Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Prelims Reading: Day One

In an effort to keep track of my thoughts while reading for my Preliminary exams, I want to try to use this space to think through some of the things I am reading. On the docket for today are two classics of criticism in my field, Joan Kelly-Gadol's "Did Women Have a Renaissance?" (1977) and David Herlihy's response, "Did Women Have a Renaissance?: A Reconsideration (1995). Kelly-Gadol posits (in part as a response to statements in Jacob Burkhardt's The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, which I will be reading later this summer) that gender inequality caused what was a complex series of artistic, scientific and social growths for men in Italy in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries to further the oppression of the women of this same period. She lays out the following criteria "for gauging the relative contraction (or expansion) of the powers of Renaissance women and for determining the quality of their historical experience":

1) the regulation of female sexuality, as compared with male sexuality;

2) women's economic and political roles, (i.e., the kind of work they performed as compared with men, and their access to property, political power, and the education or training necessary for work, property, and power);

3) the cultural roles of women in shaping the outlook of their society, and access to the education and/or institutions necessary for this;

4) ideology about women, in particular the sex-role system displayed or advocated in the symbolic products of the society, its art, literature, and philosophy.

I first read this article about six years ago, during the Fall semester of my Junior year in college. That was the semester I officially decided to become an Early Modernist, and was not long after I began thinking of myself as a feminist scholar. Looking back, it has definitely influenced the trajectory of my work a great deal. When I look at the above list, I can't help but notice that it begins and ends with notions of female sexuality, and that it sees fit to differentiate between the social regulations concerning sexuality and the artistic representations thereof, while formally acknowledging a link between the two. Anyone who has read anything I've ever written can attest to the influence of such a statement on my own ideology.

Kelly-Gadol goes on to note the freedom afforded women in the system of courtly love (contrast to Eve Sedgwick's thoughts in Between Men (1989), in which she asserts that women are socially erased commodities in such a system), citing the example of the female troubador, who "served her lover as a friend, not a master." She also notes that women could own property in feudal societies. The transition out of feudalism into sovereign states removes this power for Italian women, thereby showing how broader social trends are infused with notions of gender differences and create the groundwork for the patriarchal assumptions we hold about historical eras. Lastly, she performs an examination of Castiglione's The Courtier that proves it was central to aestheticizing previously powerful women, making them ornaments in their husbands' courts, patrons of poets who wrote of the goodness of kings at the behest of queens.

That's today's first article. I'll hopefully be back later with a bit on Herlihy's response.

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