The Feminism of Flora Tristan

By Máire Cross; Tim Gray | Go to book overview

3
Civil Feminism: Early Pamphlets and Petitions and Peregrinations of a Pariah

In this chapter we will explore elements in Tristan's ideological schema that can loosely be described as civil or legal feminism, i.e. demands for measures to protect women from particular kinds of oppression at the hands of men. The main source of material for this chapter is Tristan first major work -- Peregrinations of a Pariah [PP] ( 1838) -- but before discussing that book, we must examine her three earlier feminist publications, namely the pamphlet On the Need to Provide Good Hospitality for Foreign Women [NHFW] ( 1835); the Petition for the Re-establishment of Divorce [PRD] ( 1837); and the Petition for the Abolition of the Death Penalty [PADP] ( 1838).

The pamphlet on the need for hospitality for foreign -- i.e. travelling -- women shared with the other works discussed in this chapter an optimistic assumption that if one drew the attention of the authorities to a clear and remediable social evil, something would be done about it. This was an early example of Tristan's faith in the power of ideas to triumph over interests. The pamphlet was also typical of many of Tristan's writings in that while it was concerned with a narrowly focused issue (in this case the exploitation of female travellers), it took the opportunity to place that issue in the context of the general exploitation of women. Tristan identified women as a class, not only a class within a particular nation, but a class that transcended national boundaries -- a universal class. What forged the identity of this class is the suffering and hardship endured by all women in some shape or form, because of their inferior position in society. 'A whole class making up half of the human race is among these unhappy creatures which our civilisation is condemning to live in distress.' ( NHFW, p. 2) Nevertheless, Tristan did not seek a wholesale solution to this universal problem; in a thinly disguised criticism of contemporary socialists, she rejected the idea of utopianism:

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