Friday, January 24, 2014

Dora Montefiore, a socialist writing in 1901, on feminism

"I cannot help regretting that the word “feminism” has crept into the debate. It is a word of which we have no need in England, and which we might very well have left in its native land, France, where it was coined by men to express the contemptuous lack of understanding of the Boulevard for a phase of strenuous belief on the part of some French men and women, that woman possessed other functions and aspirations outside those of sex; in a word, was a human being as well as a female. It is a lop-sided expression, and leads to lop-sided thinking, just as the term “masculinism” might do, if used in a similar connection. Where education, professions, political rights and public duties are concerned, there is no necessity to emphasise sex; we all meet on the common ground of human beings, having common human interests. In 1897, when speaking at the Women’s Congress in Brussels, I made a similar protest against the word “feminism,” suggesting that we should substitute for it “humanism,” as the advancement of humanity, and not of one sex over another, was the aim and object of the women at that time assembled in conference. The late Madame Potonié Pierre, one of the most large-minded among the French workers in the cause of equal rights for women, felt the justice of my plea, and wrote several articles in the same spirit; but the word “feminism” proved too attractive to the esprit gaulois, and it still reigns supreme in French bourgeois circles, and threatens to invade England." -Dora Montefiore