The Gender Shift
In the essay “The Age of Enlightenment,” April Alliston defines and explains what she believes is the “great gender shift.” According to Alliston and many other literary scholars, as the seventeenth century ended, the eighteenth century ushered in a new view of each gender. The eighteenth century allowed men and women’s understandings of each other as well as their own understandings of self to change drastically. In Volume D of The Longman Anthology World Literature, many short stories represent the view of women and men during the seventeenth as well as the eighteenth century. Because of this changing perception of females, women who once were portrayed as corrupt became heroines, and writings by female authors reached a larger, more appreciative audience.
Since the beginning of the seventeenth century, the question of the proper role of women in society arose. Uncertainty surrounding a female’s place became known as the “the woman question” (Alliston). This question examined a woman’s physical, moral, spiritual, and intellectual roles in society. Before the Enlightenment, most men believed that women should remain uneducated and illiterate. However, during the Enlightenment, many women defied the beliefs of men and began to read and write literature of every genre. Along with the belief that women should not have the opportunity of education, males maintained that females were dangerous, sexual individuals who tempted men to sin. Because men were weak in the midst of temptation, they fell to their sexual urges and to the devious nature of women. However, as the eighteenth century arrived, women were viewed as honorable individuals who managed their households or their abbeys with great success (Alliston). Women were no longer viewed as merely evil and sexual creatures; instead they gained a voice in society and became authors and
heroines. Through their stories, readers can see the immense impact of the “gender shift” on literature and...