Over the years, we have slowly but steadily, moved towards a more equal world. Various movements have been undertaken to help close the wage gap, provide women with abortion rights, and an overarching autonomy over their own bodies. This has helped to ensure that young girls of the new generation grow up in a more equal society. But this journey hasn’t been easy. To honour the strong women and men who have fought for gender equity, we’ve compiled a timeline outlining what made feminism what it is today.
Let’s start at the beginning!
1405: Christine Di Pizan’s The Book of The City of Ladies
Possibly one of the earliest known works of feminism, The Book of The City of Ladies was written and published by Christine Di Pizan. This book, about a city populated only by historically great and powerful women, was written as a fierce response to Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose, a controversial poem objectifying women and carrying numerous misogynistic slurs. Pizan’s work argues in favour of education for women, for equal rights, and for the value of women in society. Some of the women discussed in this text include Mary Magdalene, Sappho, Minerva, the Queen of Sheba, the Amazons, and Arachne, among many others.
1529: Heinrich Agrippa’s De Nobilitate et Praecellentia Foeminae Sexus
Agrippa was one of the first men to openly speak up about the rights of women and published this text as a treatise declaring the value of the female sex. He tried to prove that women were, in some ways, the superior sex, proven by ‘scripture, law, reason, and authority, divine, and humane’. Despite the academic attention lavished on this text, Agrippa was declared a heretic by the Fransiscan prior - Jean Catilinet, and was forced into exile. There are theories that Agrippa wrote the text as an attempt to impress a lover, but regardless of the intention, his feminist morals were obvious.
The 1600’s: Juana Inez de La Cruz
Known as the “Mexican Phoenix” and the “Tenth Muse”, de La Cruz was an outspoken Mexican poet and feminist. A powerful contributor to Mexico’s golden era of literature, she wrote poems about sexuality. Her intellectual prowess invited many visitors, one among which was her rumored lesbian lover, the Countess Maria Luisa de Paredes. Because of her strong criticisms of misogyny and male hypocrisy, she was forced to give up writing and sell all her books, and focus on charity towards the poor. She believed in educating young girls to stand up for themselves and their peers, against suppression and sexual abuse.
In colonial era India, the strongest voice for feminism was against the practice of Sati and the lack of rights for widows, and for education for girls. Protests against the practice of child marriage and female infanticide- social rites that were closely tied with religion and superstition- increased in intensity. During this time, Rani Laxmibai, who is still held in regard as one of the most powerful woman in Indian history, was the ruler of the state of Jhansi. The image of her on the battlefield with her baby strapped to her back is engraved into every Indian’s mind. However, the struggle in India, when contrasted with the struggle in the West, was largely different. Owing to differences in culture and belief, women enjoyed a certain ‘divinity’ in Indian culture. This allowed feminist movements a link to religion, and therefore, a stronger impression in the minds of the mass public.
We’ve reached the 19th century, but the tumultuous 20th century that helped shape feminism as we know it today awaits us.
Keep watching this space for Part 2, to learn more about these incredible movements in history!