Saturday, February 21, 2009

Freedom of the Heart: Men and Women Critique Marriage

The chapter from Desan clearly discusses the topic of marriage in Revolutionary France but within this it also addresses gender. As Desan talks about the various pro-divorce or anti celibacy arguments she draws gender lines. For instance, when she discusses those in favor of divorce she seems to present the husband’s(male) perspective and the wife’s(female) perspective. One pamphlet Desan sights tells the fictional story of a man who says that women are the only ones who can get divorce and therefore slaps his wife in public in attempt to get her to divorce him. She retaliates by hitting him with a wine bottle and refusing to get a divorce. (33-34) This presents the unhappily married man as someone who is tied to a controlling and nagging wife. The unhappily married woman has different reasons for seeking divorce. One pamphlet explains that the only way women could leave their husbands was for “the most outrageous defamation of character or the most severe beatings performed before witnesses.”(35). This shows how women were seeking divorce to get out of abusive situations. When the genders discuss marriage they also appear to have a different understanding of each gender role in the relationship. Dessan discusses what she calls the Rousseauian assumption that all women she bend and submit to the will of their husbands. This includes the idea that “A wife should be allowed to divorce for adultery, but never for incompatibility.” (37) This differs significantly from the women (or at least pamphleteers who claimed they were female) disagreed with and sought to “challenge female subservience as the basis for affectionate marriage.”(38). Overall, Desane provides different gender perspectives on marriage and divorce allowing us to look at the two different genders during the time period.
Another interesting aspect of this article is its focus on the written word. When contrasted to last week’s readings “The Perils of Eloquence,” which suggested that women were losing influence because print was replacing oral , Desan presents several examples of women who were writing eloquently. There were multiple pamphlets Desane sighted that were attributed to women. This seems to contradict Hesse’s assertion by suggesting that women maintained their influence by adapting to the written word. Although, Desan suggests that male authors could have written under female names, this still does not undermine the female influence since the male authors would not choose a female pseudonym if it did not provide more credibility to their work.

No comments:

Post a Comment