Elisabeth Badinter: Feminism Here and There, Then and Now

Posted in today in light of the 18th century by Editor on July 27, 2011

I think it’s safe to say that the history of feminism looks considerably different in France and the United States. Last week’s issue of The New Yorker includes an instructive profile by Jane Kramer on the powerful intellectual Elisabeth Badinter, whose scholarly interests are anchored in the eighteenth century. Badinter has taught philosophy in Paris for twenty-eight years at the École Polytechnique. Her academic books include Les Remonstrances de Malesherbes, an account of the trial of Louis XVI, Les Passions Intellectuelles, and a biography of Nicolas de Condorcet, co-authored with her husband Robert Badinter, an established fixture in French politics. In 2006 she co-curated an exhibition at the Bibliothèque Nationale on Émilie du Châtelet. -CH

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From The New Yorker:

Elisabeth Badinter, photograph by Lise Sarfati (The New Yorker, 25 July 2011, p. 45).

Badinter once told me that she lived in two centuries and commuted between them, a reluctant tenant in her own. She is convinced that young Frenchwomen have been undermining their hard-won claims to equality — a universalist principle enshrined in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, written by the revolutionary elite of 1789 as the founding document of a new republic. Never mind that the citoyennes of 1789 lost those rights before they ever had them, or that they got to vote only after the Second World War, or, for that matter, that until they took to the streets two months ago, in protest, they were expected to accept the extraordinary sexual prerogatives of their republic’s male leaders. Legally, Frenchwomen have those rights now, and Badinter thinks they are starting to renounce them. She believes that, in the name of “difference,” young women are falling victim to sociobiological fictions that reduce them to the status of female mammals, programmed to the “higher claims” of womb and breast. She has written five blunt, admonitory best-sellers on the subject of those women and their men. They have made her a household name. She calls
them “my contrarian feminist politics.” . . .

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Though little of Badinter’s work has been translated into English, the American edition of her latest book, Le conflit, la femme et la mère is scheduled to be released in January 2012.

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