Mannen, mannelijkheid en vrouwenrechten in de Belgische belle époque. Gender en klasse in het feminisme van de jurist en publicist Louis Frank (1864-1917)


  • Julie Carlier


In line with the growing awareness that women’s emancipation is also a men’s issue, this article argues that feminist theory and practice might be enriched by a historical perspective. The historical study of the – largely forgotten – involvement of a significant minority of men in firstwave feminism allows for the integration of feminist history and masculinity studies in a truly relational gender analysis. This article presents such an historical analysis of the construction of male feminist identities through the case study of Louis Frank (1864- 1917), a lawyer, publicist and leading women’s rights activist of the Belgian belle époque. The exploration of Frank’s personal and intellectual trajectory reveals a specifically male feminist commitment rooted in his professional identity as a lawyer and motivated by traditional notions of chivalry. Embedded in a variety of social reform movements at the turn of the nineteenth century, Frank developed an increasingly maternalist feminist discourse, which considered women’s (supposedly natural) caring qualities as instrumental in solving social questions. Consequently, instead of challenging the prevailing gendered division of labour head-on, he appropriated traditional notions of femininity and turned them into arguments in favour of women’s rights. In this respect, Frank’s feminism did not differ fundamentally from the views of many of his female colleagues, but the intersection of gender and class does highlight the limits of his project, which was at least partially aimed at disciplining working-class men, rather than reforming his own middle-class masculinity.