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'Like so many eighteenth-century revolutionaries, she saw her own class, the rising bourgeoisie, as the vanguard of the revolution, and it was to the women of her own class that she directed her arguments.' Discuss Olympe de Gouges' Declaration des droits

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Introduction

Resistance and Desire Natalie Glyn Seminar tutor : Terry Bradford 'Like so many eighteenth-century revolutionaries, she saw her own class, the rising bourgeoisie, as the vanguard of the revolution, and it was to the women of her own class that she directed her arguments.' Discuss this assessment of Olympe de Gouges' D�claration des droits de la femme. When thinking about Olympe de Gouges' D�claration des droits de la femme, one cannot help but realise that the author of this piece of work was profoundly feminist. This is apparent in the way that she addresses men from the very outset of the piece by stating "Homme, est-tu capable d'�tre juste?" This very usage of the 'tu' form is quite an impolite way to address someone, and would imply that Olympe de Gouges considered herself to be superior to the male sex. However by speaking directly to men (or mankind as it were), she was clearly not directing her argument to women of her own class - nor from any other class for that matter. It is apparent that the opening paragraph of La D�claration des droits de la femme is aimed at a male reader. Interestingly, in the following paragraph which begins "L'homme seul s'est fagot� un principe de cette exception," Olympe de Gouges has jumped from her direct second person attack on men, to a third person point of view, by now referring to men as "il". ...read more.

Middle

This is a more difficult element to establish, as naturally a document such as a declaration for the rights of women should surely remain unbiased. It would be most hypocritical to accuse men of being discriminatory, only for Olympe de Gouges herself to exclude certain classes from her declaration! On the surface at least, Olympe de Gouges attempts to remain objective, by using phrases such as "nulle femme n'est except�e", but if we examine the personal life of Olympe de Gouges, there are certain elements which may lead one to believe that her sympathies swayed more in favour of the rising bourgeoisie than the working class peasants of the time. Olympe de Gouges was born into a poor family as the daughter of a common butcher and a washerwoman. However according to an online source, she harboured strange notions that she was 'biologically the illegitimate daughter of a minor noble and man of letters.'1 This pretence of being of noble descent, combined with the wealth she acquired after the death of her husband, pushed her into the social category of rising bourgeoisie, which would have well suited her fanatical monarchist stance during the French Revolution. In fact, Olympe de Gouges was so much in favour of absolute monarchy, that according to one website her D�claration des droits de la femme was in actuality ...read more.

Conclusion

Any women with literacy skills would have been members of the wealthy nobility or bourgeoisie rather than the common peasant, which would seemingly push the argument in favour of Olympe de Gouges having written her D�claration des droits de la femme for women of her own social class - that of the rising bourgeoisie. The fact of the matter is that we can never be sure who precisely Olympe de Gouges was directing her arguments at when she wrote La D�claration des droits de la femme, as for reasons best known to herself, she chose to be (perhaps deliberately) unclear. There are factors which suggest that female members of the rising bourgeoisie were her target audience when she wrote this declaration, yet one can find a multitude of discrepancies to this hypothesis. It is just as possible then, that Olympe de Gouges really did aim for her declaration to have a universal appeal, and to be read by men and women from a variety of backgrounds and social classes. Footnotes 1 - Andrew Roberts. Rousseau, the French Revolution Women and Slaves. http://www.mdx.ac.uk/www/study/SSH4.htm#OlympedeGouges The Development of the Revolution with respect to Slavery and Gender Olympe de Gouges 2 - Tony Cliff. Class Struggle and Women's Liberation http://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1984/women/02-frrev.htm The French Revolution : The bourgeois feminists 3 - Jane Wylen. A Story of the French Revolution http://www.kvvi.net/~jcwylen/olympe/pages/intro.html Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793): An On-Line Biography 4 - Tony Cliff. Class Struggle and Women's Liberation http://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1984/women/02-frrev. ...read more.

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