The Intro to Philosophy Take on Women's History

Today in intro to philosophy - the First Woman Writer Ever!
Learn with me.

Descartes was a really impressive dude. There were some problems with his Method. Princess Elisabeth wrote letters to him and asked him some good questions. She was kind of like Socrates in her letters, asking why and how. She was not playing a game, she was genuinely curious, kind of like she was saying you're this big intelligent man and I'm just a little princess over here trying to understand things.* Their correspondence was pretty cool. After Descartes died, Princess Elisabeth decided not to publish her letters, because, well, you see, there were some sentimental things in the letters. You know, that might have hinted at a relationship. So she kept them private. They were published long after her death. It's too bad she didn't agree to publish the letters, because they are the earliest known significant writing ever done by a woman! For realz! And if they had been published by Princess Elisabeth, people would have known a lot sooner that women were just as intelligent and capable of rational thought as men! Truth! [Because one exception was all that was needed to deconstruct an edifice of structural oppression. And obviously as soon as the letters came to light that edifice was demolished!]  Uh, you could ask a feminist philosopher or women's studies professor about it but I'm pretty sure this is the earliest writing by women that we have. [I am not an expert, some dudebro told me this, I didn’t bother to ask a women’s studies professor because a) really, and b) if a woman had written something I’d know about it.]

*Yes, he said "kind of like she was saying you're this big intelligent man and I'm just a little princess over here trying to understand things.


So when I got home, I went to the googles, and whaddya know, there's Hildegard von Bingen's theological writing in the 1100's. And Christine de Pisan's Book of the City of Ladies in 1405. Ann Bradstreet published a book of poetry in 1650. And then there's The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikbu, "considered the world's first novel",

praised for the complex relationships between and among the characters. This is especially true regarding the portrayal of personal desire and the constraints that rank and gender in a highly hierarchical society place upon it, as well as the hidden tensions inherent in the conduct of Genji’s highly calibrated social and personal relationships. The novel is striking also for the compelling evocation of its characters’ minds, particularly of women of various ranks mulling upon their lot in life. In certain instances, these women exhibit an understanding of the workings of the psyche in terms almost modern.

It was written in the Heian Era (794-1185 CE).

But philosophy is what dudebros do. Hildegard was just writing about her visions in response to some "divine command" (not at all like Socrates's daimon).  Pisan's Book of the City of Ladies is just a pastiche done by a dancing dog while Augustine's City of God is philosophy. A bunch of poems or a gossipy book about ladeez and court life - you can't even talk about them in the same breath as Aristotle's Poetics. So I think we wimmin folk are lucky for two reasons.  Princess Elisabeth's letters made it into the philosophy category. And they got published so now everyone knows women are equally as smart as men. This is what makes the discipline of philosophy a warm and welcoming haven for women. Now that we have that straight, let us turn our attention back to Descartes, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, and Nietzsche.

You know, I want to study those dude philosophers. Understanding them is important for understanding a lot of other stuff. It's like learning algebra and trig before going on to calculus. But it burns my shorts to get my intro to philosophy with breezy "women are equal" jibber-jabber undermined in the same or next breath with condescension and implications about women's emotions blocking the progress of philosophy. And I really don't like it combined with casually wrong stories about women's history. I've got enough experience and knowledge not to be fooled or damaged by this crap, but those young kids in class with me? Well, they're just starting to learn, aren't they.



8 responses so far

  • Pat says:

    Perhaps you should share your knowledge with the class (if you are ok with flunking the course).

  • DJMH says:

    Dude's gonna need a lot of shoe polish to get the smell of puke out, that's for certain.

  • Lu says:

    That's why it's so nice to have smartphone with internet. I can google this kind of stuff immediately.
    The husband is now much more careful with what he's saying during long car rides because I can catch the BS right away!

  • arnsholt says:

    As a classicist I feel compelled to mention Sappho, part of the canon of Greek poetry and just two millennia (and change) before the time of Elizabeth.

  • mad says:

    And don't forget Hypatia, legendary philosopher and mathematician

  • April says:

    Ugh-more than worthy of the hall of shame on the mansplain tumblr:

  • Came from Cale says:

    As a Dr. person myself, I pronounce the dude in question a sorry excuse for a scholar. I suggest that you inform said dudester of his sorry excusiness once the final grades are posted. He'll thank you. Well, no, he won't. But you'll feel better, and isn't that what really matters?