Olympe de Gouge: Declaration of the Rights of Women, 1791

Olympe de Gouge tests the Declaration of the Rights of Man with her own Declaration of the Rights of Woman. She questions what benefits woman gained from the Revolution. When “man” became free from the Revolution, he turned injustice onto woman. Woman were treated as though inferior, French legislators taking the position that there was nothing in common between men and women. De Gouge encourages women to stand up against this false superiority and unite to gain the rights women deserve. De Gouge brings up the contradiction that a married woman can have bastard children who and they will still benefit from their father’s wealth and also their name. However, if a woman is unmarried, her children cannot receive any of their father’s wealth nor their name. She also realizes that men will have to deal with this matter and women have to wait for that to happen. She proposes that in the meantime women prepare for this “through national education, the restoration of morals, and conjugal conventions”.

De Gouge wrote up and “Form for a Social Contract Between Man and Woman”. In it, she writes that man and woman should unite for common preferences such as pooling wealth together instead of man carrying all the wealth and controlling what happens with it. The idea of a woman sharing a man’s wealth and having just as much control over it as man, being able to reserve the right to hand it down to their children or choose to pass it on to someone who they thought deserving, is a revolutionary idea. Another such revolutionary idea of de Gouge’s is that there be a law forcing man to pay, or leave money for, a widow and her children.

At the end of her “contract”, de Gouge suggests that making laws that favor women equally to men will improve the French government, and make it stronger. “prejudice fails, morals are purified, and nature regains all her rights”.

4 thoughts on “Olympe de Gouge: Declaration of the Rights of Women, 1791

  1. It is astounding that revolutionary principles like that of Jefferson and other Founding Fathers were not put into effect until over 100 years later for half of the population! One would think the groundbreaking ideas surfacing in the late 18th century were too much for society to handle if applied to all people.

  2. The Declaration of the Rights of Women is an extremely important landmark in women’s rights, as it lays a basic groundwork for the desires of women (at least at this time period). While it still took a fairly long time for these to be implemented into law, it was nonetheless a vital starting point. The date is was written is noteworthy, as the first French Constitution was also written in 1791.

  3. Great post. De Gouges works in terms of gender relations and inalienable civil rights were far ahead of her time, and set a frightening standard as precursory legislature, which unfortunately led to her execution. The Declaration of the Rights of Woman proved absolutely transcendent; promoting women’s equal rights in a society where men were still struggling to compete for theirs.

  4. De Gouges’ Declaration of the Rights of Women points out that women were subjected to the same injustices that the Declaration of the Rights of Man detailed. This piece, which ultimately cost her her life, is an essential piece of literature for the feminist movement. De Gouges also lays a framework by which men and women may exist on a more equal basis with her “Form for a Social Contract Between Man and Woman.”

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