European Feminisms, 1700-1950: A Political History

By Karen Offen | Go to book overview
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PART II
The Nineteenth Century, 1815-1914

The five chapters of Part II explore the development of feminist theory and practice in the nineteenth century, in parallel with a growing antifeminist backlash. They provide an expanded, updated, and nuanced version of an interpretation that I have been developing since the early 1980s. My account pays close attention to intersections of feminist eruptions with events featured in conventional chronologies in political, intellectual, cultural, economic, and social history--including the development of representative governments, aspirations to democratization, and incipient wars. When feminist demands and criticism are placed at the center of debate, these events take on a far different meaning. 1

Viewed in retrospect, it seems clear that this turbulent century experienced a steady stream of feminist eruptions, subdued temporarily during periods of political repression but violently explosive in times of revolutionary political upheaval--most notably in the 1830s, in 1848, in 1871, and again in the 1890s. From the 1860s on, feminist challenges developed at a steady pace, flowing expansively throughout the period of accelerating socioeconomic change that spanned the years from the 1890s to 1914.

In the early part of the nineteenth century, though, the forces of repression seemed nearly overwhelming. The shadows cast by the French Revolution and ensuing counterrevolution would repeatedly, if only temporarily, damp down the development of European feminisms, though in some areas, such as the Low Countries, Switzerland, and territories controlled by the Dual Monarchy ( Austria-Hungary), overt feminist activity did not reemerge for many decades. The draconian restrictions placed on women's political activity by French Jacobins in 1793 were supplemented in the early 1800s by the framers of the Napoleonic Code, who imposed severe legal restrictions on married women. Philosophers of the state, as we have seen, attempted to rationalize women's exclusion from affairs of government. Nineteenth-century French educators would establish a national educational system with universi

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