Marie de Gournay (6 October 1565, Paris – 13 July 1645) was a French writer who wrote a novel, Le Promenoir de M. de Montaigne qui traite de l’amour dans l’œuvre de Plutarque, and several other literary works. In her novel she explored the dangers women face when they become dependent on men. She advocated for women’s education in two treatises, Égalité des Hommes et des Femmes (The Equality of Men and Women), published in 1622, and Grief des Dames (The Ladies’ Grievance), published in 1626. De Gournay argued that men and women were equal because “the virtue of men and virtue of women are the same thing, since God bestowed on them the same creation and the same honor.”
In The Equality of Men and Women de Gournay has structured her argument much as Christine de Pizan did in her Cité des Dames, by profiling great women of the past to demonstrate the ability of women to learn. She avoided the discussion on superiority of one sex over the other by stressing the equality of men and women. But she attacked the notion that great women simply resembled great men. She argued that it was no surprise that women were perceived as incompetent, ignorant, and focused on their bodies, given that women received little education. De Gournay argued that given the same opportunities, privileges, and education as men, women could equal men’s accomplishments. In The Ladies’ Grievance, de Gournay complained that women did not own property, have access to public office, or the ability to exercise freedom. She argued that educated women had the right to be heard, just as educated men do. Like René Descartes, she separated the mind from the body, and argued that women were as capable as men.
De Gourney read the works of Michel de Montaigne as a young woman, and travelled to meet him. They became close, and Montaigne called Marie his “fille d’alliance,” his adopted daughter. After Montaigne’s death, Gournay edited Montaigne’s Essays in 1595, and it is for this work that she is best known
De Gournay, Marie le Jars. Apology for the Woman Writing and Other Works. University of Chicago Press, 2007.