6. Charles Fourier was the radical French philosopher who first coined the word ‘feminism’
In 1838, French philosopher Francois Marie Charles Fourier put forward his new idea. He called it ‘feminism’, a radical theory for the time. He argued that men and women are born equal and, as such, should have equal opportunities and rights. This was part of his larger world view, one that laid the foundations for the modern socialist movement. Moreover, it wasn’t just his views on gender equality which were way ahead of his time. He also held very progressive views on sexuality too, as his writings show.
Fourier was born in 1772 and worked as a traveling salesman as a young man. It was while on the road in France that he developed his ideas and became a writer. Despite not being a commercial success, by 1815, Fourier had found himself a patron, allowing him to write extensively and develop his philosophy, including his ideas on what he called ‘feminism’. Put simply, the Frenchman argued that women were just as capable as men. As such, no profession or job should be closed to them on account of their gender. He also called for every level of education to be opened up to girls and women so that they might enjoy the same opportunities in life as their male counterparts.
Fourier never married since he was against it on philosophical grounds. Indeed, he believed that marriage could prohibit a woman from asserting her individuality and realizing her potential. Though his ideas were relatively unknown when he died aged 65 in 1837, Fourier had a small but dedicated band of followers. They ensured that his arguments lived on. In fact, they did more than endure. Much of Fourier’s thinking was adopted by later socialist thinkers. Even today, his views on marriage and women’s rights – so controversial at the time – are central to modern feminist thought.