Feminism in the French Revolution

September 19, 2017 | Author: Gil Oliveira Guimarães | Category: Ethnicity, Race & Gender, Women's Rights, Feminism, Natural And Legal Rights, French Revolution
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Feminism in the French Revolution


FRENCH FEMINISM HAS A LONG HISTORY; its roots go back far beyond the tumult of new ideas that mark the Revolution. Since the Renaissance, indeed since the Middle Ages, French women-and men-had argued for equality of legal and political rights for the sexes. Woman's education, her economic position, and her relationship to her father and husband had all been worked over time after time. 1 In the eighteenth century intellectuals carried on a desultory debate over the status of women. The discussion slowly grew more heated until, in the early years of the Revolution, a small group of bold thinkers demanded changes that, if .effected, would have altered the character of French civilization far more than did the abolition of the monarchy. Single or married, women had few rights in the law during the last decades of the ancien regime. Their testimony could be accepted in criminal and civil courts but not for notarized acts like wills. In some parts of France a single woman could enter into contractual relationships, but for the most part her rights-reasonably extensive as late as the thirteenth century-had atrophied. 2 Generally speaking a single woman remained under her father's authority until she married; marriage transferred her to her husband's rule. 3 Once married she generally had no control over her person or her property. am happy to acknowledge the genial advice of Professor R. R. Palmer of Yale University, for whose seminar this article was originally written. I also wish to thank the Canada Council for its financial support. 1 See Uon Abensour, Histoire generate du feminisme des origines a nos jours (Paris, 1921); Lulu McDowell Ricllardson, The Forerunners of Feminism in the French Literature of the Renaissance from Christine of Pisa to Marie de Gvurnay (Baltimore, 1929); and Georges Ascoli, "Essai sur l'histoire des idees feministes en France du XVI• siecle a la Revolution," Revue de synthese historique, 13 (19o6): 25-57, 161-84. The term "feminisme" itself did not come into use in Frencll until the nineteenth century. Charles Fourier used it first in the second edition of his Theorie des Quatre mouvements (Paris, 1841); see Charles Turgeon, Le ft?minisme franr;ais (Paris, 1907), 1: 10. 2 Marcel Garaud, La Revolution et l'egalite civile (Paris, 1953), 172-74. On women's political participation and legal rights in the Middle Ages, see Maurice Bardeche, Histoire des femmes (Paris, 1968), 2: 6
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