“Nature and Society Give Women a Great Habit of Suffering”: Germaine de Staël's Feminism and Its Challenges

Southern Journal of Philosophy 61 (1):133-157 (2023)
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Germaine de Staël (1766–1817), despite having published a considerable body of work, is seldom regarded as a feminist philosopher. Unlike, for instance, Mary Wollstonecraft of the same period, Staël is not directly arguing for the equality of the sexes. She even, at times, makes surprisingly derogatory remarks about women's nature. I argue that she is nevertheless putting forward a brand of difference feminism, which deserves our attention as a contribution to feminist reflections on gender norms in the early modern era. Staël's contribution takes the form of a plea for the improvement of women's lives that engages with the combined action of nature and society. I clarify the meaning that we should ascribe to Staël's frequent appeals to nature and argue that, for her, society and education should be used to correct (alleged) natural weaknesses instead of reinforcing them. I also give an overview of Staël's political proposals toward the improvement of women's lives, which call for a better form of political regime than the one she lived in, as well as a better access to education and a more egalitarian conception of marriage.



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Charlotte Sabourin
Douglas College

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