Thursday, February 24, 2011

Women and the Revolution

The readings for the Women and the Revolution covered the political transitions surrounding the French Revolution with three primary sources and chapter 10 from Becoming Visible. These documents fit in the categories of gender, citizenship, and education.

The French Revolution marked the early beginnings of modern democracy including the ideas of citizenship, popular sovereignty, and human rights, but prejudices toward the female gender continued to persist. During July 1789, the National Guardsmen accompanied by men and women stormed the Bastille marking liberty's victory over despotism (Visible 270). Then in August the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was adopted. However, this document that declared human rights left out the hundreds of women that had participated in politics. The declaration only recognized active, tax-paying men as having the right to legal citizenship. In contrast, women were seen as passive citizens who could never attain that right (Visible 273). Despite the active involvement of many women in this movement, their ability to gain citizenship next to men remained out of reach once the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was implemented that strengthened the polarity of gender roles.

The text of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen holds many ideals of the Enlightenment era including the right to life, liberty and property. I found it very interesting that even though women were active participants in political debates and activities like pamphleteering, salons, and marches, they were ignored in this monumental document. This was the "most extensive feminine political engagement in the Western world in the early modern period" and Lafayette decided to cut them out of the draft (Visible 265)? How could women not be outraged and proceed with more vigor than ever before to assert their equality? Fortunately, women did not give up at this gender segregation development but decided to fight for democratic ideals as well as express their disappointment with the declaration.

Olympe de Gouges wrote an ironic twist to the declaration to show political authorities that women had the right to be recognized as fully legal citizens. Her work, the Declaration of the Rights of Woman, depicts her disgust with the original document and strives to belittle the male voices that have tried to oppress her sex. She declares in the preamble, "The sex that is as superior in beauty as it is in courage during the sufferings of maternity recognizes and declares in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of woman and of female citizens" (Gouges). She believes women are born free and are equal to men, which is illustrated by the seventeen articles in her declaration that give women the same rights and privileges as men. Her aversion to society's ideas about gender and citizenship are displayed in this and other works produced during this tumultuous era.

Mary Wollstonecraft talks about education and liberty in chapter two of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. She sees the lack of women's education as the contributing factor to a woman's lack of liberty. Wollstonecraft believes that "all the writers who have written on the subject of female education and manners from Rousseau to Dr. Gregory have contributed to render women more artificial, weak characters, than they would otherwise have been; and more consequently, more useless members of society" (Wollstonecraft). Just as Wollstonecraft advocates, women are capable of reason just as man, and they should be entitled to receive education that will enable women to engage in society. Finally, Wollstonecraft found that the only difference between man and woman is the "superior advantage of liberty, which enables [man] to see more of life" (Wollstonecraft). Perhaps if women were better educated then they could participate in the same ideals of liberty that men already enjoyed. Wollstonecraft and Gouges spoke out against the status quo to change the political course; they were united by the concept of liberating women from inferior positions instituted by society as seen in education, citizenship, and gender roles.

1 comment:

  1. I think that all of these readings would also fall under the category of feminism. The events of the French Revolution sparked a contagion of liberty that succeeded in getting various groups, including women, questioning their rights and roles within society. It is important to remember that women, such as Olympe de Gouge and Mary Wollstonecraft, exemplified first wave feminist ideals through their writings. Women in Europe and America were extremely interested in what their sisters in France accomplished and gained from their Revolution, and the events of the French Revolution had repercussions for women's movements throughout the western world. It is evident from the response of French men that it was more acceptable for women to participate in the Revolution when they did it out of desperation to fulfill their motherly duties to secure food for their children. However, these women were left out of the equation when the men gained control of the country, and they conveniently forgot about the help that they had received from women. This demonstrates how men felt threatened by the feminist push for gender equality.