"'The Slaves of Our Pleasures' oder 'Our Companions and Equals'?
The social construction of reality in general, and the making of gender roles in particular, has recently attracted a lot of scholarly attention. This article tries to illuminate the way in which a modem construction of femininity was shaped in eighteenth-century England. First of all, some attributes that were considered to be typical characteristics of women in the seventeenth century are outlined. In order to shed light on the way in which assumptions about the nature of women changed and in which various discourses contributed to shaping the new image of women, the influence of changing social and economic circumstances, and of the culture of sensibility are assessed. The new conceptions of the relationship between the sexes and the status of women in society are discussed in the last part of the article, which also tries to evaluate the role women themselves played in changing collective perceptions about gender.