The Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen gives the basic rights of citizenship to both man and citizen. Are women included in this document as citizens, or does this document only refer to men? From reading the Declaration, it is evident that women are citizens of the state, but they do not have the same rights as man. In the Declaration, some rights are reserved for “all citizens,” while others are reserved for “man,” and others for “man and citizen.” If all citizens are men, then why does the declaration separate “man and citizen”? Obviously, not all citizens are men. Some must be women. So under the Declaration, women are citizens under France, with rights, but without the special privileges of malehood?
Or are they? A closer look at the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen shows a different story. The only rights held for all citizens are the protection rights, like “no one may be punished except by virtue of a law established,” (Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen) while all the rights to action and all the privileges are held for men, like “[m]en are born and remain free and equal in rights” (Declaration). The protectionist stance of the Declaration towards females makes them akin to objects of society. Women are still citizens, but they lack the rights of citizenship. Without the rights of Citizenship, women have nothing more than an empty title. Men base the denial of Citizenship rights to women’s lack of “reason”, the chief driving force behind the enlightenment. But why do women lack reason? The lack of access to a true education deprived women of the ability to reason, leading to their classification as “citizenesses without rights.”
Female education in France was limited to the learning of a few religious hymns and basic home or work skills. Barely 37% of the French public was literate in 1780, and the majority of the educated were men. Women only went school to learn the first duties of religion, then they “are taught to work; having reached the age of fifteen or sixteen, they can earn five or six sous a day” (Petition of Women of the third Estate to the King). Women are not given the opportunity to learn to read and write, once they can recite the basic religious hymns, they have learnt all that they need to know, and are sent off to work. Without education, women are narrowed in what they can do in life. Another example from the
“Petition of Women of the Third Estate to the King:”
If nature has refused them beauty they get married…to unfortunate artisans…and give birth to children they are incapable of raising…if they are born pretty…with no idea of morals, they become the pray of the first seducer.”
Beauty is shown to be the only difference between two women; the ugly ones are forced into poverty, while the pretty ones are forced into marriage. The phrase “with no idea of morals,” symbolizes education. Education is where you learn morals, and French women do not know any morals. They cannot reason like men of greater statute.
The few educated women in France petitioned and fought for rights and education. Olympia De Gouges, a self-educated woman, wrote the Declaration of Rights of Women, which she sent to the Queen, Marie Antoinette. In this, she basically rewrites the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen to include women. Other women were not nearly as radical; they just wanted an opportunity to learn. In “The Petition of Women of the Third Estate to the King”, educated women want the government to “set up free schools where we might learn our language on the basis of principles, religion, and ethics…may we be taught above all to practice the virtues of our sex” (Petition). This purposely states for women to learn principles, ethics and virtues because these attributes breed reason. Women want to learn the ability to reason and to think for themselves because and that will lead them farther along the path towards true equality.
The ability to reason is a key skill necessary to be a true citizen, according to the enlightenment theories of social order, and women cannot reason. Therefore women do not deserve any rights of citizenship. Condorcet claims that the elite French men “[say] that women…do not really possess a sense of justice; that they obey feelings rather than consciences” (Condorcet On the Admission of Women to the Rights of Citizenship). A “sense of justice” is akin to reason. The use of the word “feeling” implies that women are like children, they do whatever they feel like doing without thinking, and children should not be allowed to vote or have any rights of citizenship, so neither should women. If women become citizens, anarchy will break out! Louis-Marie Prudhomme uses examples from the forbidden monarchy, namely Queen Marie Antoinette, to show that women corrupt society when given power. Marie Antoinette “[shook] off the yoke of etiquette as if practicing for one day shattering that of that laws…She profited from her ascendancy over little things to interfere in great ones and to influence the destiny of an entire people” (Prudhomme On The Influence of the Revolution on Women). The Queen, technically powerless over the people, interfered with the law and, though her husband, caused mayhem, which affected everyone in France. This led to the fall of the monarchy and the French Revolution, and is an example of why women should not be given the power of Citizenship. It will ruin the new republic like it ruined the monarchy.
But women cannot reason because men will not teach them how to! The ability to reason is not something that one is born with; it is something that you learn. The enlightenment writers knew this, and they tried to educate the public through their plays, writings and novels. It is unfair to compare women, who have no access to anything beyond a bare bones education, to the elite enlightenment educated men of Paris. In the Petition of the Women of the Third Estate to the King, women claim that “[women’s] education is very neglected… it consists in their being sent to school with a teacher who himself does not know the first word of the language [Latin] that he teaches” (Petition). By the fact that the male teacher himself does not know how to read or write well, it is probable that many, if not most, men of the third estate are not that much better educated than the women. Therefore the basis for the French to deny rights on the basis of reason is void. If they were to do this, then only the small minority of brilliant educated men should vote, and the rest of the uneducated male populate should be equal with women, without the rights of citizenship. Condorcet claims that “there is complete equality between women and the rest of [men]; if this little class of [brilliant] men were set aside, inferiority and superiority would be equally shared between the two sexes” (Condorcet). The brilliant men would be the men of the National Assembly, the men who wrote the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen. These men are led by greed, and, instead of using reason to determine everyone’s natural rights, they follow their own feelings and write laws that will keep themselves in power and leave women out.
Unfortunately, in revolutionary times, many Frenchmen were not very well educated in France either. This would lead to the large male population discriminating against women due to their own ignorance, or lack of reason, and women who were too ignorant to realize the truth about themselves. It would not be until the early to mid 20th century that humanity, as a whole, would gain the education skills necessary to undo this wrong. It was not until that recently that humanity gained the ability to reason about sexual differences and to grant women the full rights of citizenship. Many still argue that humanity has not truly learnt the truth yet, and that the issues of the French Revolution are still relevant today, and may be forever.