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Marriage and Misogyny: The Place of Mary Astell in the History of Political Thought

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This article qualifies and supplements the interpretation of Astell's Reflections on Marriage as an attack on contract theories of politics. Astell was undoubtedly a conservative critic of Locke, but also deserves her reputation as a feminist critic of marriage, since the primary purpose of her Reflections was to get women to reflect on whether to marry, and seriously to consider not marrying. The essay supports this interpretation by locating Astell's Reflections in the context of the querelle des femmes. Viewed as a response to misogynist anti-marital satire, it is clear why Astell's work on marriage should have been received by her contemporaries as blowing the 'trumpet of rebellion' to women. The fact that Astell was both deeply conservative and recognizably feminist suggests that feminist political thought is not simply an outgrowth of Enlightenment radicalism, and reminds us that feminism is in part a defensive response to the hatred of women.
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Keywords: Locke; history of feminism; satires on marriage; satires on women; social contract

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Centre de recherche en ethique de l'Universite de Montreal, CP 6128 succ. Centreville, Montreal, Quebec H3C 3J7, Canada, Email:

Publication date: 2004-01-01

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