Friday, February 18, 2011

Olympe de Gouges

From the time of the French Revolution, French citizenship was limited to only men.  It was made clear in The Declaration of Rights of Man and of the citizen written by the National Assembly brought into law in 1789.  .

Olympe used her talent as a playright to pen The Declaration of the Rights of Women and of the Citizen in 1791 and mirror it after the male one. 

In her document, she asserted woman's ability to reason and make moral decisions, and pointed to the feminine virtues of emotion and feeling. She made woman man's equal partner.

As one can predict, her document did not go over well.  How dare she assume that women had the right to act as members of the public.  By doing so, she violated the precious boundaries that the revolutionary leaders had worked so hard to declare and initiate.

Her declaration stated that women had the right to free speech and the right to reveal the identity of the fathers of their children, something unheard of at the time.  She declared that children born out of wedlock be given the same consideration and equality as those born in marriage.  This stirred up ire for it insinuated that women too had the freedom to satisfy their sexual desires outside of marriage and that men need not fear any responsibility. 

In July 1793, four years after the Revolution, Olympe de Gouges was arrested for her assertations and declarations and also for her refusal to be silent on the rights of women.  She faced the guillotine in November of that year.

Documents in the case against her cite:

"Olympe de Gouges, born with an exalted imagination, mistook her delirium for an inspiration of nature. She wanted to be a man of state. She took up the projects of the perfidious people who want to divide France. It seems the law has punished this conspirator for having forgotten the virtues that belong to her sex.  In the midst of a Revolution to extend rights to more men, Olympe de Gouges had the audacity to argue that women, too, should benefit. Her contemporaries were clear that her punishment was, in part, for forgetting her proper place and proper role as a woman."
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