In The Equality of Men and Women (1641), an explicitly feminist essay, there is at least one vital aspect of Marie le Jars de Gournay's case for “mere” equality that goes to the heart of her distinctiveness as a thinker and writer in early modern France. For that case, as she makes it, is inextricable from her ideal of an intellectual community transcending gender and from her aspiration to join that community by dint of scholarly merit. Throughout the book, there are paragons of female strength, including physical strength, whom Gournay draws from both the secular and religious spheres—or from both at once, in the case of Jeanne d'Arc. With reference to the limited role allowed women in the religious life, she affirms the precedent of Mary Magdalene as a public preacher and maintains—even citing pagan in addition to early Christian practice—that women have an inherent right to administer the sacraments.
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