Feminist Philosophers

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 Pexels.com

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. http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/8642/pg8642.epub?session_id=6bb7fa09dc7f5c58e18e03088baa7bf7f1bce99d

Feminist Philosophers

Belle van Zuylen 2: Liberty and Male Domination


This is my second blog about Belle van Zuylen (see the first one Belle van Zuylen (Isabelle de Charrière) : “I have no talent for subordination” 1) as I also want to pay some attention to her idea of liberty. She perceived liberty as freedom from domination. What is special about her is that she thought that this is not only important in the political sphere, but also in the personal sphere.


She criticised that fact that marriage for women meant giving up their liberty and that simultaneously marriage was the only legitimate place for women to express their sensuality. This put women for an impossible dilemma. In the meantime, we are fortunately so far that we know plenty of other relationships where women can express their sensuality. In theory and in a legal way, marriage also no longer indicates that women have to give up their liberty. In practice however this is still very often the case.

Relationships and male domination

What is more, this is also often the case in heterosexual cohabitation- and LAT-relationships. Women seem to ask permission from their partner for going out dancing, go travelling, accepting a job or starting a new time-intensive hobby. Men tell, women ask their partners. I am all for a clear communication in relationships, but something unjust is going on here. Freedom from male domination and freedom from your own subordination are crucial. Belle van Zuylen told us so already two centuries ago. So let’s us be inspired by her and by modern power girls to show some female power in our relationships!

Rianne Voet, 25-10-2018


Feminist Philosophers

Belle van Zuylen (Isabelle de Charrière) : “I have no talent for subordination” 1

Dutch feminist philosopher, writer, composer (Zuilen NL, 20-10-1740 – Colombier CH 27-12-1805)

266px-Isabelle_de_Charrière_-_Quentin_de_La_Tour  Portret by Maurice Quentin de La Tour (1771)


There is a castle in Zuylen, near Utrecht in the Netherlands. In that castle lived Belle van Zuylen untill she was fourteen. Later she moved to Colombier near Neuchâtel in Switserland. At home she had private lessons in French, Latin, English, German, Italian, Music, Science, and Mathematics. She wrote mostly in French. (Note 2).

Intellectual context

Belle van Zuylen corresponded with many intellectuals and was befriended with the (younger) Scottish philosopher Benjamin Constant. In her letters to him she discussed the Batavian and French revolutions. She was inspired by and sympathetic towards these revolutions, but was critical towards many aspects of them. She was also inspired by the Scottish Enlightenment.

Not the “populus

Unlike some other republican thinkers, she did not think that freedom was guaranteed by equal rights. According to her, freedom was mostly guaranteed by a stabile constitutional government and a strong check on the government by the public. She thought that the public should not be represented as one voice, one mass of people, or the populus, by a leader. If this is done, minorities and even majorities can be overlooked. This also happened in the Revolutions by ignoring the voices of women, slaves and workers and refusing them citizens’ rights.

But the “publicus

By contrast, the public, should be understood by the plurality of specific public voices: the publicus. Having different voices within the public and political debate implies that different interests and ideas will be represented. Mind you, they are still public voices, not private voices. Belle van Zuylen insisted that the public debate requires some distance. So people speak from their public capacity, not from their personal identity. (Note 2)

Using the “publicus” against current populism

It seems to me that this attention to the publicus, the plurality of public voices, remains crucial in politics. Particularly, now when we see the populism flourishing in Europe and in the United States. Indeed, we should be alert that political leaders do not represent us all as “Henk and Ingrid” as the Dutch politician Geert Wilders for instance suggests. Before you know it, other voices are not represented in the public debate. And the only way to prevent this is not voting, but being present yourself in the public debate.  Hurray for the internet which makes this possible!

Rianne Voet, 23-10-2018

Note 1) Sometimes you can book a tour and a lecture on her at the castle by Joke Hermsen Information and reservations: info@slotzuylen.nl; 00-31-30-2440255.
Note 2) See also modern philosophers such as Hannah Arendt and Richard Sennett about this issue. For a very elegant essay on this inspiring me to this blog, see Judith A. Vega Isabelle de Charière en de kritiek van de Verlichting, Klement 1999). She also wrote a PhD about her.