Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Exhuming the History of Feminist Masculinity: Condorcet, 18th Century Radical Male Feminist

Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Exhuming the History of Feminist Masculinity: Condorcet, 18th Century Radical Male Feminist

Article excerpt


This work addresses bell hooks's call for the development of an alternative to patriarchal masculinity which she calls feminist masculinity. Patriarchal masculinity has convinced most men and women that the development of different forms of masculinity goes against our biological nature. Yet there exists a history of men's experiences that contradicts this perspective and amounts to, I argue, men's feminist history. In particular I argue that the life and work of French philosophe Condorcet constitutes a historical cornerstone for feminist masculinity. An important implication of this work is the understanding that gender dissolution is not the only strategy capable of rectifying gender inequality. Siding with a range of feminist perspectives, from ecofeminism and Black feminism, I contend that we can accomplish much through a critical reconstruction of men and masculinity, including the reevaluation of historic figures such as Condorcet.


In her work, Feminism is for Everybody, bell hooks writes that men need a "vision of masculinity where self-esteem and self-love of one's unique being forms the basis of identity" (2000, p. 70). Today, the dominant form of masculinity is formed in opposition to femininity (Adams & Coltrane, 2005), valorizes "acts and attitudes of independence, aggression, and sexuality" (Reed, 2005, p. 232), and "teaches men that [men's] sense of self and identity, their reason for being, resides in their capacity to dominate others" (hooks, 2000, p. 70). This patriarchal masculine identity promotes the domination "of the planet, of less powerful men, of women and children" (hooks, 2000, p. 70). To counteract this form of masculinity, hooks calls for the development of an identity which does not insist that men retreat from their maleness in order to become compassionate, humane, loving people. She calls for the development of a vision of "feniinist masculinity" in order to challenge male domination of the planet, less powerful men, women, and children. Yet hooks laments that such a "vision has yet to be made fully clear by feminist thinkers male or female" (2000, p. 70).

In response, below I make the case for the critical reclamation of masculinity by examining a marginalized model in history. Specifically, I assess the life and work of French philosophe Condorcet as a historic example of feminist masculinity as a significant refutation of the deeply seeded belief that masculinity and maleness are synonymous with domination and violence. I make the case that Condorcet' s revolutionary contribution to anti-sexist thought and practice has not been thoroughly recognized. Moreover, I contend that his life and work provide an important link between men and the development of feminist thought, as well as an important historical model of feminist masculinity. Condorcet's case makes it clear that male feminism is not a contemporary anomaly and that the naturalized domination-based male identity is but one form of masculinity.


I begin this work by addressing what I understand as the foundation upon which gender inequality is based. Placed in the broader context of feminist theory we should understand patriarchal masculinity as a component of a larger, "complex dominator identity" which environmental philosopher Val Plumwood calls master consciousness or master identity (Plumwood, 1993, p. 5). Starting from a fundamental confidence in the superiority of a select number of individuals who constitute the archetypes for humanity, master identity is "formed in the context of class, race species and gender domination," and proffers a naturalized ideal of humanity based on transcending nature, necessity, and femininity (pp. 5, 23). This worldview of mastery and colonization is legitimated by the master's logic of dualism.

Dualisms facilitate and justify the domination of one group over another by promoting the appropriation and incorporation of the objectified and subordinated "other" "into the selfhood and culture of the master, which forms their identity" (Plumwood, 1993, p. …

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