Cutting the Marionette String: The Rise of Women's Freedom - Part 1
A Brief History Of Rebellion
1791-- Olympe de Gourges' Essay
1802-- Stael's Delphine
1803-- Stael exiled
1804--Napolean's Civil Code
1825--Saint Simonianism forms
1832--Tribune des Femmes first publication
1836--Girardin's Les Lettres Parisiennes first
1836--La Gazette des Femmes' first publication
1843-- Tristan's l'Union Ouvriere
1848--d'Agoult's Histoire de la Revolution de
The Late 1700s
In 1790, Philosopher and mathematician Condorcet wrote his "Essay on the admission of women to citizens' rights" in which he theorized that there was no justification to keep women from voting. "How could pregnancy and 'temporary indisposition' make them incapable of exercising these rights when nobody had considered similar deprivation for people who 'suffered from gout every winter and caught colds easily'?" (Crosland, 20) His ideas went on to inspire Olympe de Gourges' own essay, "Declaration of the rights of Women and Female Citizens." She wrote that if women could go to the guillotine for breaking laws then logically they should have citizen rights to begin with. Ironically, this violently feminist woman would die at the guillotine herself, having (as the newspapers explained) "forgotten the virtues suited to her sex." (Crosland, 21)
Today we might assume that this picture represents a proper 19th century woman. But in 1832, when Octave Tasaert's Le Roman first appeared, it expressed the faults of the liseuse moderne (the "modern" woman.) Though we might notice how studious and docile she appears, the viewers in her time would focus in on her leisurely reading. After all, the picture's name means "the book." It was indeed this book that exposed her sins. Rather than tending to her maternal and spousal duties, she is hunched forward, "mindlessly sponge absorbing dangerous lessons from novels." (Bergman-Carton, 111) Her close proximity to the fire and the darkness all around her only reinforces the sinful motif. The fire, which could represent both passion and the fires of hell, is her only source of light visible in the painting.
In 1848, Edouard de Beaumont created a series of images called Les Vesuviennes, which depicted the Parisian women as "women warriors" or feminists. It was these politically charged images that "severed any connections the woman warrior might have had with an acceptable female role and reconnected her with the tradition of street whore." (Bergman-Carton, 57) In the example shown above, we see how Beaumont used a type of role reversal to shock the viewer. For starters, the woman is clad in men's attire, having taken the pants right off of her husband it seems. The gun in her hand, phallically placed, and the contrasting absent space between her husband's own legs enhances the theme of the women stealing the power away from the man. Of course, the picture would not be complete if the husband did not have three squirming children under his arms.
The Early 1800s
Madame de Stael, an influential writer of the late 1700s and early 1800s, wrote her book Delphine. It was the fictional story of one woman fighting the social codes of France in an attempt to gain individual freedom. Amongst other topics, the book addressed divorce and social unacceptance of spinsterhood. Napolean reacted to her book and her political views by exiling Stael from France. (Her second exile in her lifetime.)
It was in 1804 that the Napoleonic civil code came into effect and gave equal civil rights to all men. Under this code, divorce was once again made illegal and Bonaparte made it perfectly clear that women's only purpose was to bear children. Many began to see the marriage arrangement as worse than slavery. After all, a man could free his slave but he was "formally forbidden by the code from abandoning any of his rights over his wife." (Moses, 20) Before, the complexity of the class laws created many loopholes for some women to pass through and avoid aspects of the patriarchal society. With the Civil code giving equal right to all men these loopholes vanished.
In 1825, a group of mainly Bourgeois men formed the Saint Simonians, a group pledged to seek out the faults of their society and to develop (often radical) means of change. Amongst their many causes, they believed in the emancipation of women.