Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wednesday's Women of Courage - Olympe de Gouges

Today is Bastille Day -a French national holiday. On this date in 1789, the Bastille fortress-prison which held many political prisoners of then king Louis XVI, was stormed by an angry mob tired of the corrupt monarchy.

This courageous act was seen as a symbol of the uprising of the modern nation, and of the reconciliation of all the French inside the constitutional monarchy which preceded the First Republic and the end of the French Revolution.

Shortly after the storming of the Bastille, on 4 August feudalism was abolished and on 26 August, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen proclaimed.

Very few know that this period also marked a turning point for Women's Rights.

Beginning with the French Revolution and the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen" in 1789, until 1944, French citizenship was limited to males -- even though women were active in the French Revolution, and many assumed that citizenship was theirs by right of their active participation in that historic liberation battle.

As documented by author Jone Johnson Lewis in her book titled: "Olympe de Gouges and the Rights of Woman", Olympe de Gouges, a playwright of some note in France at the time of the Revolution, spoke for not only herself but many of the women of France, when in 1791 she wrote and published the "Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Citizen." Modeled on the 1789 "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen" by the National Assembly, de Gouges' Declaration echoed the same language and extended it to women, as well.

As many feminists have done since, de Gouges both asserted woman's capability to reason and make moral decisions, and pointed to the feminine virtues of emotion and feeling. Woman was not simply the same as man, but she was his equal partner.

For asserting this equality, and repeating the assertion publicly -- for refusing to be silent on the Rights of Woman -- and for associating with the wrong side, the Girondists, as the Revolution became embroiled in new conflicts -- Olympe de Gouges was arrested in July 1793, four years after the Revolution. She was sent to the guillotine in November of that year.

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.

Let us pause today to remember the bravery of women in the face of discrimination and persecution. While much has been accomplished, there is still much more to be overcome.

Make today your own personal Bastille Day. Become part of the movement to abolish corruption and discrimination against women within your community, home, or business.

Seek the Truth. Because the Truth will set you free.

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