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Breaking Down Patriarchy - Amy McPhie Allebest EPISODE 7, 13th January 2021
Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, by Olympe de Gouges
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Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, by Olympe de Gouges

The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, by Olympe de Gouges

Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today we’re going to talk about a document from the 18th Century that many consider a foundational text for women’s rights, the Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Female Citizen, by Olympe de Gouges. Though this is an essential text in challenging patriarchy, most people I know - even myself until recently - have never heard of this declaration.

But you may have heard of a certain other declaration written in the 18th Century. You may recall that our  Declaration of Independence talked about human rights, and that a certain Frenchman hung out with the founding fathers and participated in the American revolution.


As historians and Hamilton fans know, the Marquis de Lafayette went home to France after the revolution, and helped to write his own revolutionary document, which was called “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.” So think of Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton saying that if she met Thomas Jefferson, she was going to compel him to include women in the sequel. In France, when a bunch of men published the Declaration of Rights of Man, there actually WAS a woman who took it upon herself  to include women in the sequel! She wrote the sequel herself, and her name was Olympe de Gouges. Her response to the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen,” was “The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen.”

But first, let me introduce my reading partner for today’s episode, Lindsay Allebest. Hi, Lindsay!


Lindsay: Hello!


Amy: Lindsay Allebest is 19 years old, and will soon be starting her sophomore year at Boston University. She is a History major, and her favorite areas of study include Ancient Greece and Early Modern Europe. When she is not reading and writing essays for school, she enjoys listening to (indie and rock, but not indie rock) music, and playing board games with her family. 


One fun fact about Lindsay is that she recently completed a course on the French Revolution in college. She taught our family a ton about French history as she had to come home in the Spring and finish the course on Zoom, due to the COVID shutdown. 


So Lindsay, thank you for being here! 


Lindsay: Thank you for inviting me 


Amy: Ok, to get us started, I am going to introduce us to Olympe de Gouges - and I should mention how this is spelled so you can make sense of how it sounds - it’s Olympe, like Mount Olympus, and Gouges), and please correct me if I get anything wrong… and then you can acquaint us with the circumstances in which she wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Women. Sound good?


Lindsay: Affirmative.


Amy:


Ok, so… Olympe de Gouges was born Marie Gouze (that’s spelled Gouze) in southwest France in 1748. Her family was middle class (she was the daughter of a baker, or possibly the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman. She claimed she was, but some people think she made it up.). We know that she had some education in her youth, because she was a great writer, but she was married against her will at age 16 to one of her father’s business associates. The following year, so when she was 17, Marie Gouze gave birth to her only child (a son), and her husband died. Four years later in 1770, she moved to Paris and became involved in some of the intellectual salons in the city. Rather than being known as her late husband’s widow, Marie renamed herself, taking on her mother’s middle name, Olympe, and changing the spelling of her father’s surname. The salons she visited introduced her to well-known writers and politicians at the time. She also began a relationship with a wealthy businessman who supported her financially, but never married again and actively rejected the institution of marriage. While in Paris, de Gouges started a theater company and began writing her own plays. These plays dealt with political issues such as the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, and class inequality in France. She was a target for harassment and criticism in Paris because of her radical opinions, but also simply because she was a female playwright.. She was violently opposed to French colonization and slavery - she wrote works called Réflexions sur les hommes nègres (Reflections on Black men) and l'Esclavage des Noirs (The slavery of Black people) - and those works attracted fierce opposition.


When the French Revolution began, De Gouges supported it. She was a strong advocate for economic and social change, especially regarding the abolition of slavery and women’s rights. However, she supported the idea of reforming the monarchy rather than abolishing it, whereas the more radical groups wanted to execute King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, which of course they eventually did in 1793.


[Sources: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Olympe-de-Gouges

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympe_de_Gouges]


In order to understand the text that we are going to discuss today, de Gouge’s Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Female Citizen, we need to understand the document de Gouges was responding to, which was the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. And in order to understand the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, we have to understand the basics of what the French Revolution was and why it happened.


The French Revolution began largely as a consequence of an economic crisis and huge socioeconomic inequality. For hundreds of years, French society had been structured into a social hierarchy system that they called “The Three Estates.” The Three Estates system divided France’s population into three social groups: at the top was the Clergy, then the next one down was the Nobility, and at the bottom was the Third Estate, which included every other person in France. 96% of the total population were members of the Third Estate, and 80% of the Third Estate were peasants. So a huge percentage of the population was in poverty, and this poverty kept getting worse because of France’s war debt, and inefficient farming, and huge waves of inflation.


So after decades of this terrible situation, King Louis XVI (who had a reputation for being weak and petty) finally called a meeting of the Estates General in 1789, which essentially meant that representative members of each Estate were brought to Versailles for a meeting. If you’ve ever studied the French Revolution before, you might remember the Jacobin lawyer-turned-dictator Maximilien Robespierre, who was at the meeting. 


For several weeks at the Estates General meeting, representatives of the Third Estate—which, remember, was the majority of France’s population, most of whom were peasants—had to fight to be included in the discussions and voting. Finally, after about a month of tension, the Third Estate forcefully took over the proceedings and declared itself the National Assembly—the group in charge of France, basically. This was the first step towards the people delegitimizing the monarchy and seizing power for themselves, and it was very effective. In response, the King locked the National Assembly out of the meeting, so the representatives who were rebelling against the King got together on a Handball Court, and wrote the famous Tennis Court Oath (which is clearly misnamed as they were on a handball court), which swore that the National Assembly would not disband until they wrote a Constitution for France. 


After this, rumors started flying around France that the King was going to crush the Third Estate and establish martial law to calm the country down. This led to the storming of the Bastille, which you’ve probably heard about, and basically mass chaos ensued. There were 2 weeks of mob violence, beginning with the decapitation and head-piking of Governor de Launay. 



So the reason for setting the stage with this much detail is just to illustrate that this was a country that was questioning its foundations. The people were FURIOUS about the structural inequalities in their society, and they wanted to tear it down and build something new and better in its place. Some of the changes they wanted to make were: 


  • Abolishing feudalism
  • Abolishing tithes to the Church (and reducing or eliminating the influence of the church in general)
  • Establishing a meritocracy, where every citizen is eligible for every job - you could determine what you wanted to do with your life


So to enshrine these principles in a document, much like America’s Declaration of Independence and Constitution, Lafayette and some other men wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, which was published in 1789 as the Preamble to the Constitution that came two years later.


  • It asserted that men have natural rights - which was a new concept that was developed during the Enlightenment. 
  • That all men’s natural rights were equal to each other - basically you don’t have more natural rights because your dad is a duke or a count. ALL men are created equal. 


[Source: University of Chicago Readings in Western Civilization, Volume 7: The Old Regime and the French Revolution (Volume 7) 1st Edition

by Keith M. Baker, John W. Boyer, Julius Kirshner (Editors)]



This document is considered hugely important in the history of human rights. And it was a huge step forward for the oppressed citizens of France who were male and white. But it didn’t acknowledge enslaved people AT ALL. It didn’t mention women AT ALL.  I can just imagine how infuriating that would have been. I would have thought “REALLY???” You are going to all the trouble of dismantling the power structure in order to a new, more just society from scratch, and you COMPLETELY FORGOT ABOUT US????” I would be so mad. For the record, I am mad.


And that’s how Olympe de Gouges felt, so she took the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, and she wrote a new document, called the Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Female Citizen. And she took every article of the original Declaration and applied it to men and women, point for point. 


She published it in 1791, and immediately after the published it, many of the radicals of the Revolution accused her of treason. The Jacobins (led by Robespierre) called her a “Royalist,” which wasn’t entirely untrue, since de Gouges did support the monarchy - she wanted these principles of equality to be guaranteed by a constitutional monarchy - and she had dedicated the Declaration to Marie Antoinette, whom everyone loathed.  De Gouges was tried for treason, and was sentenced to execution by the guillotine.

Her crime, according to the newspaper at the time, was that she had "forgotten the virtues which belonged to her sex." She was beheaded on November 3, 1793, at the age of 45.

Amy: That is so tragic. Obviously during the Terror they were executing tons of men too, and that was like suicide for her to dedicate it to Marie Antoinette. But I think it’s really telling that part of her perceived crimes were that “She had forgotten the virtues that belonged to her sex.” So how would those virtues be defined back then? 

Lindsay: Answer


Amy: Ok, so let’s dive into a few of the articles of the Declaration that we think are especially interesting or relevant. Lindsay, do you want to read the first one?

Lindsay: Ok, I thought that Article I and Article IV were similar to each other, and they’re really short so I’m going to read them both.

Article I: 

Woman is born free and remains equal to man in her rights. Social distinctions may only be based on common utility.

 

Article IV:

Liberty and justice consist in restoring to others all that belongs to them; hence, the only limits to the exercise of the natural rights of woman are found in the perpetual male tyranny opposed to them; these limits must be reformed according to the laws of nature and reason.

 

Amy: 

In Article I she says woman is “born free and remains equal to man in her rights” = “natural rights.” And in Article IV she references “natural rights.”

 

So, I happen to agree with her. (Look at babies next to each other - they deserve equal protection under the law, not to be discriminated against based on a characteristic that they can’t change). During the Enlightenment, men came to see themselves as having natural rights that they are born with. 

 

Playing devil’s advocate, how would someone argue with this? They would say “who gives that baby its rights?

In our Declaration of Independence it says “they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights… life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.” The Creator that endowed men with those rights is the Judeo-Christian God, the God of the Bible. In one Biblical account Eve is created in the image of God, so she might have the same individual value as Adam does, “free and equal to man in rights,” and having the same nature as he does. But in the other Biblical account she is created from Adam’s rib, and named by Adam. In both cases, she is made subject to Adam after she disobeys God and causes the Fall of Man. They don’t have the same “natural rights.” This bases “social distinctions” on God’s law that women be subjugated.

They might say de Gouges’ attempt to apply the Enlightenment logic of “natural rights” to a woman is futile because God created this system, not human beings. 

I mention this because I have heard men in my actual life say “yes, I can see how that must be frustrating to you as a woman, but God said it should be this way. And who am I to question God?”

So my question is, at this time was French thought still grounded in the Bible the way American thought was at the time of the Declaration of Independence? Or had France adopted a secular worldview that wasn’t rooted in the Bible?

 

Lindsay:

Respond. 

 

Amy: What stood out to you from these articles?

 “Social distinctions may only be based on common utility.” This was in reaction to the prior system, which was like a caste system of clergy, nobility and peasants. This is a HUGE step forward, based on that Enlightenment principle of natural rights. But who defines a person’s “common utility?” It could be argued that the labor of enslaved people, both men and women, was needed for “common utility.” So the social distinction that restricted their freedoms was based on society’s common good. Or it could be argued that the reproductive capacity of women - both white and black, free and enslaved - was needed in order to keep populating, and to rear children. So people could argue the common utility of keeping those groups in subjugation.

 

This is based on Plato and Artistotle

 

Amy:

Yes, I have literally heard this argument by a good friend of mine, a really smart man, a really good man, within the past year. He says that if women are not taught that they have to stay home and have babies and raise children, they won’t do it, and the human species will die out. It’s like the Handmaid’s Tale, where women’s “common utility” is their reproductive capacity. They’re like a womb with legs.  

 

Lindsay:

Okay, so de Gouges reasons that little girls and little boys are born with equal dignity and equal rights to self-determination. It is men who have exercised tyranny over women, and she says we need to make reform using the laws of “nature and reason.” But that seems problematic because people argue all the time that it’s “natural” and “reasonable” to have hierarchies, and specifically the Bible and the ancient Greeks both argue that men should rule over women. So how do we argue with that?

 

Amy:

One thing  I thought of: the philosophical thought experiment, the “Veil of Ignorance,” which is a method of determining the morality of any given policy or practice. When considering whether or not to implement a policy or practice, imagine all the implications for each member of society, but that you don’t know which member of society you will be. Would you determine that enslaving people from Africa is defensible if you thought you yourself could be African, and thus kidnapped and enslaved? Would you outlaw same-sex marriage if you yourself  were gay? Would you defend the law that women couldn’t own land if you yourself were a woman? 

 

[Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Original_position]

 

Lindsay Read:

Article VI and Article XIII

Article VI: 

The law should be the expression of the general will; all citizens, female and male, should participate in person or through their representatives in its formation; it should be the same for all: female and male citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, should be equally eligible for all public positions of rank, offices, and employment according to their ability and with no other distinction than those of their virtue and their talent. 

Article XIII:

The contributions of women and men to the maintenance of public authority and to administrative costs are equal. Women share in all the drudgery, in all the painful tasks; therefore, they must have the same share in the distribution of posts, employment, offices, rewards, and responsibilities.


Amy:


We just watched a clip from “Good Morning America” in 1975, where Betty Friedan and Phyllis Schlafly were debating the Equal Rights Amendment. I couldn’t believe how similar the arguments were. It was like they had taken these articles from the Declaration of the Rights of Women and just recycled them. It reminded me of  Gerda Lerner again - women keep repeating the same conversations over and over and over, partly because we don’t learn what has happened in the past. And of course partly because if the governing body remains all or mostly male, then they can’t be expected to look out for the rights of women. Some men might, some men won’t, and unless it’s written in a country’s constitution, then the laws can change depending on whichever man is in charge. Which is why de Gouges was so smart, and so ahead of her time, in immediately wanting to rewrite the declaration. And it’s just astounding that 230 years after de Gouges, America can’t even get an amendment to the constitution guaranteeing that women can’t be discriminated against on the basis of sex. It’s really unbelievable.


[Video - which is painful to watch because Schlafly out-debates Friedan - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WncN6PWEMGo]


Amy Read:

Article XII

Guaranteeing the rights of woman and the female citizen requires the existence of a greater good; this guarantee must be instituted for the advantage of all, and not for the private benefit of those on whom it is conferred. 

Lindsay Respond:

This benefits everyone! Not just the individual women who want more privileges. All of society benefits. 

Amy: What are the benefits of egalitarianism? (But why do we have to prove them to you?)

Lindsay read:

Article XVI

Any society that is without guaranteed rights and separation of powers, is without a constitution; a constitution is void if the majority of individuals comprising the nation has not cooperated in its drafting.

Amy respond:

Abigail Adams: 

“And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

(Lindsay respond)

Postscript to the Declaration

Some interesting points:

  • If the master (man) gives her (his partner) freedom without reward at an age when she has lost all her charms, what becomes of this unfortunate woman? She is an object of scorn; even the doors of charity are closed to her; she is poor and old, people say; why was she unable to make her fortune?


Other even more touching examples come to mind. A young, inexperienced girl seduced by a man she loves abandons her parents to follow him; after a few years, the ingrate leaves her and the older she has grown with him, the more inhuman his infidelity will be; if she has children, he will abandon her just the same. If he is rich, he will consider himself excused from sharing his fortune with his noble victims. If he is obliged to do his duty, he will disregard this obligation, counting on every support from the law. If he is married, all other commitments become void. What laws must yet be made to tear out such vice by its roots? A law that shares wealth between men and women and provides for it to be publicly administered.

It is easy to see that a woman born into a rich family has much to gain from an equal division. But what of a woman born into a poor family, who has merit and virtue, what becomes of her? Poverty and disgrace. Unless she excels in music or in painting, she cannot be admitted into any public function, even though she is perfectly capable. 


  • An unmarried woman has very few rights: old, inhumane laws deny her children the right to their father’s name and property and no new laws have been made in this respect. I shall leave to future men the glory of resolving this matter; meanwhile, we can prepare the way forward through national education, through the restoration of morals, and through conjugal agreements.


Well, Lindsay Allebest, thanks so much...etc...


End podcast by reading this excerpt from the Postscript:


Amy: We’re going to end this episode with a quote from the postscript, which resonates today, just as it did 230 years ago. Note: tocsin means “an alarm bell.”


Woman, awake! The tocsin of reason is sounding across the universe; acknowledge your rights. Nature’s powerful empire is no longer hemmed in by prejudice, fanaticism, superstition, and lies. The torch of truth has dispersed all the clouds of folly  and usurpation. Enslaved man has multiplied his strength and has needed yours to break his chains. But once free, he has become unjust to his companion.


Oh women, women! When will you cease to be blind? What advantages has the Revolution brought you? Still greater contempt, still more overt disdain. 


...you must courageously counter these vain pretensions of superiority with the power of reason; you must unite under the banner of philosophy; deploy all your energy of character and you will soon see these arrogant men not groveling at your feet in servile adoration, but proud to share with you the treasures of the Supreme Being. Whatever barriers are placed before you, it is in your power to overcome them; all you need is the will. 


Your assignment for next time is to read The Vindication of the Rights of Women, by Mary Wollstonecraft. Wollstonecraft takes the torch passed to her by de Gouges, and writes one of the great works of women’s rights. She is famous for engaging in a vigorous debate with JJ Rouseau, and also for being the mother of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. So our assignment is to read up on  The Vindication of the Rights of Women. And to pass the ERA. See you next time on BDP. Full Notes, including many that didn’t make it into the episode:

Historical context

Previous Attempts at Equality

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was adopted in 1789 by the National Constituent Assembly (Assemblée nationale constituante), during the French revolution. Prepared and proposed by the Marquis de Lafayette, the declaration asserted that all men "are born and remain free and equal in rights" and that these rights were universal (for all men, everywhere!). The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen became a key human rights document and a classic formulation of the rights of individuals vis-a-vis the state. The Declaration exposed inconsistencies of laws that treated citizens differently on the basis of sex, race, class, or religion. In 1791, new articles were added to the French constitution which extended civil and political rights to Protestants and Jews, who had previously been persecuted in France.

In 1790, Nicolas de Condorcet and Etta Palm d'Aelders unsuccessfully called on the National Assembly to extend civil and political rights to women. Condorcet declared that "he who votes against the right of another, whatever the religion, color, or sex of that other, has henceforth abjured his own".

In October 1789, women in the marketplaces of Paris, rioting over the high price and scarcity of bread, began to march to Versailles, often called The Women's March on Versailles. While not solely an attempt for the extension of natural and political rights to women, the demonstrators believed that equality among all French citizens would extend those rights to women, political minorities, and landless citizens. Although upon the march, the king acknowledged the changes associated with the French Revolution and no longer resisted such liberal reforms, the leaders of the Revolution failed to recognize that women were the largest force in the march, and did not extend natural rights to women.

In November 1789, in response to both the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen and the failure of the National Assembly to recognize the natural and political rights of women, a group of women submitted a petition for the extension of egalité to women, referred to as the Women's Petition to the National Assembly. While thousands of petitions were repeatedly submitted to the National Assembly, this one was never brought up or discussed.

The French Revolution did not lead to a recognition of women's rights or the rights of enslaved people, and this prompted de Gouges to publish the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen in early 1791.

The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen was published in 1791 and is modeled on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789. Olympe de Gouges dedicated the text to Marie Antoinette, whom de Gouges described as "the most detested" of women. The Declaration states that "This revolution will only take effect when all women become fully aware of their deplorable condition, and of the rights they have lost in society".

The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen follows the seventeen articles of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen point for point. 

Call to Action

De Gouges opens her Declaration with the famous quote, "Man, are you capable of being fair? A woman is asking: at least you will allow her that right. Tell me? What gave you the sovereign right to oppress my sex?" 

(Well… the Bible did.What is her answer to that?)

She demands that her reader observe nature and the rules of the animals surrounding them — in every other species, sexes coexist and intermingle peacefully and fairly. She asks why humans cannot act likewise and demands (in the preamble) that the National Assembly decree the Declaration a part of French law.[12] Also they have seen many wars in combat with the men of France therefore they sought out rights for themselves.

Preamble to the Declaration

We mothers, daughters, and sisters, the female representatives of this nation, demand to be constituted into a national assembly.

 

Believing that ignorance, negligence, and scorn of the rights of women are the sole causes of public misfortune and tof the corruption of governments, 

 

Is that true? I wonder what she meant here

women have resolved to set forth in a solemn declaration, the natural, inalienable, and sacred rights of women, in order that this declaration, constantly present before all members of society, will serve as a perpetual reminder of their rights and duties,; in order that the authoritative acts of women and the authoritative acts of men may, at any moment, be compared with the purposes of all political institutions and that these will thus be better fulfilled; and in order that citizens’ demands, henceforth based on simple and incontestable principles, will always seek to uphold the constitution and good morals, for the happiness of all.

 

Consequently, the sex that is as superior in beauty as it is in courage durign the sufferings aof maternity, recognizes and declares in th epresence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following Rights of Women and of Female Citizens.

Articles of the Declaration[edit]

Article I[edit]

The first article of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen proclaims that "Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be based only on common utility." The first article of Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen responds: "Woman is born free and remains equal to man in rights. Social distinctions may only be based on common utility.”

Enlightenment concept of “natural rights.”

This is a tricky one. During the Enlightenment, men came to see themselves as having natural rights that they are born with. But even in our Declaration of Independence it says “they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights… life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.” The Creator that endowed men with those rights is the Judeo-Christian God, the God of the Bible. In one Biblical account Eve is created in the image of God, so she might have the same individual value as Adam does, “free and equal to man in rights,” and having the same nature as he does. But in the other Biblical account she is created from Adam’s rib, and named by Adam. In both cases, she is made subject to Adam after she disobeys God and causes the Fall of Man. This bases “social distinctions” on God’s law that women be subjugated.

They might say de Gouges’ attempt to apply the Enlightenment logic of “natural rights” to a woman is futile because God created this system, not human beings. 

I mention this because I have heard men in my actual life say “yes, I can see how that must be frustrating to you as a woman, but God said it should be this way. And who am I to question God?”

So my question is, at this time was French thought still grounded in the Bible the way American thought was at the time of the Declaration of Independence? Or had France adopted a secular worldview that wasn’t rooted in the Bible?

 

Also, “social distinctions may only be based on common utility.” This was in reaction to the prior system, which was like a caste system of clergy, nobility and peasants. This is a HUGE step forward, based on that Enlightenment principle of natural rights. But who defines a person’s “common utility?” It could be argued that the labor of enslaved people, both men and women, was needed for “common utility.” So the social distinction that restricted their freedoms was based on society’s common good. Or it could be argued that the reproductive capacity of women - both white and black, free and enslaved - was needed in order to keep populating, and to rear children. So people could argue the common utility of keeping those groups in subjugation.

 

I have literally heard the argument by a good friend of mine, a really smart man, a really good man, within the past year, say that if women are not taught that they have to stay home and have babies and raise children, they won’t do it, and the human species will die out. It’s like the Handmaid’s Tale, where women’s “common utility” is their reproductive capacity. They’re like a womb with legs.  

So I would say, it’s really important to have women and men, and women and men of color, in those meetings, to decide what “common utility” means, and what social distinctions mean. It’s a step better than what existed before, but it still leaves white women, and black men and women, at the mercy of white men.

Article II 

The purpose of any political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of woman and man; these rights are liberty, property, security, and, above all, resistance to oppression. 

 

On a fundamental level, the point of a government is to protect citizens from each other, so they have recourse of someone violates their rights. (If someone is attacked, or robbed, there needs to be a law-keeping entity that steps in and says hey! You can’t do that!) De Gouges is saying here that women deserve liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression just as much as men do. Those things were not protected! Women were restricted in their liberties, it was legal for husbands to beat their wives, their property and all their possessions transferred to her husband upon their marriage so she had no right to property, her husband had a right to her children once married, her very body belonged to her husband. And remember also that de Gouges had previously written that theses rights extended to enslaved women as well. She wanted liberty, property, security, and protection from oppression for every woman and man, in every circumstance.

 

Article IV[edit]

Liberty and justice consist in restoring to others all that belongs to them; 

Restoring refers again to natural rights. It does seem logical to me too, if you look at a room full of infants in a nursery at a hospital, that they are all equally precious little life forms, and that none of them should have rights and protections that they others don’t have. De Gouges argues that if some of them grow up to become enslaved based on the color of their skin, and half of all of them grow up to be subject to the other half, based on their genitals, that those rights have been unnaturally taken away and should be restored.

**This reminds me of Bing Preschool!! Teachers used to say that if there’s a conflict between kids, adults should listen to the kids’ methods of figuring out what is fair. Imagine if an adult were to make a rule that says “ok, just to simplify things we’re going to say that all the brown-haired kids are going to make the rules for the black-haired and blond-haired and red-haired kids. Brown-haired kids are in charge; everyone else is in a supporting role.

 

hence, the only limits to the exercise of the natural rights of woman are found in the perpetual male tyranny opposed to them; these limits must be reformed according to the laws of nature and reason.

 

Again, this is a step forward from believing that God Himself imposed these limits on women. If you look at theocracies, like Iran for example - remember when we read Persepolis - you have a government that uses their book of scripture as the basis for laws. This is what Europe had done with the Bible prior to the Enlightenment. Here we’re using a very different source of truth - Reason, vs. Religious dogma.

 

And de Gouges reasons that little girls and little boys are born with equal dignity and equal rights to self-determination. It is men who have exercised tyranny over women, and she places the responsibility of reform in the hands of men, using the laws of “nature and reason.” 

 

Some men may use “nature and reason” to argue that women’s nature destines them to a life of 100% reproduction, and that it is men’s nature to rule over women and women’s nature to be ruled. This is, again, why it’s so important to have women at the table reasoning, interpreting, and creating the laws.

Article V

Article V is unchanged from the Declaration of the Rights of Man.

Article VI

The law should be the expression of the general will; all citizens, female and male, should participate in person or through their representatives in its formation; it should be the same for all: female and male citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, should be equally eligible for all public positions of rank, offices, and employment according to their ability and with no other distinction than those of their virtue and their talent. 

Contrast this approach with Abigail Adams’ plea to her husband, President John Adams:

And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” 


De Gouges agrees that women are not morally obligated to hold themselves bound by laws in which they have no voice or representation, but she takes it one step further: she does not rely on men to make just laws for women; she envisions women holding the public positions of law-makers.


Article V through Article IX

Articles V through IX again extend the articles in the Declaration of the Rights of Man to include both women and men in their statements.

Article X

No one should be hounded for their opinions, however radical; woman has the right to mount the scaffold so she should equally have the right to mount the rostrum, provided that her actions do not disturb public order as established by law.

 

Foreshadowing of her own death. 

Reminds me of when the voting age was lowered in the US because of the Vietname draft. If we’re old enough to die for our country, we should be old enough to vote to make the laws. This is even more extreme - if I am held accountable for the laws to the extent that I can die for breaking them, then I should have a voice in making them.

Article XI

De Gouges declares, in Article XI, that a woman should be allowed to identify the father of her child/children. Historians believe that this could relate to de Gouges' upbringing as a possible illegitimate child, and allows women to demand support from fathers of illegitimate children.

This is tricky - I can see someone making the argument that if women identified the fathers of their children, they could falsely claim paternity in order to gain access to child support, or to ruin the reputation of someone who scorns or offends them. Before paternity tests, it was he said/she said. But if women have no say, then it’s just he said. And that allows men to impregnate a woman and walk away, ruining her prospects, and leaving her destitute (like Fantine). So actually what the man stands to lose, even if he’s falsely accused of paternity, is less than what a woman stands to lose if he falsely denies his paternity.

 

Article XII

Guaranteeing the rights of woman and the female citizen requires the existence of a greater good; this guarantee must be instituted for the advantage of all, and not for the private benefit of those on whom it is conferred. 

This benefits everyone! Not just the individual women who want more privileges. All of society benefits. (We could brainstorm how these changes would have impacted boys and men)

Article XIII

The contributions of women and men to the maintenance of public authority and to administrative costs are equal. Women share in all the drudgery, in all the painful tasks; therefore, they must have the same share in the distribution of posts, employment, offices, rewards, and responsibilities.


We will see this exact sentiment expressed in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, where women did all the grunt work, but were excluded from leadership positions.


This argument holds up in any organization - any place of employment or government or religion or family. If women share in the drudgery/work, then they share in the corresponding opportunities, rewards, and responsibilities.


Article XIV


Female and male citizens have the right to have demonstrated to them or to their representatives, the need for public taxes. Women should agree to these only on condition that they be entitled to an equal share, not only in wealth, but also in public administration and in determining the proportion, assessment base, collection, and duration of such taxes.


Taxation without representation is tyranny!


Article XV


Women as a body, joining together with men as a body in paying taxes, have the right to hold any public agent accountable for their actions.


My friend Amy was just audited - what if she couldn’t dispute it because she’s a woman?!


Article XVI


Any society that is without guaranteed rights and separation of powers, is without a constitution; a constitution is void if the majority of individuals comprising the nation has not cooperated in its drafting.


Abigail Adams: 


“And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

Article XVII


Property belongs to both sexes, whether united or separated; for each of them this is an inviolable and sacred right; it is a legacy of nature and no one may be deprived of it unless there is a clear and legally determined public need, and then only on condition that fair and prior compensation is provided.


As with all of these articles, this last one made me think of the philosophical thought experiment, the “Veil of Ignorance,” which is a method of determining the morality of any given policy or practice. When considering whether or not to implement a policy or practice, imagine all the implications for each member of society, but that you don’t know which member of society you will be. Would you determine that enslaving people from Africa is defensible if you thought you yourself could be African, and thus kidnapped and enslaved? Would you outlaw same-sex marriage if you yourself  were gay? Would you defend the law that women couldn’t own land if you yourself were a woman? 

Postscript to the Declaration

Some interesting points:


  • If the master (man) gives her (his partner) freedom without reward at an age when she has lost all her charms, what becomes of this unfortunate woman? She is an object of scorn; even the doors of charity are closed to her; she is poor and old, people say; why was she unable to make her fortune?


Other even more touching examples come to mind. A young, inexperienced girl seduced by a man she loves abandons her parents to follow him; after a few years, the ingrate leaves her and the older she has grown with him, the more in human his infidelity will be; if she has children, he will abandon her just the same. If he is rich, he will consider himself excused from sharing his fortune with his noble victims. If he is obliged to do his duty, he will disregard this obligation, counting on every support from the law. If he is married, all other commitments become void. What laws must yet be made to tear out such vice by its roots? A law that shares wealth between men and women and provides for it to be publicly administered.

It is easy to see that woman born into a rich family has much to gain from an equal division. But what of a woman born into a poor family, who has merit and virtue, what becomes of her? Poverty and disgrace. Unless she excels in music or in painting, she cannot be admitted into any public function, even though she is perfectly capable. 


  • Marriage is the tomb of trust and love. 
  • An unmarried woman has very few rights: old, inhumane laws deny her children the right to their father’s name and property and no new laws have been made in this respect. I shall leave to future men the glory of resolving this matter; meanwhile, we can prepare the way forward through national education, through the restoration of morals, and through conjugal agreements.


End podcast by reading this excerpt from the Postscript:


Woman, awake! The tocsin of reason is sounding across the universe; acknowledge your rights. Nature’s powerful empire is no longer hemmed in by prejudice, fanaticism, superstition, and lies. The torch of truth has dispersed all the clouds of folly  and usurpation. Enslaved man has multiplied his strength and has needed yours to break his chains. But once free, he has become unjust to his companion.


Oh women, women! When will you cease to be blind? What advantages has the Revolution brought you? Still greater contempt, still more overt disdain. 


...Are you afraid that our French legislators, correctors of that morality long entangled in political practices that are now outdated, will say to you too: ‘Woman, what is there in common between us?’ ‘Everything,’ you must reply. Should they, in their weakness, persist in this non sequitur that contradicts their very principles, you must courageously counter these vain pretensions of superiority with the power of reason; you must unite under the banner of philosophy; deploy all you're energy of character and you will soon see these arrogant men not groveling at your feet in survival adoration, but proud to share with you the treasures of the Supreme Being. Whatever barriers are placed before you, it is in your power to overcome them; all you need is the will. 


Reactions to the Declaration

In response to the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, many of the radicals of the Revolution immediately suspected de Gouges of treason. The Jacobins (led by Robespierre), upon seeing that the Declaration was addressed to the Queen, suspected de Gouges (as well as her allies in the Girondists) of being Royalists. After de Gouges attempted to post a note demanding a plebiscite to decide between three forms of government (which included a Constitutional monarchy), the Jacobins quickly tried and convicted her of treason. She was sentenced to execution by the guillotine, and was one of many "political enemies" to the state of France claimed by the Reign of Terror.[6]

At the time of her death, the Parisian press no longer mockingly dismissed her as harmless. While journalists and writers argued that her programs and plans for France had been irrational, they also noted that in proposing them she had wanted to be a "statesman." Her crime, the Feuille du Salut public reported, was that she had "forgotten the virtues which belonged to her sex." In the misogynistic environment of Jacobian Paris, her feminism and "political meddlings" were a dangerous combination.

What are those virtues? The ones males want in a woman: meekness, submissiveness.

De Gouges was a strict critic of the principle of equality touted in Revolutionary France because it gave no attention to who it left out, and she worked to claim the rightful place of women and slaves within its protection. By writing numerous plays about the topics of black and women's rights and suffrage, the issues she brought up were spread not only through France, but also throughout Europe and the newly created United States of America.[6]

Reactions in Other Countries

United Kingdom: (Conclusion - this leads to Wollstonecraft)

In the UK, Mary Wollstonecraft was prompted to write A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects in 1792. This was in response to both de Gouges' Declaration as well as Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord's 1791 address to the French National Assembly, which stated that women should only receive a domestic education. Wollstonecraft wrote the Rights of Woman to launch a broad attack against sexual double standards and to indict men for encouraging women to indulge in excessive emotion.[16]

As opposed to de Gouges, Wollstonecraft does call for equality between the sexes in particular areas of life but does not explicitly state that men and women are equal. Her ambiguous statements regarding the equality of the sexes have made it difficult to classify Wollstonecraft as a modern feminist.[17] Rights of Woman was relatively well received in 1792 England.[18]

United States of America (Conclusion - watch for this in Declaration of Sentiments too!)

While there were no immediate effects in the United States upon publishing of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman, it was used extensively in the modeling of the Declaration of Sentiments, written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others at the Seneca Falls Convention, held in the summer of 1848.[19] The Declaration of Sentiments, much like the Declaration of the Rights of Woman was written in the style of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, was written in the style of the Declaration of Independence of the United States.

Analysis


The Debutante (1807) by Henry Fuseli; "Woman, the victim of male social conventions, is tied to the wall, made to sew and guarded by governesses. The picture reflects Mary Wollstonecraft's views in The Rights of Women [sic]".[20]

In her Declaration, de Gouges is forceful and sarcastic in tone and militant in spirit. For de Gouges, the most important expression of liberty was the right to free speech; she had been exercising that right her whole life. Access to the rostrum was another question, and one that she demanded be put at the forefront of the discussion about women's rights and suffrage.[21]

The Enlightenment's presumption of the natural rights of humans (or inalienable rights as in the United States Declaration of Independence) is in direct contradiction with the beliefs of natural sexual inequality (sometimes called the "founding principles of nature"). The rights the equality of the French Declaration states, but does not intend, implies, according to de Gouges, the need to be recognized as having a more far-reaching application; if rights are natural and if these rights are somehow inherent in bodies, then all bodies are deserving of such rights, regardless of any particularities like gender or race.[22]

De Gouges generally agreed with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his understanding of how education of a nation could transform the society in which that nation resided. However, seeing well beyond Rousseau in terms of gender, she argued that the failure of society to educate its women was the sole cause of corruption in government. Her social contract, a direct appropriation of Rousseau, proclaims that the right in marriage to equal property and parental and inheritance rights is the only way to build a society of harmony.[23]

marriage created the conditions for the development of women's unreliability and capacity for deception. In her Social Contract, many similarities to movements around the world become apparent.[21] Similarly to how Mary Wollstonecraft explains marriage in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), de Gouges points to female artifice and weakness as a consequence of woman's powerless place in it. De Gouges, much like Wollstonecraft, attempts to combat societal and educational deficiencies: the vicious cycle which neglects to educate its females and then offers their narrower interests as the reason for the refusal of full citizenship. Both, however, see the resulting fact of women’s "corruption and weak-mindedness" as a major source of the problems of society — and therein lies the solution, as well.[24]




OLYMPE DE GOUGES:

Olympe de Gouges was born Marie Gouze in southwest France in 1748. Her family was middle class (daughter of a baker or possibly illegit. daughter of a nobleman), and she was educated before she was married against her will at age 16 to one of her father’s business associates. The following year, Marie Gouze gave birth to her only child (a son), and her husband died. In 1770, four years later, she moved to Paris and became involved in intellectual and social circles as Olympe de Gouges, taking her mother’s middle name Gouges. The salons she visited introduced her to well-known writers and politicians at the time, including Jacques Pierre Brissot and the Marquis of Condorcet. Fellow female playwrights Madame de Montesson and the Comtesse de Beauharnais were frequent associates of hers. She also began a relationship with a wealthy businessman who supported her financially, but never married again and actively rejected the institution of marriage. 


In Paris, de Gouges started a theater company and began writing her own plays, dictating to a secretary. These plays dealt with political issues such as slavery abolition, women’s rights, and class inequality in France. Her radical opinions, as well as her position as a female playwright made her a target for harassment and criticism in Paris. 

Her stance against French colonization and slavery, made clear in works such as Réflexions sur les hommes nègres (Reflections on Black men) and l'Esclavage des Noirs (The slavery of Black people) 


De Gouges supported the Revolution, as she was a strong advocate for economic and social change, especially regarding the abolition of slavery and women’s rights. However, she also called for a constitutional monarchy and did not support the more radical movements. In 1791-2, she joined a relatively moderate Women’s Liberal Club. Two years after the publication of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in 1789, she published Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, which she dedicated to Marie Antoinette (who was loathed by most women and revolutionaries). 



FRENCH REVOLUTION:

The French Revolution began largely as a consequence of France’s economic crisis and socioeconomic inequality. The Three Estates system divided France’s population into three social groups: the Clergy, Nobility, and every other person in the Third Estate. 96% of the population were members of the Third Estate, and 80% of the Third Estate were peasants. In the 1770’s and 80’s, France’s war debt and inefficient farming led to huge waves of inflation and continuing rampant poverty. 


After decades of this, King Louis XVI (who had a reputation for being weak and petty) finally called a meeting of the Estates General in 1789, which essentially meant that representatives members of each Estate were brought to Versailles for a meeting. Some key figures in attendance were Maximilien Robespierre (Second Estate lawyer), Charles-Maurice de Tallyrand (First Estate bishop), and Count Mirabeau (First Estate aristocrat but progressive). All of these men—and yes, every single person at that meeting was a man—later played hugely significant roles in the French Revolution. 


For several weeks at the Estates General meeting, the Third Estate had to fight to be included in the discussions and voting, holding it at a standstill. Finally, on June 17, the Third Estate took over the proceedings and declared itself the National Assembly—the group in charge of France, basically. This was the first step towards the people delegitimizing the monarchy and seizing power for themselves, and it was very effective. The National Assembly was locked out of the meeting by the King, and were forced onto a Handball Court, where they wrote the famous Tennis Court Oath, which swore that they would not disband until they wrote a Constitution for France. 


After this, rumors started flying around France, especially Paris, where paranoia spread about the King crushing the Third Estate and establishing martial law to calm the country down. Two weeks after the Tennis Court Oath, the King sent roughly 16,000 soldiers into Paris, and the city panicked. On July 14, 1789, people flocked to the Bastille Fortress, which held several military troops and 250 barrels of gunpowder at the time. The public thought that it also held political prisoners of the state, and stormed the fortress with two goals: to free the prisoners (who did not exist) and to suppress the military forces. 


There were 2 weeks of mob violence after the storming of the Bastille, beginning with the decapitation and head-piking of Governor de Launay. While all the political power in France belonged to wealthy men, including the political decisions at the Estates General meeting, both male and female citizens of Paris engaged in the mob violence that lasted through the Revolution. 


Speeches leading up to the abolition of the Feudal regime (August 4, 1789) and the Preamble to the Constitution (late August 1789) called for:

  • the abolition of feudalism
  • abolition of tithes to the Church
  • taxes organized according to the ability to pay
  • meritocracy: every (male) citizen eligible for every job
  • Louis XVI proclaimed “Restorer of French Liberties” (de Gouges supported a constitutional monarchy btw)


Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen:

  • any error in government is due to neglect, disregard, ignorance, or contempt for humans’ natural rights
  • rights are obvious and will produce good government is they are heeded
  • “social distinctions should be based only on public utility”
  • “the law is an expression of the General Will”
  • freedom of expression and religion, unless it disturbs
  • male writers, male language, completely ignores women in France


In October 1789, 7000 women marched on Versailles, calling for food for starving Paris. They wanted to enter the palace and managed to rush up a staircase. They shot and beheaded a few of the King’s bodyguards and piked them. Marie Antoinette had to barricade herself (again, women hated her), and the King and Queen moved to Paris after.


Note: Olympe de Gouges was attacked by several Jacobin women in 1793, injured, and executed by guillotine by order of Robespierre.


FRENCH WOMENS’ RIGHTS:

1776: Women allowed into the tailors’ guild

1777: “A group of male philosophers published the Encyclopedie, further diminishing womens' status in society, calling a woman a "failed man", a non-developed fetus in the womb. It stated that "men are more capable than women of ably governing particular matters". A woman was to remain out of the political sphere: her only influence, raising future citizens. Her only education, learning to be a good mother and wife.”

OCTOBER 1789: Women’s March on Versailles

DECEMBER 1790: “Etta Palm d'Aelders was a Dutch feminist that spoke out during the French Revolution. She proposed a network of clubs for women, made to administer welfare throughout France. Her attempts were unsuccessful. On December 30th, 1790, she addressed the French National Convention with her speech "Discourse on the Injustice of the Laws in Favour of Men, at the Expense of Women".”

1791: Equal inheritance rights (abolished in 1804)

1792: Divorce legalized for both genders (abolished in 1804)

1792: “Local women-units of the defense army are founded in several cities; although the military was never officially open to women, about eight thousand women were estimated to have served openly in the French armée in local troops (but not in the battle fields) between 1792 and 1794, but women were officially barred from the armée in 1795.”

1793: “Article 326 of the Code Civil legalized both anonymous and confidential births.”

1944: Right to vote

1965: Married women’s right to work or open a bank account w/o husband’s permission


1967: Birth control legalized