55. Was There a Renaissance Feminism?
Jean E. Howard
Terminology matters in trying to make sense of a question like the one posed by the title of this essay. Several decades ago Joan Kelly asked a provocative question – ‘Was there a Renaissance for women?’ – that induced a new self-consciousness about the inclusiveness of the term ‘Renaissance’ ( Kelly 1977 ). If there had been a ‘rebirth’ of classical culture in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries in many parts of Europe, and if for some this had included a sense of expanding horizons and opportunities, exactly who had gotten to participate in this process of revival and ebullient expansion? In particular, had women? Kelly, dealing primarily with elite women, felt that the answer was a qualified ‘no’. Most importantly, she successfully called attention to the gender blindness that can surround the use of a word like ‘Renaissance’ so that the experience of the privileged sex comes to stand for the experience of everyone. Of course, calling attention to the problematics of one term does not necessarily eradicate all difficulties with the alternative. When critics of English texts began to use the term ‘early modern’, which they borrowed from social historians, to describe the period stretching roughly from the reign of Henry VIII to the Restoration, they were critiqued for implying too sharp a break between the medieval and the early modern and for homogenizing a period ... log in or subscribe to read full text
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