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Olympe de Gouges

Olympe de Gouges

Overview
Olympe de Gouges born Marie Gouze, was a French playwright and political activist
Activism
Activism consists of intentional efforts to bring about social, political, economic, or environmental change. Activism can take a wide range of forms from writing letters to newspapers or politicians, political campaigning, economic activism such as boycotts or preferentially patronizing...

 whose feminist
Feminism
Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women. Its concepts overlap with those of women's rights...

 and abolitionist
Abolitionism
Abolitionism is a movement to end slavery.In western Europe and the Americas abolitionism was a movement to end the slave trade and set slaves free. At the behest of Dominican priest Bartolomé de las Casas who was shocked at the treatment of natives in the New World, Spain enacted the first...

 writings reached a large audience.

She began her career as a playwright in the early 1780s. As political tension rose in France, de Gouges became increasingly politically involved. She became an outspoken advocate for improving the condition of slaves in the colonies as of 1788.
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Encyclopedia
Olympe de Gouges born Marie Gouze, was a French playwright and political activist
Activism
Activism consists of intentional efforts to bring about social, political, economic, or environmental change. Activism can take a wide range of forms from writing letters to newspapers or politicians, political campaigning, economic activism such as boycotts or preferentially patronizing...

 whose feminist
Feminism
Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women. Its concepts overlap with those of women's rights...

 and abolitionist
Abolitionism
Abolitionism is a movement to end slavery.In western Europe and the Americas abolitionism was a movement to end the slave trade and set slaves free. At the behest of Dominican priest Bartolomé de las Casas who was shocked at the treatment of natives in the New World, Spain enacted the first...

 writings reached a large audience.

She began her career as a playwright in the early 1780s. As political tension rose in France, de Gouges became increasingly politically involved. She became an outspoken advocate for improving the condition of slaves in the colonies as of 1788. At the same time, she began writing political pamphlets. Today she is perhaps best known as an early feminist who demanded that French
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 women be given the same rights as French men. In her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen
Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen
The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen , also known as the Declaration of the Rights of Woman, was written in 1791 by French activist and playwright Olympe de Gouges...

(1791), she challenged the practice of male authority
Patriarchy
Patriarchy is a social system in which the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and entails female subordination...

 and the notion of male-female inequality. She was executed
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

 by guillotine
Guillotine
The guillotine is a device used for carrying out :executions by decapitation. It consists of a tall upright frame from which an angled blade is suspended. This blade is raised with a rope and then allowed to drop, severing the head from the body...

 during the Reign of Terror
Reign of Terror
The Reign of Terror , also known simply as The Terror , was a period of violence that occurred after the onset of the French Revolution, incited by conflict between rival political factions, the Girondins and the Jacobins, and marked by mass executions of "enemies of...

 for attacking the regime of Maximilien Robespierre
Maximilien Robespierre
Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre is one of the best-known and most influential figures of the French Revolution. He largely dominated the Committee of Public Safety and was instrumental in the period of the Revolution commonly known as the Reign of Terror, which ended with his...

 and for her close relation with the Girondists.

Biography


Marie Gouze was born into a petit bourgeois family in 1748 in Montauban
Montauban
Montauban is a commune in the Tarn-et-Garonne department in the Midi-Pyrénées region in southern France. It is the capital of the department and lies north of Toulouse....

, Tarn-et-Garonne, in southwestern France. Her father was a butcher
Butcher
A butcher is a person who may slaughter animals, dress their flesh, sell their meat or any combination of these three tasks. They may prepare standard cuts of meat, poultry, fish and shellfish for sale in retail or wholesale food establishments...

 and her mother was the daughter of a cloth merchant
Cloth merchant
Cloth merchant is, strictly speaking, like a draper, the term for any vendor of cloth. However, it is generally used for one who owned and/or ran a cloth manufacturing and/or wholesale import and/or export business in the Middle Ages or 16th and 17th centuries...

. She believed, however, that she was the illegitimate daughter of Jean-Jacques Lefranc
Jean-Jacques Lefranc, marquis de Pompignan
Jean-Jacques Lefranc , Marquis de Pompignan was a French man of letters and erudition, who published a considerable output of theatrical work, poems, literary criticism, and polemics; treatises on archeology, nature, travel and many other subjects; and a wide selection of highly-regarded...

, Marquis de Pompignan
Pompignan, Tarn-et-Garonne
Pompignan is a commune in the Tarn-et-Garonne department in the Midi-Pyrénées region in southern France.The Chateau de Pompignan, a mid-18th century neoclassical building, sits on a terrace above the village...

 and his rejection of her claims upon him may have influenced her passionate defense of the rights of illegitimate children.

In 1765 she married Louis Aubry, a caterer, who came from Paris with the new Intendant
Intendant
The title of intendant has been used in several countries through history. Traditionally, it refers to the holder of a public administrative office...

 of the town. This was not a marriage of love. Gouze said in a semi-autobiographical
Autobiography
An autobiography is a book about the life of a person, written by that person.-Origin of the term:...

 novel (Mémoire de Madame de Valmont contre la famille de Flaucourt), "I was married to a man I did not love and who was neither rich nor well-born. I was sacrificed for no reason that could make up for the repugnance I felt for this man." Her husband died a year later, and in 1770 she moved to Paris with her son, Pierre, and took the name of Olympe de Gouges.

In 1773, according to her biographer Olivier Blanc, she met a wealthy man, Jacques Biétrix de Rozières, with whom she had a long relationship that ended during the revolution. She was received in the artistic and philosophical
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 salons
Salon (gathering)
A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste and increase their knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace's definition of the aims of poetry, "either to...

, where she met many writers, including La Harpe
Jean-François de La Harpe
Jean-François de La Harpe was a French playwright, writer and critic.-Life:La Harpe was born in Paris of poor parents. His father, who signed himself Delharpe, was a descendant of a noble family originally of Vaud...

, Mercier
Louis-Sébastien Mercier
Louis-Sébastien Mercier was a French dramatist and writer.-Early life and education:He was born in Paris to a humble family: his father was a skilled artisan who polished swords and metal arms. Mercier nevertheless received a decent education.-Literary career:Mercier began his literary career by...

, and Chamfort
Nicolas Chamfort
Nicolas Chamfort was a French writer, best known for his witty epigrams and aphorisms. He was secretary of Louis XVI's sister, and of the Jacobin club.-Life:...

 as well as future politicians such as Brissot and Condorcet. She usually was invited to the salons of the Marquise de Montesson and the Comtesse de Beauharnais
Fanny de Beauharnais
Fanny de Beauharnais, née Marie-Anne-Françoise Mouchard, was a French lady of letters. She was the mother of French politician Claude de Beauharnais...

, who also were playwrights. She also was associated with Masonic Lodges
Freemasonry
Freemasonry is a fraternal organisation that arose from obscure origins in the late 16th to early 17th century. Freemasonry now exists in various forms all over the world, with a membership estimated at around six million, including approximately 150,000 under the jurisdictions of the Grand Lodge...

 among them, the Loge des Neuf Sœurs that was created by her friend Michel de Cubières
Michel de Cubières
Michel, chevalier de Cubières, the brother of Louis Pierre de Cubières was a French writer, known under the pen-names of Palmézaux and Dorat-Cubières, taking the latter name as he had Claude Joseph Dorat as his master....

.

Surviving paintings of de Gouges show her to be a woman of beauty. She chose to cohabit
Cohabitation
Cohabitation usually refers to an arrangement whereby two people decide to live together on a long-term or permanent basis in an emotionally and/or sexually intimate relationship. The term is most frequently applied to couples who are not married...

 with several men who supported her financially. By 1784 (the year that her putative biological father died), however, she began to write essays, manifesto
Manifesto
A manifesto is a public declaration of principles and intentions, often political in nature. Manifestos relating to religious belief are generally referred to as creeds. Manifestos may also be life stance-related.-Etymology:...

es, and socially conscious plays. Seeking upward mobility, she strove to move among the aristocracy
Aristocracy
Aristocracy , is a form of government in which a few elite citizens rule. The term derives from the Greek aristokratia, meaning "rule of the best". In origin in Ancient Greece, it was conceived of as rule by the best qualified citizens, and contrasted with monarchy...

 and to abandon her provincial accent.

In 1784, she wrote the anti-slavery play Zamore and Mirza. For several reasons, the play was not performed until 1789. De Gouges published it, however, as Zamore et Mirza, ou l'heureux naufrage (Zamore and Mirza, or the happy shipwreck) in 1788. It was performed as L'Esclavage des nègres in December of 1789, but shut down after three performances. Subsequently, it was published in 1792 under the title L'Esclavage des noirs.

She also wrote on such gender-related topics as the right of divorce
Divorce
Divorce is the final termination of a marital union, canceling the legal duties and responsibilities of marriage and dissolving the bonds of matrimony between the parties...

 and argued in favor of sexual relations outside of marriage.

As an epilogue to the 1788 version of her play Zamore et Mirza, she published Réflexions sur les hommes nègres. In 1790, she wrote a play, Le Marché des Noirs (The Black Market) which was rejected by the Comédie Française; the text was burned after her death. In 1808, the Abbé Grégoire included her on his list of the courageous men [sic] who pleaded the cause of "les nègres."

A passionate advocate of human rights
Human rights
Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal and egalitarian . These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national...

, Olympe de Gouges greeted the outbreak of the Revolution with hope and joy, but soon became disenchanted when égalité (equal rights) was not extended to women.

In 1791, she became part of the Society of the Friends of Truth
Society of the Friends of Truth
The Society of the Friends of Truth , also known as the Social Club, was a French revolutionary organization founded in 1790. It was "a mixture of revolutionary political club, the Masonic Lodge, and a literary salon"...

, an association with the goal of equal political and legal rights for women. Also called the "Social Club", members sometimes gathered at the home of the well-known women's rights advocate, Sophie de Condorcet
Sophie de Condorcet
Sophie de Condorcet , best known as Madame de Condorcet, was a prominent salon hostess from 1789 to the Reign of Terror, and again from 1799 until her death in 1822. She was the wife, then widow, of the mathematician and philosopher Nicolas de Condorcet, who died during the Reign of Terror...

. Here, De Gouges expressed, for the first time, her famous statement, "A woman has the right to mount the scaffold. She must possess equally the right to mount the speaker's platform."

That same year, in response to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is a fundamental document of the French Revolution, defining the individual and collective rights of all the estates of the realm as universal. Influenced by the doctrine of "natural right", the rights of man are held to be universal: valid...

, she wrote the Déclaration des droits de la Femme et de la Citoyenne (Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen). This was followed by her Contrat Social (Social Contract, named after a famous work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of 18th-century Romanticism. His political philosophy influenced the French Revolution as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological and educational thought.His novel Émile: or, On Education is a treatise...

), proposing marriage based upon gender equality.

She became involved in almost any matter she believed to involve injustice. She opposed the execution of Louis XVI of France
Louis XVI of France
Louis XVI was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and Navarre until 1791, and then as King of the French from 1791 to 1792, before being executed in 1793....

, partly out of opposition to capital punishment and partly because she preferred a relatively tame and living king to the possibility of a rebel regency in exile. This earned her the ire of many hard-line republicans, even into the next generation—such as the comment by the nineteenth century historian Jules Michelet
Jules Michelet
Jules Michelet was a French historian. He was born in Paris to a family with Huguenot traditions.-Early life:His father was a master printer, not very prosperous, and Jules assisted him in the actual work of the press...

, a fierce apologist for the Revolution, who wrote, "She allowed herself to act and write about more than one affair that her weak head did not understand." Michelet was also part of a generation of men who opposed any political participation by women. He disliked de Gouges for this reason.

Arrest and execution


As the Revolution progressed, she became more and more vehement in her writings. On 2 June 1793, the Jacobin
Jacobin Club
The Jacobin Club was the most famous and influential political club in the development of the French Revolution, so-named because of the Dominican convent where they met, located in the Rue St. Jacques , Paris. The club originated as the Club Benthorn, formed at Versailles from a group of Breton...

s arrested her allies, the Girondins, and sent them to the guillotine. Finally, her poster Les trois urnes, ou le salut de la Patrie, par un voyageur aérien (The Three Urns, or the Salvation of the Country, By An Aerial Traveler) of 1793, led to her arrest. That piece demanded a plebiscite for a choice among three potential forms of government: the first, indivisible republic
Republic
A republic is a form of government in which the people, or some significant portion of them, have supreme control over the government and where offices of state are elected or chosen by elected people. In modern times, a common simplified definition of a republic is a government where the head of...

, the second, a federalist
Federalism
Federalism is a political concept in which a group of members are bound together by covenant with a governing representative head. The term "federalism" is also used to describe a system of the government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and...

 government, or the third, a constitutional monarchy
Constitutional monarchy
Constitutional monarchy is a form of government in which a monarch acts as head of state within the parameters of a constitution, whether it be a written, uncodified or blended constitution...

.

She spent three months in jail without an attorney
Lawyer
A lawyer, according to Black's Law Dictionary, is "a person learned in the law; as an attorney, counsel or solicitor; a person who is practicing law." Law is the system of rules of conduct established by the sovereign government of a society to correct wrongs, maintain the stability of political...

, trying to defend herself. Through her friends she managed to publish two texts: Olympe de Gouges au tribunal révolutionnaire, where she related her interrogations, and the last work, Une patriote persécutée, where she condemned the Terror. The Jacobins, who already had executed a King and Queen, were in no mood to tolerate any opposition from the intellectuals. De Gouges was sentenced to death on 2 November 1793, and executed the following day, for "opposition to the death penalty", a month after Condorcet had been proscribed and several months after the Girondin leaders had been guillotined. Her body was disposed of in the Madeleine Cemetery
Madeleine Cemetery
Cimetière de la Madeleine is also the name of a cemetery in AmiensMadeleine Cemetery in French known as Cimetière de la Madeleine is a former cemetery in Paris, part of the land on which the Chapelle expiatoire now stands.-History and location:...

.

Legacy


After her death, says Olivier Blanc, her son General Pierre Aubry de Gouges went to Guyana
Guyana
Guyana , officially the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, previously the colony of British Guiana, is a sovereign state on the northern coast of South America that is culturally part of the Anglophone Caribbean. Guyana was a former colony of the Dutch and of the British...

 with his wife and five children. He died in 1802, after which his widow attempted to return to France, but died aboard the ship during her return. In Guadeloupe
Guadeloupe
Guadeloupe is an archipelago located in the Leeward Islands, in the Lesser Antilles, with a land area of 1,628 square kilometres and a population of 400,000. It is the first overseas region of France, consisting of a single overseas department. As with the other overseas departments, Guadeloupe...

, the two young daughters were married, Marie Hyacinthe Geneviève de Gouges to an English officer (Captain William Wood), and Charlotte de Gouges to an American politician Robert Selden Garnett, a member of the United States Congress who had plantations in Virginia. Hence, many English and American families have Olympe de Gouges as their ancestor (per Olivier Blanc).

On 6 March 2004, the junction of the Rues Béranger, Charlot, Turenne and Franche-Comté in Paris was proclaimed the Place Olympe de Gouges. The square was inaugurated by the mayor of the Third Arrondissement, Pierre Aidenbaum, along with the first deputy mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo
Anne Hidalgo
Anne Hidalgo is a French politician of Spanish descent, member of the French Socialist Party since 1994. Former national secretary for culture and media, after having been responsible for providing training, she is currently the first deputy mayor of Paris, under Bertrand Delanoë...

. The actress Véronique Genest
Véronique Genest
Véronique Genest is a French actress. She was born Véronique Combouilhaud in Meaux, Seine-et-Marne. She is principally known for her lead role in the French television series Julie Lescaut.- Selected filmography :...

 read an excerpt from the Declaration of the Rights of Woman.

2007 French presidential contender Ségolène Royal
Ségolène Royal
Marie-Ségolène Royal , known as Ségolène Royal, is a French politician. She is the president of the Poitou-Charentes Regional Council, a former member of the National Assembly, a former government minister, and a prominent member of the French Socialist Party...

 has expressed the wish that the remains of de Gouges be moved to the Panthéon. However, her remains—as those of the other victims of the Reign of Terror—have been lost through burial in communal graves, so any reburial (like that of Condorcet) would be ceremonial.

Writings


Olympe de Gouges wrote her famous Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen
Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen
The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen , also known as the Declaration of the Rights of Woman, was written in 1791 by French activist and playwright Olympe de Gouges...

shortly after the French constitution of 1791 was created in the same year. She was alarmed that the constitution, which was to promote equal suffrage, did not address—nor even consider—women’s suffrage. The Constitution gave that right only to men. It also did not address key issues such as legal equality in marriage, the right of a woman to divorce her spouse if he abused her, or a woman’s right to property and custody of the children. So she created a document that was to be, in her opinion, the missing part of the Constitution of 1791, in which women would be given the equal rights they deserve. Throughout the document, it is apparent to the reader that Gouges had been influenced by the philosophy of the Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

, whose thinkers, using “scientific reasoning”, critically examined and criticized the traditional morals and institutions of the day.

Gouges opens up her Declaration with a witty, and at times sarcastically bitter, introduction in which she asks men why they have chosen to subjugate women as a lesser sex. Her opening statement put rather bluntly: “Man, are you capable of being just? It is a woman who poses the question; you will not deprive her of that right at least.” The latter part of the statement shows her assertion that men have been absurdly depriving women of what should be common rights, so she sarcastically asks if men will find it necessary to take away even her right to question. Gouges begins her long argument by stating that in nature
Nature
Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical world, or material world. "Nature" refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general...

 the sexes are forever mingled, cooperating in “harmonious togetherness.” There she uses a bit of Enlightenment logic: if in nature the equality and the cooperation of the two sexes achieves harmony, so should France achieve a happier and more stable society if women are given equality among men.

After her opening paragraph she goes into her declaration, which she asks be reviewed and decreed by the National Assembly in their next meeting. Her preamble explains that the reason for contemporary public misfortune and corrupt government is due to the oppression of women and their rights. The happiness and well-being of society would only be insured once the rights of women were equally as important as those of men, especially in political institutions. In her document Gouges establishes the rights of women on the basis of their equality to men: that they are both human and capable of the same thoughts. Gouges also promotes the rights of women by emphasizing differences women have to men; however, differences that men ought to respect and take notice of. She argues that women are superior in beauty as well as in courage during childbirth. Addressing characteristics that set women apart from men, she adds what she probably thought was logical proof to her argument that men are not superior to women, and therefore, women are deserving at least of the same rights.

Her declaration bears the same outline and context as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, but Gouges either changes the word “man” to “woman” or adds “for both women and men.” In article II, the resemblance is exact to the previous declaration except that she adds “especially” before “the right to the resistance of oppression”, emphasizing again how important it is to her to end the oppression of women, and that the government should recognize this and take action.

A main difference between the two declarations is that the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen emphasizes the protection of the written “law” while the Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Female Citizen emphasizes protection of the “law” and “Natural Laws.” Gouges emphasizes that these rights of women always have existed, that they were created at the beginning of time by God
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

, that they are natural and true, and they cannot be oppressed.

Article X contains the famous phrase: “Woman has the right to mount the scaffold; she must equally have the right to mount the rostrum.” If women have the right to be executed, they should have the right to speak.

She modifies article XI to say that a woman has the right to give her children the name of their father even if they be out of wedlock or the father may have left her. Gouges is passionate about this because she believed that she herself was an illegitimate child.

In her postscript, Gouges exhorts women to wake up and discover that they have these rights. She assures them that reason is on their side. Gouges asks, "What have women gained from the French Revolution?" She states that the answer is nothing, except to be marked with yet more disdain. She exclaims that women should no longer tolerate this, they should step up, take action, and demand the equal rights they deserve. Gouges calls the notion that women are lesser beings an “out-of-date” concept. In this, she shows strongly her Enlightenment perspective—to break from old, illogical traditions that are now archaic. She asserts that to revoke women's right to partake in political life is also “out-of-date.”

Her last paragraph is titled a "Social Contract between Men and Women." Taking a leaf from Rousseau’s book, the contract asks for communal cooperation. The wealth of a husband and wife should be distributed equally. Property should belong to both and to the children, whatever bed they come from. If they are divorced, their land should be divided equally. She called this the “marriage contract.” Gouges also proposed to allow a poor man’s wife to have her children adopted by a wealthy family – this would advance the community’s wealth and reduce disorder. Near the end of the contract, Gouges finally requests creation of a law to protect widows and girls from men who make false promises. This, perhaps, is the most important issue she deals with in France. In the postscript section of her document, Gouges describes the consequences for a woman who is left by an unfaithful husband, who is widowed with no fortune to her name, and of young, inexperienced girls who are seduced by men who leave them with no money and no title for their children. Gouges therefore demands a law that that will force an unfaithful or unscrupulous man to fulfill his obligations to such a woman, or to at least to pay a reimbursement equal to his wealth.

One of the last arguments in her document is directed to men who still see women as lesser beings: “the foolproof way to evaluate the soul of women is to join them to all the activities of man, if man persists against this, let him share his fortune with woman by the wisdom of the laws.” She challenges men that, if they wish, they may evaluate scientifically the consequences of joining man and woman in equal political rights.(this section is not clear)

Olympe de Gouges' bold personality emerges strongly in her writings. She wrote this declaration in forceful language that was dangerous to use at the time. Gouges was executed two years later. In the long history of the struggle for recognition of the rights of women, however, the Gouges declaration played a very important and positive role.

See also


  • The March on Versailles
    The March on Versailles
    The Women's March on Versailles, also known as The October March, The October Days, or simply The March on Versailles, was one of the earliest and most significant events of the French Revolution. The march began among women in the marketplaces of Paris who, on the morning of 5 October 1789, were...

  • Women's Petition to the National Assembly
    Women's Petition to the National Assembly
    This petition was produced during the French Revolution and presented to the French National Assembly in November 1789 after The March on Versailles on 5 October 1789, proposing a decree by the National Assembly to give women equality. There were thousands of petitions presented to the National...



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