Christine de Pizan

In the introductory portion of the section on Christine de Pizan, the editors of Available Means stress how often she used the "I" construction, even "I, Christine," as if to emphasize that the "I" was a female person (32). However, in the subsequent passages quoted from Christine's The Book of the City of Ladies, or at least in the translation thereof, nowhere do those words occur.

And it may, again, be a case of translation. Although the recommendation for further reading on page 42 is for a translation by Sarah Lawson, the text has a translation from Earl Jeffrey Richards, another male translator. Again, I don't like that this text uses so many (so far) male translators. Is there a bias? Why should it be important to me that the translator of this women's rhetoric, this time truly a woman's words, is a man? There is no strict way to correctly translate from one language to another, or Google Translate would be perfect. There are nuances, especially with writings that are in older dialects. 

Phrases and rhetorical choices can be highly influenced by translation. I know this. I have spent many years of schooling doing translations from Ancient Greek, Latin and French. Nuances of the language are difficult enough to translate - why should this woman's voice be forced through a man's interpretation? 

But I haven't gotten to the actual text. I did enjoy it enough to be curious about the parts of the text that were cut out. What, for example, were the other scepters for? 

Christine was the focus of much discussion in our fourth class session. Her use of rhetorical devices is both apt and admirable. Playing to her audience, she declares that the men who write and say that women are bad must be correct, since they all seem to agree in the essential perfidy of women though it pains her. By agreeing, she places herself in a position where she is not disturbing the status quo. She feigns doubt in order to present her point through a set of divine characters. 

By placing her "I" in the position of agreement with the general consensus, she thereby allows the contrary views expressed by the ladies to come from an authority higher than that of a mere mortal woman. And she even places herself in the position of having to be persuaded that women, virtuous women, can be of worth and are not necessarily as literally written about. She bemoans her sex, "for I detested myself and the entire feminine sex, as though we were monstrosities in nature" (34). 

And once Reason convinces her that she is wrong to curse being born a woman, she explains the reasons that the men who have written about women in such a way, perhaps in order to allow some men to agree that they did not mean what they had written or spoken, but were only going along with the great writers of the past or intending their words to be taken as ironic. She is not attacking men, but rather the ideas that attack women.

After a Seminar freshmen year at St. John's, I told the tutor that I felt like I had read a different text than the rest of the class - after class had ended. He told me that he wished I had said so during class, because those kinds of discussions tended to be the best kind. In our fourth class session, another student brought up an interpretation that had never occurred to me. She believed that "Nature, which allows the will of the heart to put into effect what the powerful appetite desires, has grown cold in them," (40), meant that women were in a state closer to capital N Nature and men were separated from Nature to their detriment.

I had a completely different interpretation of that sentence. In my opinion, it meant that the men who grew old and impotent were mad at all women because of their inability to have sex. Losing sexual power, they resort to take whatever power they can over both women, by lambasting and slandering them, and men, by telling them women are no good.

And this time, yes, I did speak up and made my different opinion known. It was difficult for me to do. My heart was pounding to speak up, but I did it. And, just before the end of class, the first student said that she was glad that I had offered the differing interpretation. Even reading the same words, interpretations can differ, and that's practically the point of a class like this, to discover how others read a text - else why not simply read on one's own?

Christine uses exclusionary language in her argument. The City of Ladies is only for some women. It is not for "those women who lack virtue" (38). This exclusion led one person in my class to coin the phrase "medieval slut-shaming," which was, frankly, awesome. And that, I think, is a fatal flaw in Christine's rhetoric, and in the rhetoric of many of the women writers so far. Women as a whole cannot fight for their rights if they are fighting among themselves. If I am so busy trying to sift the virtuous women from those who lack virtue, then when will I find the time to point out how all women are being discriminated against?

This trend continues even today with the so-called "cool girl" trope. She doesn't mind if you look at porn, and she'll watch football with you. She'll laugh at your sexist jokes, because she's not like the other girls. She's cool. Why can't you stodgy feminists just be like the cool girl?

Perhaps it is not just giants that we need to seek, but also peers. Peers to support us and bring us together rather than continually dividing us and setting us against ourselves.

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