Men and the Making of Modern British Feminism

Men and the Making of Modern British Feminism

Men and the Making of Modern British Feminism

Men and the Making of Modern British Feminism

Synopsis

Men and the Making of Modern British Feminism calls fresh attention to the forgotten but foundational contributions of men to the creation of modern British feminism. Focusing on the revolutionary 1790s, the book introduces several dozen male reformers who insisted that women's emancipation would be key to the establishment of a truly just and rational society. These men proposed educational reforms, assisted women writers into print, and used their training in religion, medicine, history, and the law to challenge common assumptions about women's legal and political entitlements.

This book uses men's engagement with women's rights as a platform to reconsider understandings of gender in eighteenth-century Britain, the meaning and legacy of feminism, and feminism's relationship more generally to traditions of radical reform and enlightenment.

Excerpt

In 1794, the young Norwich-based radical Thomas Starling Norgate provided one of the most inflammatory early arguments in favor of British women's rights. His two-part essay “On the Rights of Woman,” published in the progressive periodical The Cabinet, likened woman's position in Britain to that of a “poor captive bird” struggling to break free from its cage. Only the “sympathizing humanity of a friend,” Norgate observed, would prevent the “bird” from “singing itself to sleep.” To this end, he recommended that men help women secure equal education, increased legal rights, and even political suffrage—bold proposals at a time when the majority of Britons regarded women as “formed for the lighter duties of Life,” because of the “delicacy of their Frames, the Sensibility of their Dispositions, and, above all the Caprice of their Tempers.” Little wonder, then, that Norgate was teased by his Norwich peers for being a “Champion of the fair sex.” As the lawyer-in-training Thomas Amyot complained, after reading Norgate's Cabinet essays, “A virtuous wife and an affectionate Mother are perhaps the most amiable Characters in the Universe. To these Characters let every female aspire and let us hear no more of the Rights of Woman

Yet despite the unorthodoxy of his position, Norgate was not the only man in late Enlightenment Britain to explore women's rights. Rather, he was one of several dozen male reformers —broad-minded theologians, headmasters, historians, essayists, publishers, and politicians, based in London, Norwich, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and elsewhere—who determined, at considerable risk to their reputations, that they too would need to become “champions of the fair sex.” To ignore the . . .

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