Romantic Continuities and Feminist Contemporaries

In Romantic Era Feminism, students engage in deep and broad learning about the 18th and 19th centuries’ intellectual and cultural legacy, and its continuing presence in 20th and 21st century feminism. Among others, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Hays, William Godwin and John Stuart Mill are studied alongside Malala Yousafzai, Azar Nafisi, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Jessica Valenti and The Young Lords Party’s “Position Paper on Women”; “The Saudi Women Revolution Statement” is read with “The Declaration of Independence” and “Declaration of the United Irishmen”; Rush Limbaugh is heard echoing Richard Polwhele, and Daryush Valizadeh, Rousseau. This dialogue between 18th - and 19th -century feminist and anti-feminist texts, and 20th - and 21st -century ones launches students’ exploration into three areas: 1) the cultural and intellectual history of feminism since the Romantic era; 2) the feminist implications 18th- and 19th- century political discourse, and the arguments used then and now either to support or to suppress those implications; 3) the range and diversity of feminist positions within and across generations, and the role of class, race, and historical context in expanding or limiting the literary and political imaginations of feminists in all eras, including our own. Students also study the lives and works of individual writers, and their intellectual influence on one another; the intersections of abolitionist or anti-racist with feminist imagery, discourse, arguments and action; the second and third waves’ rediscovery, reinvention and revision of earlier feminist critiques of unequal marriage laws, the sexual double standard, employment discrimination and similar issues; and the utility of diverse literary genres for presenting these topics richly and persuasively. Most importantly, by learning that the Romantics are indeed our contemporaries, and by critically examining the assumptions we still share with them, students become more self-conscious, better informed, and more effective participants in the continuously ongoing cultural construction and critique of gender and human rights discourses.