Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Women and the French Revolution

Women have struggled for centuries to gain the same rights as men and not be seen as slaves. The French Revolution was the certain means of accomplishing that. Almost. This category of citizens went back and forth in order to establish their rights.

On 5th October 1789 – women of Paris were angry about the high price of bread so 3,000 women marched to the Hotel de Ville to demand bread. This march of the Women was a visible representation of citizen unrest and became an event with major consequences for the monarchy. The king received a delegation of 15 women and 15 National Assembly deputies, which had not happened previously.

However, from existing patriotic clubs for women in 1792, the times changed so that married women were not allowed to purchase land. With this in mind and having to face every day, women became ‘revolutionary’ themselves as well. The most virulent of these women scared the male revolutionaries as it happened on the 18th November 1793 when a red bonnet group of women led by Claire Lacombe got into the General Council of Paris. As a consequence, the National Convention forbade all clubs and gatherings that involved women. Women no longer had the right to even take part in political reunions and they were excluded from the affairs of the city.

If in September 1792 women were given the right to divorce, Napoleon’s code of 1804 changed all that. Divorce was made harder to obtain, particularly for women. the remarkably egalitarian law of 1792 was repealed and provisions were introduced which restricted divorce by mutual consent and imposed a double standard test of adultery, to the advantage of women. Later on, the women failed in making men recognize their political rights. In Amar’s discourse of 30th October 1793, he clearly stated that “nous croyons donc qu’une femme ne doit pas sortir de sa famille pour s’immiscer dans les affaires du gouvernement.” (we thus think that a woman must not leave her family in order to get involved in the affairs of the government.) The civil code of 1804 stated in article 215 that a woman cannot utter a judgment without her husband’s authorization.

Nevertheless, there were a few successful female artists during the period of the revolution. Among them, Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun, one of the only four women artists to have been accepted in 1783 into the Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, a major achievement for a woman in the 18th century. She painted portraits of Marie Antoinette and various aristocrats. Many years later in her memoir she regretted the disappearance of the sort of gallantry associated with the Ancien Regime, affirming that the women ruled then and the revolution has dethroned this. Another successful woman, Labille – Guiard was an artist that actively favored the revolution.

Emancipating women legally an politically met with incomprehension.  “Since women have the same moral and intellectual capacities as men, anything but equality for women, argued Sophie Condorat, is by definition incompatible with the Rights of Man and discriminatory.”
To sum up, this obvious injustice of laws reduced women to the condition of slaves that will have to wait centuries to liberate themselves from the atrocities of man-imposed rules. 

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