Second Selection from a Year of Feminist Classics

The Book of the City of Ladies

The Book of the City of Ladies
Christine de Pizan

I know I’m posting my thoughts on this book well after the other Year of Feminist Classics readers. I really struggled to finish this, and have further struggled with writing up a review of it.

No doubt, this is an important text. It’s certainly “pro-woman” in the sense that de Pizan is defending women from pretty vile attacks by other writers. However, I’m thankful that feminism has come a long way since the 1400s.

For example, there’s a heavy emphasis on virginity and equating “virtue” with virginity. At the same time, there is an implicit recognition that young people, regardless of gender, are typically sexual beings. See the following passage:

This lady (Minerva) was not only extraordinarily intelligent but also supremely chaste, remaining a virgin all her life. It was because of her exemplary chastity that the poets claimed in their fables that she struggled long and hard with Vulcan, the god of fire, but finally overcame and defeated him. This story can be interpreted to mean that she conquered the passions and desires of the flesh which so vigorously assail the body when one is young.

There were times when her arguments sounded depressingly familiar:

“Yet there are still those men who go around claiming that women know nothing of any worth. It’s also a common way to mock someone for saying something foolish by telling them they’re thinking like a woman.”

Poster from 2012 movie Think Like a Man

How much has society really progressed when in 2012 we have a movie based on Steve Harvey’s book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man?

Why is “woman” still a slur? Why are women still considered less-than? It’s disheartening at times to really think about these issues.

While The Book of the City of Ladies may be interested in dismantling gender based privilege (although that’s certainly debatable), it is very interested in propping up other systems of oppression, such as heterosexism, classism, racism, Christian privilege, gender essentialism – you get the idea. Only certain women should get the benefit of the doubt, should be considered as fully human as their male counterparts.

The last portion of the book was particularly difficult to complete. It’s basically a list of a bunch of early female Christian martyrs who died horrifically. Far from serving as example of how to live my life as a proper woman, it made me thankful that my family left Catholicism shortly after I was born, so these stories didn’t give me nightmares when I was a young child!

At the end of the day, I’m glad I read this. It’s probably the oldest book I’ve ever read in it’s entirety, so that’s something 🙂 Just not exactly a “fun” read.

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3 thoughts on “Second Selection from a Year of Feminist Classics

  1. Pingback: The Classics Club | Wandering in the Stacks

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