Monday, February 6, 2012

Les droits de la femme

French feminist pamphlets of the revolutionary era are on display at the Newberry Library.
In Les droits de la femme, Olympe de Gouges places women’s inequality squarely in the framework of France’s struggles, linking the fortunes of women with that of the revolutionary project itself.  At its core is the Déclaration des droits de la femme et de la citoyenne, a point-by-point feminist response to the landmark Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen, which conspicuously omits women from its scheme of universal equality.  Following the declaration is a lengthy postlude that proposes a new form of marriage contract, one that makes provisions for divorce and the equal distribution of property among husband, wife, and children (legitimate or not), among other things.

De Gouges was an outspoken human rights activist, essayist, and playwright.  She dedicated this work to Marie Antoinette, who she urges to take up the cause of women’s equality, suggesting that by doing so she might yet salvage her tarnished legacy.  While praising the queen, de Gouges also takes her to task in no uncertain terms for her involvement with émigré counterrevolutionaries and foreign powers.

The pugnacious and radical text ends with a jubilant post-script.  De Gouges stopped the presses to add a note expressing her pure joy at the news that the king had accepted the Assemblée nationale’s constitution.  Her elation and her hope for the future are palpable, though marked with caution: “Providence divine, fais que cette joie publique ne soit pas une fausse illusion!”  The joy was to be short-lived.  Aligned with the Girondins, she was imprisoned in the summer of 1793 as the Jacobins swept into power.  Two weeks after the queen’s execution, de Gouges, too, was sent to the guillotine, her fate echoing Article X of her Déclaration: “La femme a le droit de monter sur l’échafaud; elle doit avoir également celui de monter à la Tribune” (Woman has the right to mount the scaffold; she has the same right to mount the rostrum). (Read entire article.)



lara77 said...

The so called "great" French Revolution still saw women as less than men. If I recall women in France were not granted the right to vote until 1946; decades after their British and American sisters. I guess liberte egalite fraternite were for men only. Even today, a candidate like Marianne LePen of the National Front must obtain hundreds of signatures of local officials to even get her name on the ballot. I am not making judgment on the woman's policies but the hypocrisy of the French Republic to keep candidates off the voting lists is simply an outrage. THIS from a "democracy."

The North Coast said...

The French revolutionists just couldn't wait to strip women of what few rights they had. The Old Regime was fairer to women, as Mme Vigee-LeBrun noted. "Women ruled then,"she said,"the Revolution has dethroned them."

As for the requirement to get a certain amount of signatures to get on the ballot for a particular election, that is the case almost everywhere. In the United States, the requirements are biased in favor of party members. If you are Democrat or Republican you only need 2500 signatures, but if you run as an independent or as the member of a third party, you need 5,000. This is unfair.

I have no problem with requiring candidates declaring to collect a certain number of signatures, only with allowing some people to meet a lesser requirement than others based on party membership or some other unfair benchmark.