history of the central questions in modern feminist thought which will also add much to contemporary feminist inquiry.
Joan Scott's tour de force is written with clarity, grace, humor, trenchant knowledge, imagination, and a sense of the politically extravagant...After Scott's brilliant book, none of us will be able to read French feminism in the same way again.
It is the sense of feminism as dynamic, searching, inventive, historically specific, and often divided against itself, rather than abstract, timeless, or doctrinaire, that gives this story its spin.
A feminist's history of feminist history, one that is likely to shape the debate not simply over the history of gender but over the larger questions of political and cultural history.
Those interested in feminism, postmodernism, historiography, and/or the fundamental assumptions that sustain contemporary political debates will find this book richly rewarding. Philosophers of science concerned with the methodological production of facticity will find this work exemplary of the contributions of postmodernism to the construction of the past.
Only Paradoxes to Offer is a valuable and stimulating book which synthesises a number of theoretical issues and applies them in original ways to specific historical contexts. It will be of great value to scholars engaged in feminist critical theory, women's studies and French history.
The four feminists examined in this book all had differing ideas about [the] problem of women's 'equality' or 'difference', ideas that Scott clearly shows to be a product of the dominant political discourses of their time...[Only Paradoxes to Offer] is successful and important in its exposure of the internal contradictions, dilemmas and 'obsessive repetitions' of the feminist experience.
- 5-3/4 x 8-15/16 inches
- Harvard University Press
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