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Charles Fourier, the Saint-Simonians and Flora Tristan on the nature and roles of women

Grogan, Susan Kathleen (1986) Charles Fourier, the Saint-Simonians and Flora Tristan on the nature and roles of women. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

This thesis analyses concepts of women's nature and social roles in the writings of Charles Fourier (from 1808 to 1835), the Saint- Simonians (from 1825 to 1834) and Flora Tristan (from 1835 to 1844). These theorists were highly critical of the subjection of women in their society, and proposed to ensure women's liberty' in the ideal societies they sought to establish. Their approaches to the liberation of women are investigated through their perceptions of women's ideal roles in society, and through the roles filled in practice by disciples and early women socialists.

Studies of French social thought and socialism in the 1830s and 1840s (e.g., Louvancour [1913], Bougie [1932], Cole [1953] and Lichtheim [1969]) have usually placed little emphasis on early socialist' views of women and their roles. The contribution of women to the development of early socialist thought and practice has also been generally neglected. Only the pioneering study of Thibert (1926) examined these questions in detail, although Thibert's analysis was profoundly influenced by her priorities as a 1920s feminist. My thesis argues that the character of early French socialism cannot be understood adequately without considering the views of women socialists such as the Saint-Simoniennes and Flora Tristan and without examining assumptions about women and women's roles. The thesis also places greater emphasis than recent feminist accounts (e.g. Moses [1984]) on the early socialists' belief in women's special' nature. It argues that this belief undermined the theorists ability to envisage alternative social roles for women.

Charles Fourier's critique of women's oppression, and the roles he envisaged for women in Harmony, are often cited as proof of early socialist commitment to the cause of women. However, Fourier's model of female nature included assumptions which severely limited his perceptions of the potential roles of women as liberated individuals. The Saint-Simonians' concept of female nature, emphasising women's moral strength and nurturing function, also determined their view of the roles which were open to women, both within the socialist movement and within their future society. Belief in the loving, moral role of women reached its zenith with Flora Tristan, who envisaged a socialist society under the 'reign of women'. Tristan's vision of socialism emphasised moral transformation, and depended for its inauguration and preservation upon the moral superiority of women.

The assumptions made by Fourier, the Saint-Simonians and Flora Tristan about female versus male nature proved incompatible with their aim to liberate women. The model of female nature shared by these writers enabled them to assign a central role to women in the creation of the new society. However, since this model embodied a notion of specialised female capacity defined in opposition to male potential, it resulted in a restricted concept of female liberation' which fundamentally determined the range of women's social roles.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Social Inquiry
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: repository@murdoch.edu.au. Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Hooper, John
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/51192
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