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Document Feminist Discourses in the Dutch Republic at the End of the Eighteenth Century Judith Vega During the last two decades of the Dutch eighteenth century the North American and European revolutionary developments gave impetus to manifold discussions on political and sodal renewal, including feminist ones. Dutch feminist discourse in this period has not been researched as extensively as its American, EngHsh, or French counterparts.1 The texts published here of Armida Amazone and P.B.v.W. indicate, though, the existence of a broader debate in the Dutch Republic on the meanings "gender equality" and "gender difference" should have to modern societies. Armida Amazone gives a sarcastic view of the marital relationship as weU as a well-founded critique of contemporary ideas on the relationship between the sexes. The text has, moreover, been written early in the revolutionary period. P.B.v.W. formulates in a more serious style the ideal of sexual equality, and grounds it in natural rights theory, which, according to him, does not allow for concluding a natural gender difference.2 We can be convinced that the texts have been read: the text of Armida Amazone was published as letter to the editor in the renowned and widely read spedatorial journal Vaderlandsche Letteroefeningen. The more conservative spectator Vaderlandsche Bibliotheek judged the pamphlet of P.B.v.W. important enough to review it at some length, though in a rather condescending tone. In Holland as elsewhere in the Atlantic world, the revolutions at the end of the eighteenth century mark the transition of ancien régime to modern times. Enlightenment ideas on freedom, equaHty, and popular sovereignty crystallize in proposals for a new constitution. Armida writes in the year 1781 and is, in her own words, a zealous advocate of freedom. A year before, the Dutch repubUc had entered the Fourth English War that would last for four years. The Dutch historian De Wit has characterized the period from 1780 to 1787 as a "national crisis," in which the eventual defeat by England announced the dissolution of the existing political structure of the Republic. In response a democratic patriotic movement developed.3 In September 1781 the famous pamphlet Aan het volk van Nederland (To the Dutch People) appeared, in which the activist Joan Derk van der CapeUen defended popular sovereignty against the abuse of political power by the House of Orange and the regents. © 1996 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 8 No. 2 (Summer) 1996 DOCUMENT: JUDITH VEGA 131 It is, in this light, perhaps surprising that Armida daims to address mainly the "weU-to-do ladies." In fact, her text poses several problems of interpretation. For one thing, certain features of the historical context must be taken into consideration. For example, freedom was a concept contested by opposing political camps. For aristocrats, defenders of class sodety, it meant the freedom to oppose higher state power; for democrats it meant liberation from political power founded in privilege. The Dutch patriotic movement consisted of both camps in different aUiances at different points in time. Armida's political conviction is, actually, clear: she mentions the American revolution as the model for her ideas on freedom and praises Washington's army which fought the British.4 Her pseudonym might be explained in two different ways. First, it may have been inspired by the more military aspects of the early democratic organizations. In Holland, the democratic movement modelled itself after that of the United States of America, in its ideas as well as in its forms of organization, and civil miUtias featured in the patriotic movement . Participation of women in war activities had been a subject for commentary in the first years of the Fourth English War, as well as later on. On the whole, Armida's text fits weU into contemporary Dutch revolutionary idiom. But, simultaneously, the text employs pre-modern "feminist" idiom. Armida's reference to high-born ladies shows indebtedness to the early feminist tradition of the "querelle des femmes," which addressed such ladies, exhibiting no connection with democratic ideals.5 Armida's ironic play with the interpretation of the bibUcal story about Sara exemplifies the best of this tradition: the war with words and the...


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