Gail's Blog

The First Modern Feminist Was a Man Living in the 17th century

His name was Francois Poulain and he was into radical enlightenment at an early age. This was considered a more intensely anti-authoritarian strain of the early Enlightenment. We, the United States, is standing at the water’s edge of the Age of Enlightenment. Woman will share equal power roles with men and science and culture will overcome, superstition and religious based fears, guilt and control. Due to the ongoing loss of church and temple attendance and various other trends that are going on around the world, religion by 2080 will be a thing of the past. That is hard to believe but the trend is getting stronger and the pandemic only exacerbated the trend. Why go to church or temple every week when you can watch on zoom. Religious organizations are trying all kinds of group activities other than religious services to keep members engaged

I thought you might like to hear some of Francois’s early ideas of how society should conduct oneself and the direction the United States will eventually go. In these days of bitter words and rage over “who left the toilet seat up”, it’s hard to believe we could ever be so enlightened.

Even for today’s feminist’s rhetoric, Francois is so much more ahead of even the female in our present day society. While he was in his mid 20’s he wrote three books (1673-75). This was the first rigorously reasoned attack on the patriarchy. He used logic to demonstrate the absolute equality of women and men and to make sense of the right to equal treatment under the law, equal access to education and professional opportunities. He completely rejected a marriage contract that would put women subordinate to men. He declared that marriage should be like friendships and equal. He believed that men forced women into submissive role for no better reason that they were “out-and-out bullies.” Did any of you out there marry or are in a relationship to one of these “out-and-out bullies?”

Poulain’s main insight has lost none of it’s truth. He believed that the subjugation of women is Humanity’s first and most consequential injustice. Think about that as we march for this that matters or that that matters but that the entire subjugation of women is humanity’s most consequential injustice. This becomes before equal pay, black lives matter, childcare, social justice. The greatest injustice is the subjugation of women. He goes on to say that “as for the state, he dismisses it as the codification of crime, and an institution meant to safeguard stolen wealth and ensure that men would continue to profit. All laws seem to have been made to keep men in this present position of Power.” Remember he is writing this in the 17th century and here we are in the 21st century still trying to learn that humanity’s first and most consequential injustice is the subjugation of women.

You would almost think he was a man from the future living in the 17th century. He rejected the gendering of the private and the public–men on the streets and women in the home. At this early stage of capitalism he could see the baby plants already seeded between the sexes. He didn’t try to monetize the price of parenthood but he did believe it had value and even more so that many male professions. He explains that women running households, raising children, exercising discipline and self control is an enterprise that requires the military skills of a general. “Military art makes no higher demands than the others arts women are capable of, except that it is tougher, noisier and does more harm.” He continues on that “the mind has no sex.” Women are as good as men at every endeavor that doesn’t require brute force. “A minute anatomical study reveals no difference ” he writes, addressing his male readers “A women’s brain is exactly the same as ours.”

He goes on in the field of medicine that women understand bodies “Is it not women who take care of the poor and sick of the parish, who visit the prisons and help in the hospitals?” During the 1700’s medical school were closed to women. “Women’s observations about medical practice are so accurate and so precisely reasoned, that they often make all the notebooks of the faculty superfluous.”

Here is one of his great quotes “We offer great rewards to a man who can tame a tiger….yet we neglect women who have spent years and years nourishing and educating children.

So, my friends why aren’t people quoting this man or using his texts? Because, nobody knew he existed. He ended up in the priesthood but left there as well. He became a free thinker in a debate society. His past is written but you will have to search to find his books. You can read more of his information in a wonderful article in the Atlantic September issue. It is written by Judith Shulevitz titled “The First Modern Feminist was a Man and he was Living in the 17th Century” and she has some wonderful notes from other feminine writers who gathered their information from Francois Poulain. It is worth reading and I recommend you add it to your list.

If you look at the low-paying care-taking jobs, they are mainly done by women. Even women in all professions are paid less than men for the same job. It goes on and on and this is the 21st century in a developed country. Why is there no unified outcry of the subjugation of women. It is pieced here and there but it is not unified. So many women accept their roles and don’t think beyond it. Through the pandemic the female has been entrusted with the care of the children more so than the fathers’. Now that work is beginning to turn to a more normal routine, it is women who are further behind due to childcare problems. Why is the burden falling to her? Because we as a society still value the childcare as a Mother’s responsibility. Even more damage is denigrated on the female as the courts and states still try to control her body. They don’t control the man’s body. There is no vigilante searching for the person who impregnated her.

It seems some things have changed but a large segment has not. We celebrate the female as we approach the beginning of the 2000 period. More women will have to wake up and understand that they have always been equal to men or even more so in key areas. Much work is ahead.


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