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Reinventing Woman’s Nature: Early Modern Feminism and Its Roots – Day 1

March 30, 2023 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Register to attend in person in Royce 306.
Register to attend online with Zoom.

Challenges to inferiorizing conceptions of women’s nature that grew in prominence in the 16th and 17th centuries should be seen not just as applications of changing philosophical conceptions of nature under the rise of mechanical philosophy, but as helping to shape those reconceptualizations. Through their polemical writings in defence of women, their rejection of histories written by men that excluded or skewed the contributions of women, in their own philosophical treatises and correspondence with male philosophers, feminists, including some feminist men, helped to shape a conception of human nature and virtue that exalted both women and men equally. These texts contain not just critiques of misogynistic theorising about the natures and vices of women aimed at raising the consciousness of women and challenging the authority of men, but deliberate proposals for rethinking social structures—the structure of communities, the family, and women’s political status and role in the State. Of note is the way in which feminists of the period recognised, therefore, that theorising about human nature could not succeed in isolation from a reimagining of the kind of social structures in which it was possible for all humans, men and women included, to flourish. An examination of what makes a thing human could not, in other words, be separated from the question of what it would take to make men and women equal.

This conference is interested in exploring these connections between theorising about women’s nature and theorising about the kind of society that promotes sexual equality. It covers the contributions of feminists from English, French, and Italian traditions, as well as the philosophical transitions that inspired them—Humanism, Cartesianism, and shifts in virtue theory, including challenges to masculinist assumptions about heroic virtues and dignity. The conference will in this way shed light on the extent to which feminist theorising in the period contained an agenda for social change, and thus to its place in the history of feminism as a social movement.

Organized by Professors Calvin Normore (UCLA), Deborah Brown (University of Queensland), Jacqueline Broad (Monash University), and Marguerite Deslauriers (McGill University).

Thursday, March 30, 2023 – DAY 1
3:30 PM – 5:00 PM Martina Reuter (University of Jyväskylä)
“Complex Relations: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Olympe de Gouges on the Sexes” (Keynote)
5:00 PM – 6:30 PM Reception
Friday, March 31, 2023 – DAY 2
9:00 AM – 10:15 AM Allauren Forbes (McMaster University)
“Speech, Silence, and Gendered Space: Women’s Epistemic Nature in Cavendish’s Plays”
10:15 AM – 10:45 AM Break
10:45 AM – 12:00 PM Marcy Lascano (University of Kansas)
“The Feminist Ontologies of Cavendish and Conway”
12:00 PM – 1:15 PM Emanuele Costa (Vanderbilt University)
“Anne Conway and the Feminine: Between Receptacle and Embodied Thought”
1:15 PM – 2:00 PM Lunch Break
2:00 PM – 3:15 PM Jacqueline Broad (Monash University)
“A Weapon in their Hands: Bathsua Makin’s Arguments for Women’s Education”
3:15 PM – 3:45 PM Break
3:45 PM – 5:00 PM Marguerite Deslauriers (McGill University)
“Whose Worth? All Women, or Some Women?”
Saturday, April 1, 2023 – DAY 3
9:00 AM – 10:15 AM Diane Zetlin (University of Queensland)
“Equality and Inequality: Glory and Honour”
10:15 AM – 10:45 AM Break
10:45 AM – 12:00 PM Charlotte Sabourin (Douglas College)
“Germaine de Staël’s Second Thoughts on Rousseau”
12:00 PM – 1:15 PM Lisa Shapiro (McGill University)
“Gabrielle Suchon on ‘persons of the sex’”
1:15 PM – 2:00 PM Lunch Break
2:00 PM – 3:15 PM Deborah Brown (University of Queensland)
“Anxiety and the Fracturing of the Self: Descartes and Princess Elisabeth”

Register to attend in person in Royce 306.
Register to attend online with Zoom.


March 30, 2023
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Event Category:


CMRS Center for Early Global Studies
UCLA Department of Philosophy


Royce 306
10745 Dickson Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90095
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