International Conference, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle / Université Versailles-Saint-Quentin
Over the past three decades, research on the discourses on the equality/inequality between the sexes has intensified. In the context of the British Isles, it has particularly focused on the period 1540-1640 which was particularly prolific on the subject in the wake of the Reformation, Renaissance humanism and the succession of three queens on the English and Scottish thrones. The controversies of that time reactivated at least four debates inherited from the middle Ages: the debate on marriage, the contest for knowledge, the debate on woman’s rule and finally the debate about clothes and gender roles. Those debates raised the following questions: was it in the interest of both sexes to be married? Should women have access to education and culture for their benefit and that of society at large? Could women rule without being de facto tyrants? And finally, a question that might sound subsidiary but which makes perfect sense in the light of the others: could men and women cross-dress without turning the world upside down?
In most cases, the scholarly works that have analyzed those different debates have focused on the differences between men and women in terms of intellectual and moral abilities that formed the core of the arguments of the philogynists and the misogynists. In so doing, they have almost entirely left out if not the body at least the five senses. Yet historians of the senses such as Constance Classen, Robert Jütte and David Howes have shown that the five senses were used in the various attempts to build a gender hierarchy in the XVIth, XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries. On the one hand, the senses were used to oppose one sex to the other, with man being traditionally described as a reasonable animal contrary to woman presented as a sensual creature. On the other hand, the masculine and the feminine have in turn been used to build a hierarchy between the senses since Plato and Aristotle, as for example, in De Sensu by Charles Bouvelles (1470-1559), and down to Molyneux’s problem and Locke’s empiricism. The noble senses (sight and hearing), traditionally associated with the mind, have thus been considered as masculine and the senses of proximity (taste, smell and touch), more corporeal, as feminine. It is not surprising therefore that Biblical exegesis should have attributed the responsibility of the fall to Eve’s greediness.
The conference organizers welcome papers on questions such as:
1. How did misogynists use the senses in their argument to justify gender hierarchy through the alleged inability of women to keep their senses under check? Through the theory of a sensorial plot hatched by women to blind men and even disempower them? By the association between the senses and moral degradation? Between the senses and mysticism, or witchcraft, or possession?
2. How did philogynists defend women and gender equality through: the disparagement of men as sensual creatures and the praise of women as rational creatures; a reappraisal of the feminine senses and of women’s sensory abilities?
3. Which aspects of early women’s position met with positive or negative responses in these discourses in terms of: rules and precepts? Ownership and use of gendered objects? Practices of corporal mortification? Criminalisation and corporal punishments (scold’s bridle, cucking stool)?
Abstracts of about 150 words for 25-minute papers should be sent to the following address : email@example.com, before 30 June 2017.
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