Prior to the French revolution, events such as the Enlightenment also known as the “Age of Reason” sparked a new outlook on traditional french society. From this movement arose the spirit of question in which the people began to question just about everything including the manner in which they treat women. Throughout the 18th century concepts and principles established by both Catholic Church and Protestant authorities were highly valued.
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Therefore the “ideal” woman was perceived to be poise and subordinate to her husband who possessed authority over her. As a result of this new innovative way in thinking, a new civil society was born where women eventually took on a more active role within the public sphere. For example, women were responsible for planning and organizing the Salons which would later become the outlet to new ideas and information embarking the Enlightenment. These gatherings were significant in terms of education, because at the time France’s society imposed strict censorship upon the poor and women.
The Salons became an open space environment that allowed women to gain more access to new innovative ideas and information, improving their overall knowledge of current events and the way in which french society operated. It wasn’t until 1789 when France had decided that it was time to undergo its own transformation in terms of government, economy and equality. During this period Olympe de Gouges formally identified as Marie Gouze composed a pamphlet addressed to Marie Antoinette in 1791 that provided The Declaration of the Rights of Women discussing the failure of the revolution and the lack of justification for women’s rights. Influenced by the The Declaration of the Rights of Man, Gouges used this work as a basis to justify the equality and rights the women of France so rightfully deserved. Ultimately this also denounced the government’s inadequacy to take action in hope of improving women’s rights just as they have clearly displayed in The Declaration of the Rights of Man to enhance the rights of men. Within Article (2) Gouges asserts that “The purpose of all political association is the preservation of the natural rights of woman and man. These rights are liberty, property security and especially resistance to oppression” (Gouges, 1791) determining that both men and women played a role in the nations political reformation and are entitled to natural rights that the government is obligated to preserve.While Gouges was also a commoner at the time of the revolution, she most definitely wanted to apply the nations financial issues within the declaration insinuating tax reform.
In Articles (13) she claims that “For maintenance of public authority and for the expenses of administration taxation of women and men is equal;” (Gouges,1791) implying that both women and men should have to pay an equal amount of taxes. After all it was the inefficient government, astronomical royal expenses, and King Louis XVI irresponsible expend on money that lead to the overall bankruptcy of the nation . The goal at this point was to even out the tax reform and one way in which Louis XVI could successfully executed this was by having the rich pay taxes in addition to the and equal amount of tax payments between men and women. However the nobles thwart Louis through the use of parlements and each estate would have to present a list of grievances to Versailles. Due to an uneven distribution of votes the first and second estates consisting in nobles and the Catholic church would theoretically win every time. As a result all three estates could not come to a compromise and tension was mounting in the french society. Eventually with tension rising, anger was soon to come considering that the average french were spending approximately 80 percent of their income on bread. In response to such shortages 10,000 angry women in Paris had set on a march to the palace of Versailles with a motive of interest regarding the prices of bread, for King Louis to sign all enactments and move back to Paris.
Fortunately due to the women’s rioting and demonstrating they were successful. King Louis XVI agreed to sign all enactments that included the separation of church and state along with the adoption of a human rights statement. However according to Gouges this statement only went so far in terms of social reformation. Within Article (6) she affirms “all citizens and citizens, being equal in its eyes, should be equally submissible to all public dignities, offices and employments, according to their ability, and with no other distinction than that of their virtues and talents”(Gouges, 1791) implying that women should have the opportunity to advance in their public standing, regardless of their class or gender, society should permit the advancement based on ability and performance.
However after the reign of Louis XVI, Napoleon takes the lead shortly after he is crowned the emperor of France in 1804. He would then instill The Code Napoleon law in which he incorporated the most reformative ideas of the revolution such as the people being granted equality before the law. Although this law was set to be liberal napoleon fails to exceed these revolutionary ideas upon female population. Nevertheless, he would deny women the right to vote because a wife was to be obedient to a man who owns her property. In addition to women were also prohibited from being educated because through Napoleon’s perspective marriage would be their ultimate destination in life. This epidemic of inequality is precisely what Gouges is trying to address and essentially promote the transformation of a society that looks beyond the class and gender permitting equal rights for both genders.
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