Many women were involved in the uncertainty of womens rights during the French Revolution between the years of 1789 and 1804. Exploration of the unfolding struggles of France managed to turn my head in the direction of womans rights more than once in my discovery. Perhaps because of the persistence of the women during this time period and their straight forwardness in their mission, was I so determined to see a positive progression in the fulfillment of their needs. Even during a revolutionary time like this, equal rights for women seemed out of reach. Women had to struggle for a position in the revolution (Ajaibu 2001, 1).
One of the main women involved in the French Revolution was Olympe de Gouges. Olympe de Gouges is how one would recognize her, but her birth name was Olympe Gouze. Gouze, the daughter of a butcher, and a part of the lower class found prostitution as her occupation. Gouze was very bright and her enlightened views were bound to change the future, which they seemed to. She continued prostitution until she was thirty-six and respectfully became a playwright. After the death of her husband, Gouze moved to Paris and changed her name to Olympe de Gouges. Upon arrival, de Gouges proposed a new French theater that would only show womens plays (Ajaibu 2001, 1). In 1788 Olympe started creating her pamphlets and petitions that were pro-woman and anti-monarchy (Ajaibu 2001, 1). About a year after de Gouges produced her petitions and pamphlets the National Assembly of France created The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (de Lafayette 2001, 1). This declaration was created for the working class in order for them to receive rights and freedoms. However,
the declaration was not applicable to all people; this document excluded women. Within the next two years Olympe de Gouges began creating her own version of a declaration. She called it The Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Citizen (de Gouges 2001, 1). This document was very similar to the declaration created by the National Assembly but it finally gave justice to the women of Paris (Ajaibu 2001, 2). As many feminists have done since, de Gouges both asserted womans capability to reason and make moral decisions, and pointed to the feminine virtues of emotion and feeling. Woman was not simply the same as man, but she was his equal partner (Lewis 2001, 1).Not only did de Gouges emphasize that women were not the same as men and merely partners, but she also stated in her declaration the right to free speech, and the right to identify the fathers of their children. She assumed a right of children born out of legitimate marriage to full equality to those born in marriage. This called into question the assumption that only men had the freedom to satisfy their sexual desire outside of marriage (Lewis 2001, 1). These assumptions appear not only accurate but also seem unjust. To say that only one can really enjoy a sexual experience without being referred to in a bad way, meaning bad reputation does not fulfill the equality rule. The de Gouges declaration was important for this time period because the dilemma concerning equal rights towards women would project above other remaining concerns. The rights were not completely equal but comparably better in balancing the scales.Both declarations were anti-monarchy, and were flooded with a fresh perspective for the era(Ajaibu 2001, 2).
In the laws of Paris, the clergy were ranked before the nobles. The clergy were the custodians of the communities spiritual welfare and its moral standard (Doyle 1989, 33). The clergy numbered about 130,000 but over half were in regular orders (2/3 of the women) and many of the sectors were canons without cure of souls as members of 496 cathedral or collegiate chapters (Doyle 1989, 33).
The outlook of women in the French revolution was still minimal, however, they were more active in the clergy than anywhere else. Even though the women who participated in ministerial matters may have not done much to effect the rights of women during this time, they still played an active role as a group. Women saw this as a very big step in their progression of power.
Around the 1730s when established religion started to loose its glow, more people started to turn to science, which they saw as the newer, truer, wisdom. (Doyle 1989, 65). While looking ahead, they found freemasonry as a royal art, which caused them to start building masonry lodges where freemasonry could be practiced. Between 800 and 900 Masonic lodges were founded in France between 1732 and 1793, two-thirds of them after 1760. Between 1773 and 1779 well over 20,000 members were recruited. Few towns of any consequence were without one of mote lodges by the 1780s, and despite several papal condemnation of deistic cult that had originated in Protestant England, the Elite of society flocked to join. (Doyle 1989, 65). As masonry was replenished with hierarchy, the women of the world were once again left out in the cold. Men tended to join the lodges where they would find their social peers, and were innumerable grades of perfection through which adepts could pass (Doyle 1989, 65). Even though the lodges were known as to be equal or fair, they exclude women from
their circle, and they undeniably restricted women of the right to socialize. The men were constantly surrounded by there friends and colleagues in the lodges as the women sat at home to tend for their children, cook, clean, and tend to the rigors of everyday life. The women of this time really didnt seem to have a choice but to agree with the circumstances at hand. They were handed a life, and they seem to only have one real freedom at this time. That was the freedom to live.
In about the 1790s with the economy of Paris continually and slowly diminished. The sugar and coffee surplus were doubling, and the increases provided the impetus behind calls for a maximum, which renewed in petitions to the Convention and the Jacobin Club between 22 and 24 February (Doyle 1989, 223). When the petitions remained unanswered, the city of Paris was under attack of large groups who went into grocery shops and warehouses, and took what they pleased. The groups were usually lead by women. They felt that the asking prices were unjust, so in turn they stole the product and sold them for what they thought to be just (Doyle 1989, 223). The women felt that everyone should be able to have every day necessities at a fair price. The smallest things women could do to gain some authority or common respect made their lives a lot more interesting than they were before. This extravagant plan allowed them to give back to the people that didnt even acknowledge their existence. This plan allowed them to hope for a changing future. This plan gave them strength. This plan was a start for change. The system of taxation populaire where by a large crowd composed of mostly women would seize a merchants wares, distribute them amongst the populace at le prix juste (the fair price) and then return the proceeds to the shop keeper. (Clark 1997,
1). With the cooperation of the shopkeepers, the women no longer had to steal the products, they were handed over willingly, and this was a large improvement for the women of this time. The women were also involved in two areas; which caused the classes of women to overlap, education and prostitution. The men saw the women of Paris to be no more than sex objects or wives. Since most women in Paris were uneducated, they had no choice but to turn to prostitution for some sort of income, that is if they werent married. Prostitution was obviously an extremely degrading profession, not to mention the fact that it threatened the sanctity of the home and therefor the happiness of all members of the household (Clark 1997, 2). The women of Paris werent in it for the money though, or for a job, they didnt even want to compete with other women just so they could care for their children. They did it to offer alternative professions to indigent women and consequently to preserve the treasured domestic bliss (Clark 1997, 2). Women in this time were by nature supposed to ensure their husband with a certain amount of pleasure in the home, in other words a bit of domestic bliss. Although women deserve an education, their place in the home and knowledge they acquired should be used only to avoid prostitution, please their husbands, and intelligently rear their children (Clark 1997, 2).
After the whole sugar extravaganza the women of Paris started to become actively involved in street politics. Being involved in street politics allowed the women to express their opinions by using demonstrations, petitions.
Perhaps the most significant female participation in the French Revolution came in the early 1790s with the advent of the womens political club (Clark 1997, 3). The
womens political club provided an intellectual stimulation and a way to exercise some sort of political pressure on the National Assembly. The Assembly, which was around since the beginning of the revolution and neglected to allow women to join until the 1790s. The women joined a group that stemmed from the National Assembly called Le Confederation des amis de la verite (The Confederation of the Friends of Truth). In addition to having a general policy supportive of the crucial rights questions of female education and wife- initiated divorce, this club offered a womens section, led by a Dutch immigrant Etta Palm DAelders (Clark 1997, 3). Palm made up the womens section and allowed them to find a way to achieve legal rights for women. Among the desired reforms were elimination of primogeniture, protection against wife beating, a divorce bill favorable to women, and political equality between the sexes (Clark 1997, 3). A short while after, Palm decided that the womens section was not strong enough to pursue the equality that women were searching for. She decided to start another association called Les Amies de la verite, which was made of all women. The club exacted prohibitive dues, so membership was restricted to the upper class. Les Amies functioned as a social as well as political club: the women spent a great deal of time and money assisting the poor (Clark 1997, 3). Les Amies cleared the way for the establishment of Les Citoyennes republicaines revolutionaires (The Society of Revolutionary Republican Women), which was made up of the most radical women during the revolution (Clark 1997, 3). Pauline Leon and Claire Lacombe developed the Society. It was a well organized, ruthless league which supported the Jacobin takeover and demanded that the Terror be rigorously enforced for the protection of the citizens (Clark 1997, 3). These
groups of women joined together to enforce a stable and reasonable life setting for everyone. Joining the groups was to ensure safety and a sacred bond of trust that could not be broken.
The ideas about women during the French Revolution varied, but the ideas from two philosophers tended to call the attention of many listeners. The two anti-feminist were Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Marquis de Condorcent. The two philosophers agreed on the fact that the proper vocation for a lady was that of a housekeeper, but held conflicting beliefs when it came down to the method by which a woman might be best trained for her role (Clark 1997, 5). In the eyes of Rousseau, womens frail constitutions were not made to deal with the toils and troubles of life in the public sphere, or the burden of knowledge (Clark 1997, 5). What doesnt quite make sense is that if womens frail constitutions couldnt handle the modern world, then how could their constitutions handle housework, the rigors of childbearing, and physical labor. If a woman could bear a child how would it hurt them to gain knowledge that they could pass on to the children of the future? Women were to be the housekeepers. They were told to make sure that their husbands were comfortable in their environment and make sure that they were properly raising their children. Without the ability to gain knowledge, how could this be successfully accomplished?Since these were the boundaries set for women by nature, education and political rights were not necessary to their existence, and would probably damage any chance of their happiness, as well as that of their families (Clark 1997, 5). Rousseau also felt that only young girls should be educated, and that education should take place in the home by her mother. But he contradicts himself when
he believes that, because if women cant handle to bear knowledge, what is it that they are teaching their children, how to clean the house, or how to do the laundry? Indeed, they were taught how to take care of things around the house. Religion was also left out of the childrens education. The only one that was morally allowed to teach such a topic was the girls father who would tell her all that he thought she would know when she reached adulthood. Maternity was the culmination and purpose of life for a woman, nature had created her that way, and granting women education and political equality with men would merely upset the natural order of things and cause problems (Clark 1997, 5). Condorcet believed differently than Rousseau, he believed that women shared the same political rights as did man. He shared his beliefs in an essay that he wrote called On the Admission of Women to the Rights of Citizenship (Clark 1997, 5). This essay was published in 1790 and he wrote:
Now the rights of men result simply from the fact that they are sentient beings, capable of acquiring moral ideas and of reasoning concerning those ideas. Women, having the same qualities, must necessarily posses equal rights. Either no individual of the human species has any true rights, or all have the same. And he or she who votes against the rights of another of whatever religion, color, or sex, has thereby abjured his own (Clark 1997, 6).
Condorcet saw that women didnt follow the laws of nature, they followed the laws of society. This is why they were to be held at an equal perspective. Although, like Rousseau, Cordorcet felt that the place of the women was in the home. The main difference between the two philosophers lies in the fact that Condorcet believed that granting women political rights would not pull them from there domestic spheres (Clark 1997, 6). Condorcet saw that the women would become more adapt to situations if they
had a life outside of the home, a life with more than cleaning responsibilities, a life with meaning.
Women were considered to be a large part of the French Revolution and the changes it brought about. However, in my now enlightened attitude I have found that this exploration has brought the workings of women around into an almost complete circle. Although there are certainly more rights and clever methods of outspoken convictions as seen in every public and private communication; men and women remain on separate plains of thought. Olympe de Gouges was on to something. That something has carried through more than she would have ever suspected. Determination and sacrifice is a gift from one generation of women to another. It is in that gift that we have learned to listen, challenge and see ourselves in the eyes of our children. We grow accordingly, without hesitation or fear of consequence.
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