2. Jane Anger penned the first English-language defense of women’s rights all the way back in 1589
In 16th century England, women didn’t really write books. And if they did, they were almost always about religion. Jane Anger was different, though. At a time when women were supposed to ‘know their place’, both in society and in the home, she hit back. In 1589, she penned and published the first full-length defense of women’s rights in English, a work that still fascinates, and indeed inspires, scholars and feminists to this day.
Unsurprisingly, since she wasn’t a man, the details of Anger’s life were never recorded for posterity. We therefore know very little about her, including where and when she was born and raised. It’s possible she had French ancestry, with her name a common anglicized version of a French surname. If this was the case then it’s likely that she was from a well-to-do family and, therefore, was well-educated, or at least better educated than most females of the time.
However, all that’s really known of her is that she was the author of the ground-breaking pamphlet Jane Anger: The Protection of Women. Notably, in the work, Anger moves away from religious language and instead uses secular reasoning to argue for equal rights for women. What’s more, she goes further than this, arguing that men were actively keeping women down and that, while society was happy to benefit from women’s work, it remained highly patriarchal. She famously concluded: “We are contrary to men, because they are contrary to that which is good.”
Today, just one original copy of Anger’s Protection of Women remains. Over recent decades, however, it has been republished widely. Though it remains the subject of much scholarly debate – including over whether it was actually written by a man posing as a female author – it is nevertheless regarded as being way ahead of its time. Jane Anger, whoever she really was, was a feminist before feminism really existed.