Brooke Tybush

Graduate Spring 2024: Brooke Tybush

Femmes Galantes, Femmes Savantes: Literary Expressions of Women’s Sexuality and Mentorship in the long 18th Century

Department of French and Francophone Studies; Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

This project investigates expressions of female sexuality in 18th and early 19th-century French and Francophone literature. In this literary context I explore instances of woman-to-woman sexual mentorship which promote positive female sexual practices and experiences that prioritize women’s pleasure over societal expectations of “virtuous womanhood.” Through these mentorships, women in fictional settings create a space of resistance to patriarchal, racist, and imperialist structures which seek to repress women’s bodily and sexual autonomy. By analyzing how women in fiction resist these multiple intersecting oppressions, I suggest that readership becomes a mechanism for mentorship between women to combat real-world problems. Since many texts which positively depict woman-to-woman sexual mentorship are rare in the 18th-century literary canon, my project investigates how their omission serves as evidence of their threat to systems of oppression in the 18th-century Francosphere. A primary goal of this project, therefore, is to analyze not only how women sexually mentor each other in fictional settings to resist various forms of oppression, but also how these fictions are themselves suppressed in order to maintain women’s subjugation. My project explores characters ranging from elite courtesans in metropolitan France, to wealthy women in the sexual marketplace of Saint Domingue, to the influential Signares of early-modern Senegal – each of whom engage in mentorship with other women to help them achieve some form of liberation and therefore resist 18th-century power structures which sought to stifle their liberties.