Monday, July 28, 2008

Feminists versus Gallants

Feminists versus Gallants: Manners and Morals in Enlightenment Britain.
Barbara Taylor.

Representations 87, 2004 (123-148)

Starts from Wollstonecrafts critique of the Enlightenment and its tendency toward gallantry and makes an argument that this gallantry was not a remnant or relic, but a newly constructed attempt at oppression. The problem it intended to solve was, if I understand it, demands for a new civilized man for modernity, "most of whose key attributes ... belonged on the feminine side of the gender axis." (135) Women set the standard ... but "if men were to emulate women, what becamse of virility and its associated prerogatives?" (ibid) or as Adam Smith put the risk "THe delicate sensibility required in civilized nations sometimes destroys the masculine firmness of the character" (footnote 64 page 135)

Taylor argues that, not only are Vickery and Colley right in arguing that the spheres weren't exactly separate but "by the mid-eigtheenth century, men and women of the British middle ranks were becoming more like each other" (136) and the "amazons of the pen" (Sam Johnson's expression - footnote 72) "were everywhere contest[ing] the usurpations of virility."

And now we get to it - the patronizing gallantry is a "rearguard effort to stave off the equalizing pressures of commercial society, to shore up a 'sexual distinction' " (137), as opposed to the effeminate French bastards who clearly could not be trusted to do it right.