This comparative study analyses the emergence of feminist movements and their differing characters in Britain, France and the United States. Jane Rendall examines the social, economic and cultural factors which affected women's status in society, and led some women to act, individually and collectively, to seek to change it.
The Enlightenment emphasis on women's 'nature' and the evangelical stress on the moral potential of women contributed to a framework of ideas which could be used by conservatives and by feminists. Among the middle classes, discussion focused on the need to improve women's education and on the strengths and limitations of domesticity. Patterns of paid employment for women were shifting, and Jane Rendall suggests that the weak position of women in the labor market during the early stages of industrialisation restricted their ability to associate together. Yet involvement in religious, political and philanthropic movements could provide a means by which women might come together to identify their common concerns and learn the necessary political skills.
Jane Rendall places the origins of feminism in the broader context of social and political change in the nineteenth century, looking both at the changing relationship between paid work and domestic life and at the links between feminism and class and political conflict in three different societies.
An effective, well-handled comparative study. Rendall (History, York) shows how intellectual and social movements such as the Enlightenment and evangelicalism led to different feminist outcomes, depending on their interaction with social forces specific to each nation. She considers the legacy of the Enlightenment "mixed," for, while women were spoken of as different from men, there was "much more explicit discussion of how far such differences were innate, how far they were moulded by the environment." Women's active participation in the American and French revolutions encouraged talk of their future roles in these two societies. In Britain, however, "arguments about the personal and public role of women were Confined to the literary field, and to a relatively small circle of women and men." In America and England evangelicalism had the effect on women of "exalting. . . their essential qualities, defining their own sphere more clearly, [and] offering a limited but positive role within the movement itself." But in Catholic France the "feminization" of religion meant an emphasis not on "the pursuit of individual salvation by individual means but on the collective devotion of women within the context of hierarchical Church authority." Similarly, while in France women's education was caught up in debates between clerics and anti-clerics, in America women not only wrote texts on education but themselves founded and taught in schools for girls. The national differences resulting from the new industrial order are less certain, and Rendall concentrates on asking what impact industrialism had overall on women's collective labor and action. Thus, French feminism faced great difficulties, especially after the political defeat of 1848; American feminism became part of the current of reform; and British feminism became more subject to the "politics of class." Still, Rendall believes that by the mid-19th century these nationally-based feminist movements "acquired an independent ideological force, which transcended national boundaries." A useful explanation of national differences whose legacy is still evident. (Kirkus Reviews)
Series: Women in Britain, France and the United States, 1780-1860
Audience: Tertiary; University or College
Number Of Pages: 391
Published: 21st January 1985
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 21.6 x 14.0 x 2.2
Weight (kg): 0.51
Edition Number: 10