An unlikely candidate to dispute the unfair, misogynistic treatment of women by men and society, Christine de Pizan successfully challenged the accepted negative views that were being expressed about women by the all-male literary world of her era. Part of Christine’s uniqueness stems from the time in which she lived, the middle to late 1300’s. The lack of a positive female role model to pattern herself after made Christine a true visionary in the fight for the equal rights of women. Her original ideas and insight provided a new and more intelligent way to view females. Pizan’s work, The Book of the City of Ladies, provided women much needed guidance in how to survive without the support of a man.
It is Christine’s literary work The Book of the City of Ladies that is most intriguing to contemporary readers. Christine was the first woman writer to possess the ability to identify and address the issues of misogyny in the literature of her time, as well as society. This characteristic made her a champion of the feminist movement that was yet to come. Although Christine never addressed the issue of “changing the structures of her society,” her ability to identify misogyny during a time when it was a normal aspect of women’s lives, reveals the insight of the young woman. The beginning scene of The Book of the City of Ladies describes Christine looking at a book by Matheolus “When I held it open and saw from its title that it was by Matheolus, I smiled, for though I had never seen it before, I had often heard that like other books it discussed respect for women” (3). Christine’s belief in intellectual equality is found in the theme of this story with a young lady reading for pleasure. 14th century women were rarely literate. Choosing reading as a pleasurable activity would have been uncommon. What Christine discovers upon reading this text is just the opposite of her expectations. She realizes that Matheolus is not respectful toward women, but just the opposite. His work represents women as “devilish and wicked.” However, she uses her wit to describe her displeasure in the text: “Because the subject seemed to me not very pleasant for people who do not enjoy lies, and of no use in developing virtue or manners, given its lack of integrity in diction and theme, and after browsing here and there and reading the end, I put it do…
…o Moses and Abraham. However, Pizan uses the three wise and angelic women to strengthen her defense of women.
Another strategy Pizan uses to emphasize the moral strengths of women is by alluding to powerful, mythological women throughout her text. She mentions a city governed by powerful queens, “…very noble ladies whom they elected themselves, who governed them will and maintained their dominion with great strength” (de Pizan 11). This example of powerful women portrays them in a masculine role –-as leaders and successful rulers. Pizan uses this example to foreshadow the building of the “City of Ladies” that Christine has been chosen by God to construct. By giving an example of a successful and strong dominion run by women, Pizan makes this idea of a city of women a more believable concept. Christine de Pizan was an extraordinary woman who has yet to be fully discovered. The wit and wisdom found within The Book of the City of Ladies eclipses some contemporary literature that defends the rights of women. Although Pizan’s writing was done for practical reasons, survival, her work revealed a vision that women are still striving to accomplish today