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Women in the French Society

Revolution came to France in the late 18th century where women took up the roles of fighting for themselves. Women acted up as a driving force in bringing revolutionary changes. The status of the women in society, family and politics has always been objectified. During the period of French revolution, the feeling of right emerged as a sense of self perception for individual from any gender or sex. Women during the 19th century worked in factories, coal mines, farms, in households as domestic service for supporting their families along with their own work at home that includes cleaning, cooking, taking care of children and others. In small scale industries, known as “sweated industries” women were mostly employed for the job of shirt making, chain making, stitching where the pay was low in comparison with the working hours. These led to the unhappiness of thousands of women regarding the wages per day and unavailability of bread.

The women have always been suppressed for years, provided lesser opportunity to grow, considered as a homemaker taking responsibilities of child, no opinion regarding politics and discriminated among men. The beginning of the French revolution was restricted to the personal sphere such as obligation in family and domestic duties of the woman. Women from diverse backgrounds felt captivated with the ideas of comradery and equality. Initially, the protest of women, political speeches, rallies were considered unladylike. Women waned to voice their opinion regarding politics and grievances where the upper-class women looked after the rights to property and universal suffrage. Women were paid lesser amount of wager in comparison to their male counterpart making it difficult for them to survive. Onwards 1850, there has been establishment of trade unions among workers who are paid well and later expanded among other workers. Women remained ousted from participating in trade unions and been the victim of unequal pay. The TUC equal pay resolution was first proposed by Clementia Black, from one of the 2 women delegates at the Trades Union Council. The demand was not based on the women’s right to paid equally but due to the disadvantaged faced by men in the labour market as women agreed to work in cheaper wage. The first wave of feminism lasted from the period of 1850 to 1940. The wave began with an objective of equal rights for women legally with the focus on right to paid work and right to education. 60,000 women joined the revolution march which turned against the royal rule of France creating pressure on the king to subjugate to the needs of the people to prove that the royals are vulnerable. On June 20, 1791, women after the escape of the king stated that “The king came back to Paris because of Women and men are responsible for the escape of the king”. The French revolution was originated from the Enlightenment. Jean Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire, the 18th century philosophers questioned the ideologies of French society. In the evening, revolutionary ideas about class, education and rights of an individual were discussed in the high society of Paris referred as “salons”. These meetings were organized by fashionable women known as “salonnieres” having a significant influence in the spheres of diplomacy and politics. During the period of revolution, the societies that were formed were come to be known as “clubs”.  In 1848, the first meeting. “Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls”, was organized formally in addressing the issue of gender inequality. In the earlier days of revolution, the concept of equality was applicable to both women and the salves in territories of French colony. Even after the malevolence towards the issues of women, the French revolution brought in the rise of feminism by enforcing human rights. It was triggered by seeking the rights of women in Olympe de Gouge’s Declaration of the Rights of Women. In 1791, people evidenced the growth of political clubs of women. Although the struggle to gain equality in France for women was slow paced and strenuous. The structure of French in religious, political and legal caused obstruction in the movement of women’s right. The traditional religion of France emphasized on subject of obedience to the authoritative figure. In 1973, the movement of the women for attaining an organization along with the rise of women exclusion was at peak. It was the consequence of male chauvinism which resulted women’s to be excluded considered as an issue of national conventions. Equally the legal structures also play an important role in creating problems for women to rise to their position different countries and it was more difficult in France. The Roman legal tradition was responsible for lowering the status of women as permanent minors having no rights to be performed by their women. In 1804, the codification of French civil law by Napoleon both restated and worsened the position of women in the society. According to the Napoleonic code of Article 213, it required the wives to be submissive to their husbands and follow the orders. The other prevalent codes left women powerless in controlling their body, birth of offspring, public and private lives.  The rights of assembly, association has press has been limited by the French laws. The political structure of France generated lag in the movement of women’s light. The Catholic monarchy of authoritarian Napoleon III and Bourbon restoration were frigid towards the factors like social innovation, individual rights and fundamental reform. In 1871, the third republic, political influence of French restricted the advancement towards the rights of women. With the arrival of 19th century, the women of French were able to make small success in 1836 like the Pelet Law of June that promoted the development of an elementary schools especially for girls to increase the rate of literacy. It was predicted by Victor Hugo that the eighteenth century was about the Rights of Man whereas nineteenth century was all about the women’s right. In 1793, the society of Revolutionary and Republican Women was founded by social activist Pauline Leon or Claire Lacombe.  In 1793, the author of the “Declaration of the Rights of Woman” Olympe de Gouges was punished to death for publication of pamphlet that the fate of the government must be decided by the referendum. In 1794, the Robespierre was fallen and after that the national convention dismissed control of price, speculation and inflation which led to the bread lines. On 20th May, a huge pool of women and men carrying guns, swords and pikes attacked the national convention. As soon as the government was able to control the situation, many rioters got arrested and women were excluded from ever being into a meeting place. Although the political fortune of a woman was going through the highs and lows, they anticipated with other roles to play as a sign of revolutionary values such as liberty, fraternity, equality, the republic, regeneration. Female figures were being used from standard practise of images. Although women were not allowed to participate in political matters but their images were being put on coins to letterheads and everything else. The France was backed and equality in the field of political and civil rights for women were won by Leon Richer’s Ligue francaise pour le droit des femmes (the French league for women’s right), Maria Deraismes’s Societte pour l’amelioration du sort de la femme (Society for the improvement of Woman’s condition), Hubertine Auclert’s Droit des femmes (Women’s Rights) and Suffrage des femmes (Women’s Suffrage). Women were able to make their presence evitable during the period of revolution. The most prominent woman involved in Revolution was named Sophia de Condorce, a true feminist in nature. In 1790, Sophia with her husband stated for the suffrage of women in a document “Sur I’admisson des femmes audroit de cite” meaning on the admission of women to civil rights. Germaine de stael, the daughter of Jacques Nicker da stael, the finance minister was born privileged and utilised her position in creating a lobby to fight for the rights of underprivileged ones. She was able to draw in foreign dignitaries and liberals who came to her salons. The dinners arranged at her “hotel” was comprised of Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Paine, Lafayette, Gouverneur Morris and other renowned persons presence at that time.  Sophia was politically centrist, challenging and startle men during political persuasion. Salons acted up as circumstances that encouraged the involvement of women in politics other than household work. Like Sophia, Madame Roland had enriched political knowledge with subtle political perspective with an ability to provoke conventional men. In 1789, after the introduction of “Declaration of the Rights of Men” in the French constitution, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote “A vindication of the rights of women” known as the first manifesto of feminist.  She mentioned in her writing that no society can exist among unequals and equality must persist without any discrimination based on sexes. Among all, Theroigne de Mericourt was the most radical revolutionary organizer. In the opinion of Sheila Rowbothan, the revolutionary women learnt about the collection actions taken in the revolts and riots, simultaneously learning about the social movement. Feminist and radical women took up the charge of burning flames of women rights in 1792. Women of elite classes raised their voice demanding to address the existing political issues regarding to subsistence. Riots were organized against the soaring prices of candles, sugar, and coffees. At the end of the revolution, women have gained the required experience for the wages to be earned and their images were not only seen as romantic and materialistic.  The several issues regarding the positions and right of the women were brought to the notice that were attended for understanding the meaning and depth of the problem. France is the last country to consider the right to vote of women after the World War II. The men were fighting World War II emigrating, earning the wage for revolution and all the responsibility of all the household work fell on the women playing an important role to the contribution to social and economic font. The contribution of Women during the absence of their men were acknowledged and they even fought alongside with men in armies to bring revolution to France. Liberte Barrau was applauded by the newspaper L’Echo des Pyrenees for showing heroism in the war field, attacking and carrying out burning of nineteen cartridges all alone.  She performed her duties on field as well as off field as a wife where she carried of her husband to a hospital to treat him from the wound inflicted on him in the battlefield. Women gained rights to vote and earn equal wage by the end of the revolution. They were not only household maker who is obedient to her husband but are able to raise voice for unjust treatment. However, not all women in the revolutionary movement were interested in politics. Women are equally powerful as men in the movement of counter revolutionary and can bring great changes in the economy as well as in the society. Women are dynamic in nature, they are intelligent, knowledgeable, passionate, witty and possess more qualities to be deserving in the country. Women were present in the areas of revolutionary dynamics. Women were repressed unnecessarily denying their capacity and ability of being a superior gender. Women’s condition went up and touched the lows during the revolutionary period and faced complex situation when there were changes in the standards of politics along with the traditional social structures. The revolution acted up as a political space to the groups of the society who can be influential in the political spheres of life. Even being passive in the society, women grasped the opportunity to establish themselves in the community and played important roles as feminist or activist such as Olympe de Gouges. However, the women previously had a position of minority in the society with no status or power, but later they worked for earning the position of respect, freedom and rights. They had a strong conclusive influence on the later activities of feminist movements.

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Hale, Matthew Rainbow. "Regenerating the World: The French Revolution, Civic Festivals, and the Forging of Modern American Democracy, 1793–1795." Journal of American History 103, no. 4 (2017): 891-920.

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