In this paper, I utilise a feminist perspective to evaluate the arguments for the equality of the sexes put forward by seventeenth-century writers Franois Poulain de la Barre and Anna Maria van Schurman. I argue that Poulain de la Barre's and van Schurman's appeals to women's 'natural' dispositions and behaviours weaken their arguments for the equality of the sexes. I discuss the tension in Poulain's A Physical and Moral Discourse concerning the Equality of Both Sexes between notions of naturalness and social construction, and demonstrate how his affirmation of 'natural' distinctions between men and women significantly opposes his alternate method and weakens his conclusion. I then analyse van Schurman's A Dissertation on the Natural Capacity of Women for Study and Learning, in which she uses supposed natural dispositions and attributes of women to advance her argument. I conclude that despite their instrumental usefulness in her arguments, van Schurman's usage of damaging and sexist stereotypes of women undermines even her limited conclusion that women should be allowed to study, as well as the greater project of female equality. The intent of this paper is certainly not to discount these authors' important and radical contributions to the furthering of women's interests in the time in which they lived; however, I will conclude that their use of particular naturalness-based evidence and stereotypes means they cannot be considered feminists.
How to Cite:
Regier, J., 2017. 'Naturalness,' Gender Equality and Women's Education in the Works of Poulain de la Barre and van Schurman. Rerum Causae, 9(1), pp.70–84.