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My purpose is to explore factors of the Renaissance that determined women’s selfhood in Montaigne’s Essais. I argue that the shift into modernity is responsible for the loss of women’s autonomy as well as the anxiety experienced by men regarding their power as well as their potential. Montaigne and Renaissance discourse defines women only by their bodies (sexual organs) and I explore the elements that established biological essentialism. This paper exemplifies comparative literature in the sense that it combines literature, theory, and art for the purpose of creating a well-researched examination of the root causes for why women were villainized and oppressed in the Renaissance era. I utilize feminist theory to discuss embodiment, which my argument defines as women being inseparable to their biological roles and the loss of their economic autonomy by way of them losing their property rights. Another aspect of embodiment in which I use is the loss of women midwives to male physicians, which calls for men to establish women’s reproductive rights, furthermore, trap them inside the narrow male definition of woman. Paradoxically, women are embodied due to sexist power dynamics, but feared for their possible demonic powers. The fear of witchcraft in women is due to men’s fear of castration and the tension that women will take away men’s power. Art theory from the Renaissance integrates cultural attitudes towards women’s bodies on a vast scale. This research paper is an exercise to examine the history of women’s selfhood.





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