French Revolution Essay about Women
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Modernization of Women in the French Revolution
Women actively participated in the French Revolution. In traditional French society, as well as all other patriarchal societies of the time, women were subservient to men, and the widely held perception of women as physically and intellectually inferior to men did not change even during the French Revolution itself. Women were left out of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789 and universal suffrage. Despite the failure of the Revolution to recognize their role in society, women had an active role and actively participated in the revolutionary events. Women in the hundreds, and even thousands, marched on the Palace of Versailles on 5 October 1789, forcing King Louis XVI to accept their demands for the establishment of constitutional monarchy.
Activists like Pauline Léon and Théroigne de Méricourt were fierce proponents of full citizenship for women, but despite their best efforts, women were denied active citizenship in 1791 and democratic citizenship in 1793. The most radical feminist organization during the French Revolution was the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women, founded by Pauline Léon and Claire Lacombe (Bessiéres and Niedzwiecki 1991).
This organization, founded in 1793, lasted only for a few months, but its impact on raising the awareness of women’s struggles to achieve their rights was deep. Their organization was dissolved by the Jacobins, who controlled the government at that time, and all women’s clubs and associations were proclaimed illegal. One of the most prominent women intellectuals was Olympe de Gouges, who advocated for equal rights for women as those given to men (Hunter-Chang 2012). She was the author of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen in 1791. She was executed in 1793 because of her association with the Girondins, who were the opponents of the Jacobins. Other important activists who advocated for the equal rights and treatment of women were Madame Roland, Madame de Staël, and others who demanded equal education and other opportunities for women. Women were also active in the counter-revolutionary movement as a reaction to the dechristianization and diminishing of the role of the Catholic Church as one of the measures undertaken by the Jacobins during the First Republic. Those were the women from rural, patriarchal areas who were alienated by the Revolution because of its radicalism, whose many elements seemed unacceptable to them. They played a significant role in the re-establishment of the Catholic Church after the demise of the Jacobins in 1794.
The French Revolution, even though it failed to produce a formal recognition of rights of women as equal to men, marked a turning point in the struggle of women to achieve their human rights. It set the foundations for what would become a modern feminist movement, the one that would significantly, if not decisively, contribute toward an ongoing change and redefinition of the roles and status of inter-gender relations in the modern world.
Bessiéres, Yves, and Niedzwiecki, Patricia. Women in the French Revolution (1789) – Bibliography. Institut pour le Dèvelopment de᾽l Espace Culturel Europèen (Institute for the Development of the European Cultural Area), January 1991.
Hunter-Chang, Gabriel. “Feminism in the French Revolution.” Western Civilization Guides, April 30, 2012, http://westerncivguides.umwblogs.org/2012/04/30/feminism-in-the-french-revolution.
Spiegel, Taru. “Feminism and ᾽Égalité᾽: France Makes Gender Equality a Global Cause.” The Library of Congress, July 14, 2019, https://blogs.loc.gov/international-collections/2019/07/france-makes-gender-equality-a-global-cause-feminism-and-galit-in-france/.