International Women's Day

March 08, 2021
by Matheus Mazzochi, Undergrad RA for the Extending New Narratives project

International Women’s Day is here, and I would like to share something as a research assistant on the project “Extending New Narratives in the History of Philosophy”.  Since September last year, I have been reading works by women such as Catharine Trotter Cockburn (England), Nísia Floresta (Brazil) , Ninon de Lenclos (France), and Mary Ann Shadd Cary (USA/Canada) , and wondering to myself, “why were those women forgotten?”, “why we don’t talk about them?”

Well, it’s not because they didn’t write anything.

Cockburn published a defence on Locke’s philosophy in 1702. Apparently, she did that so well that some wrongly attributed her defense to Locke himself.

Floresta published 15 books that were translated into English, Italian and French. Her works were read and discussed by scholars in both France and Italy.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary is the first black woman in North America to publish a newspaper, and Ninon de Lenclos had her letters to the Marquis of Sévigné published and translated into English, Italian, Dutch, German, Polish, Hungarian, and Spanish.

Maybe their ideas were not interesting? However, both Floresta and Mary Ann Shadd Cary were abolitionists, defending equal rights for all regardless of gender, sex, color, belief, education or nation. Ninon de Lenclos argued that women should be allowed to pursue their own pleasures without the fear of being judged by society, and Cockburn’s arguments were added in late editions of Locke’s Essay.

These women haven’t previously been considered philosophers despite their philosophical ideas, but why not? Could poetry be a reason for their exclusion? An interesting fact about them is that most of them also wrote poetry. Regardless of this, the form of a work shouldn’t determine whether it is philosophical or not; it’s the content that should. Thus, a poem, for instance, can be philosophical. It’s worth remembering that dialogues have even been considered to be philosophical; the content of a work, not its form, is what is important.

So, what were those women’s works about? That is one of the questions we are trying to answer.

These women wrote about the issues of their time. However, even though the issues they were dealing with arguably may have changed, they are still relevant today; we can still learn how to think through our own issues by reading their works. Their ways of understanding their political problems could help us to understand our own, and so help us address them.

After all, as Mark Twain noted, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes”. Hence, these women matter.

Image credit: Photo by USGS on Unsplash



Study Philosophy at SFU

Upcoming Events

Join us for Convocation on Tuesday, October 5 at 10:00 a.m. on the Burnaby Campus Convocation Mall