Saturday, May 27, 2017

Anne Boleyn and the "Querelle des Femmes"

From Alison Weir:
Sarah Gristwood’s research, which she generously shared with me, encompassed the ‘querelle des femmes’ (‘the woman question’), an intellectual and literary debate that questioned traditional concepts of women and called for them to enjoy equality with men. Nowadays, we call this feminism, but even if the word did not exist then, the concept did. Many scholars use the term ‘Renaissance feminism’. In the 16th century, all the arguments for equality of the sexes were in place. This debate was lively in Europe, where Anne Boleyn spent her formative years at the beginning of the century. This was an age of female rulers and thinkers, and in the royal women she served, Anne had two shining examples before her: Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands; and Marguerite of Valois, Duchess of Alençon. In my novel, Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession, I have portrayed Anne in this European context, because we cannot hope to understand her without being aware of the early cultural influences to which she was exposed.
As a young – and no doubt impressionable – teenager, Anne served at the court of Margaret of Austria, regent of the Netherlands, between 1513 and 1514. Margaret’s library included the works of the influential French poet and author Christine de Pizan (1364–c1430), Europe’s first professional female writer. At that time, women were regarded as inferior in every way to men. For a female to question her role in this male-dominated world, in which women were legally infants, was revolutionary.
Christine de Pizan had become famous for daring to say that the celebrated poem, Le Roman de la Rose, slandered women, portraying them all as seductresses. In 1405, she published her most famous work, The Book of the City of Ladies, the first book written about women by a woman, and one of the earliest examples of feminist literature. The book was an attack on stereotypical, misogynistic perceptions of women by male historians of the time. It celebrated female achievements throughout history, and advised women how to counter masculine prejudice and negative portrayals of their sex. Christine de Pizan concluded that patriarchal attitudes hampered women achieving their full potential.
 “Not all men share the opinion that it is bad for women to be educated,” she wrote, “but it is very true that many foolish men have claimed this because it displeased them that women knew more than they did.” This must have come as a revelation in an age when most women were taught that men, by the natural law of things, were the cleverer sex. But Christine de Pizan disagreed. “Just as women's bodies are softer than men's, so their understanding is sharper. If it were customary to send girls to school and teach them the same subjects as are taught to boys, they would learn just as fully and would understand the subtleties of all arts and sciences. As for those who state that it is thanks to a woman, the lady Eve, that man was expelled from paradise, my answer would be that man has gained far more through Mary than he ever lost through Eve.” (Read more.)

No comments: