The Book of the City of Ladies – An Early Guide to Medieval Era Feminism

In Christine de Pizan’s “Book of the City of Ladies”, she explains the theory behind illustrious women. In the first part of the book, the author imagines herself talking to the three virtues of illustrious women. Each Virtue then explains to Christine how she would be instrumental in building the City of Ladies. While it is not an “actual” city, this City of Ladies would be the first description of how feminist thought started in a world where men dominated all women. Christine believed that a woman “…is entitled to her own space, her freedom, her own self-defense, and to her memory” (Wagner, p.69). She believed that women if given these rights, can stand equal with men in society.

Of Women and Virtue

The three ladies of Virtue in Christine de Pizan’s book are qualities that women have, but are always left behind because men are quick to silence women when they start discovering their own voice. These virtues “teach” de Pizan what it means to create a society where women are strong and equal. For example, Lady Reason, one of the Virtues who first appeared to Christine in her book, explained why men slander women. She instructs Christine how to build the wall around her city by using intelligence.

De Pizan further explained how women of Medieval times are always behind current affairs because men want them to remain illiterate. She further attacked the misogynistic views on women by men by quoting her past beliefs in accordance to Matheolus’s work Lamentations, a popular 13th-century literary work that made fun of marriage and explained that women were evil for making marriages unbearable.

The Realization that turned into Passion

Christine “…felt into deep remorse and pity upon her own sex because she believed that women have no place in a society where brilliant men imposed the idea of women being illiterate as a fact, not a lie”

Thus Christine de Pizan began to work tirelessly to complete her book. Needless to say, by the time it came out, societies were equally divided with her opinion. But nevertheless, de Pizan would champion the rights of women and of fairness and justice between sexes. Even today, societies still feel her work and her brilliance. It is said that de Pizan is the champion of not just early feminism, but of true feminism. The kind that lets women truly shine together with men.