Feminist Aesthetics and the Categories of the Beautiful and the Sublime

Authored by: Christine Battersby

The Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy

Print publication date:  May  2017
Online publication date:  May  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138795921
eBook ISBN: 9781315758152
Adobe ISBN:


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Feminist explorations of the sublime and the beautiful have developed in markedly different directions. This is not surprising given the different histories of the two terms. Whereas the nature of the beautiful had been of key importance to Plato, Aristotle, and other ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, it was only during the Enlightenment period that a strong contrast was established between the beautiful and the sublime. But this was also the time when there was a decisive shift away from regarding the well-honed male body as best exemplifying the ideal of the beautiful, and beauty itself was domesticated and downgraded. As Mary Wollstonecraft registered in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Wollstonecraft 1996 [1792])—one of the earliest European feminist texts—to associate women with the duties of being beautiful in this newly demoted mode was, in effect, to give them the status of subordinate beings. Instead, Wollstonecraft aspired to the newly emergent category of the sublime, which was all too frequently being denied to ideally “feminine” women.

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