Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Plus ça change…

As I mentioned yesterday, Margaret Fuller was barred from the ministry by her sex. In practice, she was also kept from the lecture circuit; who was going to pay to listen to a woman? Even with her exceptional intelligence, philosophical turn of mind, and wide learning, the only paying career open to her was the teaching of children. Which she did.

But she longed to interact with adults. So she hit upon the idea of a weekly series of "Conversations" for women, many of them married, who would attend by subscription. Fuller would throw out a topic, from among the "great ideas," then encourage the participants to formulate and express their own thoughts, something most had never been inspired to do before.

On the evidence presented by Fuller's biographer, Megan Marshall, the experiment was a success, satisfying and empowering for the participants. Emboldened by the quality of discussion, Fuller decided to open the next series of Conversations to the men among her many transcendentalist friends, including Emerson.

Uh oh, you can guess the results.

The women were reduced to silence as the men one by one took the floor and held it, each one asserting his firm opinions. Conversation was replaced by declamation. Emerson, in particular, seemed determined to outshine the moderator. Fuller was abashed and dismayed.

The experience buttressed her vibrant feminism. Her book on the subject, Women in the Nineteenth Century, was as provocative in its time as Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex was in ours.

(A wonderfully slender Moon last evening through a hole in the clouds, but no comet. Will keep trying.)