Margaret Fuller: Apple as Apple, Woman as Woman

Are you sometimes drawn against feminism, presuming it declares equality and sameness between the sexes?

Fuller in Context

Listen then in this series of feminist philosophers to the American feminist Margaret Fuller who wrote Woman in the Nineteenth Century in 1844. Fuller was a Christian feminist. (Can these exist? Yes they can, did and do exist. She is for instance just as furious about men kidnapping their children as feminists today). More specifically, she was a transcendentalist, believing that there exists a piece of the divine in each of us. Other members of this circle were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henri David Thoreau, and Thomas Carlyle. Fuller was also the chief editor of their magazine The Dial. Like other transcendentalists, she emphasizes the soul and the values of self-reliance and growth. We all have to fulfill our own nature.

Masculinity and Femininity

‘The growth of Man is two-fold, masculine and feminine.
So far as these two methods can be distinguished, they are so as
Energy and Harmony;
Power and Beauty;
Intellect and Love;’ (p. 378)

Masculinity is however according to Fuller not exclusively found in men, nor femininity exclusively in women.

‘These two sides are supposed to be expressed in Man and Woman, that is, as the more and the less, for the faculties have not been given pure to either, but only in preponderance. There are also exceptions in great number, such as men of far more beauty than power, and the reverse. But, as a general rule, it seems to have been the intention to give a preponderance on the one side, that is called masculine, and on the other, one that is called feminine.’
(P. 378)
Fuller calls them ‘twin exponents of a divine thought’ (p.39).

Feminism of Difference

Although she insists that all occupations should be open to women, on equal rights and equal representation, she develops a feminism of difference.

‘Ye cannot believe it, men; but the only reason why women over assume what is more appropriate to you, is because you prevent them from finding out what is fit for themselves. Were they free, were they wise fully to develop the strength and beauty of Woman; they would never wish to be men, or man-like.’
(P. 142.)

Femininity has had no chance to unfold freely by the restrictions put by men.
‘It may be said that Man does not have his fair play either; his energies are repressed and distorted by the interposition of artificial obstacles. Ay, but he himself has put them there; they have grown out of his own imperfections.’ (P. 112)

If women were free

Fuller insists that if obstacles are withdrawn, not all women will become alike, because we are each individual souls and also have a combination of femininity and masculinity. But the world would see more femininity unfolded in both the private and the public sphere, both in women and in men. What this will look like, we can only dream of. We should not restrict the natural growth of individual souls. We can therefore not insist that it would look like anything of the women and men of the past.

On the other hand, if real freedom existed, women would not develop themselves as men, but as women:

‘It is not Woman, but the law of right, the law of growth, that speaks in us, and demands the perfection of each being in its kind—apple as apple, Woman as Woman.’ (p. 397).

Photo by Public Domain Pictures on

The Way

Many people say that equal rights and equal chances to representation are sufficient. They also think that since we have those in the west, feminism has become superfluous. Margaret Fuller emphasizes that something else is also needed. Women need to be sure of their wants to realize self-reliance. ‘The difficulty is to got them to the point from which they shall naturally develop self-respect, and learn self-help'(p. 93).

The good news is that we are in the process of getting there. But have we reached it. I think not. And you?

Quotes taken from: Fuller, Margaret. ‘Woman in the Nineteenth Century / and Kindred Papers Relating to the Sphere, Condition and Duties, of Woman.’ iBooks. The Gutenberg Project.

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