Women's Role in the French Revolution

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It seems strange that at one point in history, before the Neolithic revolution, women were believed to be superior to men. It seems even stranger in the twenty-first century that, for almost a millennium, women were oppressed and not even considered as human beings. But women’s actions in the French Revolution sought to change all of that. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, France’s government’s official policy on women outlined that a women’s proper place was at home, not in politics. Among the numerous men, Jean Jacques Rousseau, one of the greatest Enlightenment thinkers, believed that women should undoubtedly assume an active role, but only within the household. Some might attribute the outset of modern feminism to events as recent as World War I when the term “suffragist” was coined. On the other hand, alongside the French Revolution, tired of being seen as lesser beings, the women had their own mini revolution through the use of petitions, physical demonstrations and the creation of political clubs. Thus, the origins of modern feminism can be traced back to the actions of the women in the French Revolution. The dawn of written petitions by influential women which represented their demands marks the beginning of moderate modern feminism. To begin, the Women’s Petition to the National Assembly was addressed to the National Assembly, a day after the October 1789 march of women to Versailles, putting forward a declaration to present women with equality between the two sexes. The writers of the petition were not only very familiar with the Declaration of Rights of Man but also familiar with numerous publications regarding the accomplishments of prominent women throughout history. The authors represented the female population as they demanded for rights such as: “1) All the privileges of the male sex are entirely and irrevocably abolished throughout France; 2) The feminine sex will always enjoy the same liberty, advantages, rights, and honors as does the masculine sex.” Although there were a number of petitions sent to the National Assembly that were not discussed, including the Women’s Petition, the women presented a pioneering demand for equality. This petition forced the members of the National Assembly, all of which were male, to realise the extent of knowledge that women possessed which led them to further acknowledge the rights that women should be given. This petition set in motion the events of modern feminism which were to occur throughout the French Revolution. Next, The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and Female Citizen, written by Olympe De Gouges in 1791 stirred feelings of rebellion against the unfair treatment of women by men. Addressed to Queen Marie Antoinette, in the introduction from the document, De Gouges displays her realization of the double standards existing in society: “Man, are you capable of being just? It is a woman who poses the question; you will not deprive her of that right at least. Tell me, what gives you sovereign empire to oppress my sex? Your strength? Your talents?” Born as Marie Gouze, she was a butcher's daughter who wrote quite a few plays and several pamphlets under the name of Olympe De Gouges. This single quotation contains the anger and resentment felt by De Gouges as she took it upon herself to stand up against the subjugation of women by men. The Declaration sanctioned other voices to be raised inside and outside France on behalf of complete equality. Besides, Olympe De Gouges also insisted on basic human rights for example; in Article I, she states: “Woman is born free and lives equal to man in her rights. Social distinctions can be based only on the common utility.” This quote reflects the effect that De Gouges had on the women of France as she urged them to fight against the discrimination of their sex. The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and Female Citizen stands testament to the rise of modern feminism in the French Revolution. Along with petitions, there...
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