A Question of Identity: Women, Science, and Literature

By Marina Benjamin | Go to book overview

Gendered Knowledge, Gendered Minds: Women and Newtonianism, 1690-1760

John Mullan

All that Restlessness of Temper we are accused of, that perpetual Inclination for gadding from Place to Place;--those Vapours, those Disquiets we often feel meerly for want of some material Cause of Disquiet, would be no more, when once the Mind was employ'd in the pleasing Enquiries of Philosophy.

Eliza Haywood, The Female Spectator ( 1745)

For Eliza Haywood, "Philosophy" is a kind of cure for femininity. 1 This femininity seems to be both a masculine prejudice ("we are accused of . . .") and a universal reality ("we often feel . . ."). The woman who takes to Philosophy will conquer equally the preconceptions of men and her own worst inclinations. She will vindicate her sex--and she will escape it. Haywood is referring to the benefits of natural philosophy (what we might call "science"), benefits that are presumed to be available to educated women in general. The study of science is recommended to Haywood's readers as if it were some new womanly duty, and not a challenging or unlikely activity. In one way, the recommendation is another small piece of a social history of science: "Caught up by the excitement of the 'new science,' educated women, along with men, became an eager audience for the new ideas."2 Haywood's advocacy fits into a story of women and science that recounts the (often frustrated) attempts of women to gain access to these new ideas. 3 But her recipe for rationality tells us something else: that the new Philosophy could be regarded as inherently suitable for women.

A social history of women's "scientific interests," such as that by Patricia Phillips, must emphasize the role of public lectures and popularizing scientific texts: "the attempt by bourgeois entrepreneurs to capture a wider female audience." 4 It must examine the struggle of particular women to educate themselves in and to study science. But

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