Born in Paris to minor aristocrats, Marie le Jars de Gournay was a self-taught woman who made her living as a writer. She became close friends with the philosopher Michel de Montaigne, becoming his fille d’alliance or adoptive daughter. After he died, she edited several editions of Montaigne’s Essays.
However, de Gournay is best known for her essay The Equality of Men and Women (1622; second edition 1641). The work is often considered a response to the querelle de femmes, a debate about whether men or women were the superior sex.
De Gournay rejects both these positions, instead arguing they are fundamentally equal. Part of her argument involves demonstrating the equality of men and women by appealing to religious and philosophical assumptions about human nature. But the most interesting parts of her work are her arguments for women’s education. The reason men seem superior to women, de Gournay claims, is the difference in education between them. Women from all social classes routinely received no formal education. Yet we see individual women who have had this education excel, and that education bridges the gaps between men born in different conditions.
De Gournay asks, “why would a genuinely good education not bridge the gap between the intellectual powers of men and women?”
Further Reading: An overview of de Gournay’s life and philosophy
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