In The Book of the City of Ladies, Christine de Pisan imagines she is transported into another world, a world in which women have rights they never had before. Given the year she penned her story was 1405, some of her ideas of freedom are limited, but they were a step in a much bigger direction.
Pisan starts her story by recalling male-penned stories and articles, all with one thing in common: their negative view of women. As the criticism and outright derision happens so often, Pisan shares her confusion. Surely, all of the men with their view on women couldn’t be wrong, especially since men of 1405 were allowed higher education and women were not, therefore they were considered to be smarter. A large collection of intelligent men could not be wrong, Pisan believed. It is only later when Pisan meets the three Ladies (Lady Reason, Lady Rectitude, Lady Justice) that she rationalizes their views as wrong, citing details as to why men believe women to be inherently stupid and immoral (men are jealous, men are blind). One of the Lady’s puts things into perspective for Pisan through use of comparison. Men believe Eve, the first woman, was evil and she poisoned the whole of women for every generation to come. If men believe women to be inherently evil, why is it they also believe education will corrupt women? How can women be corrupted further if they are born corrupt? Lady Reason sums it up for Pisan, “Here you can clearly see that not all opinions of men are based on reason and that these men are wrong” (para. 2).
Other parts of Pisan’s story tell of inventions and advantages by women, and other causes of misogyny.
While Pisan’s allegories strive to understand equality for women, there is still a patronizing tone to them throughout, almost an echo of the patriarchy still holding Pisan (and all women) back. She spoke of equality and education for women, but at the same time, the tone of her writing suggested she could never imagine a woman not being defined as a “lady” and a man not be defined as a “gentleman”. In Pisan’s equal world, woman probably would be educated but under male-supervision, and she could probably not have imagined women carrying out roles men traditionally held, such as going to war, being doctors, lawyers, and scientists. Again, in 1405, women had very little rights, and it is arguable that Pisan’s story was realistic in its outlook.