The disappointment of feminist aspirations in 1848 nevertheless demands more thoroughgoing explanation than its impracticality in politically charged times. We must not lose track of the fact that during the July Monarchy a truly remarkable intellectual revolution took place. For the shy twenty years of Louis Philippe’s reign the formerly unthinkable became relatively commonplace: women’s equality came to be a central tenet of the most avant-garde intellectual and political movement of the day, romantic socialism. Given its integral importance to the earliest pronouncements of socialist philosophy, the totality of feminism’s neglect during the moment of political opportunity afforded to socialism by the events of 1848 is, indeed, surprising. In fact, there are two phenomena that require explication: Before it could be neglected in 1848, feminism had to be seen as a possibility in the first place. Addressing these issues begins with questions: what made feminism thinkable in the early days of the 1830s, and what forces then rendered it untenable in 1848? 11
This book begins addressing these questions by looking not at the feminism of the socialist movement, but at the terms in which romantic socialist doctrine itself was defined. It is my argument that both the possibility and the disavowal of women’s social and political equality were rooted in the gendered understanding of the individual and of society through which socialism launched its critique. Beginning from this perspective, I argue that the feminism that emerged within the socialist world view was made plausible not by any special adherence to women’s equality, but rather by the deployment of an idealized notion of womanhood itself, one that was intimately connected to the vision of the good society espoused. 12 Socialists rejected a world in which the struggle for existence was engaged by atomized, isolated creatures, “rapacious wolves” in Pierre Leroux’s language, and embraced a more harmonious vision of human reality, one rooted in cooperation and in common sense purpose and identity. 13 Women in early socialism came to stand as the antithesis of all that socialists despised in their contemporary world, and as the symbol of that to which they aspired. By definition an outsider to the corrupt realm of the public sphere, woman came to symbolize an alternative to that competitive terrain. Socialists exalted this alternative in quasi-religious terms, and in the process came to espouse something that looked very like feminism to both contemporary and retrospective eyes. But of course all of this was taking place during the July Monarchy, a period during which socialists increasingly saw the political realm as sterile and inaccessible. Woman’s place in a republican political order was not particularly relevant to the socialist critics of the prevailing bourgeois one. It was only when socialists and republicans redefined the political realm on their own terms, in the spring of 1948, that women’s political rights really came to be a possibility and thus a point of contention.
Andrews, N. (2006). Introduction. In Socialism’s Muse (pp. xiii–xxx). Lexington Books.