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Olympe De Gouges, the Rights of Woman and the Citizen

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 “Olympe de Gouges, “The Rights of Woman and the Citizen.”

Marie-Olympe de Gouges was born Marie Gouges in the south of France in 1748. She

was a French author and an advocate of women’s rights. At an early age, De Gouges began to

show her displeasure and frustrations with the French social and political system. This laid the

foundation for her valuable contribution to the French social and political system.

Marie in her early years did not show much interest in education and as a result was

barely able to read and write. At a tender age of sixteen she was married off to an army officer.  

Two years later she changed her name to Olympe de Gouges and moved to Paris. She created a

whole new image and identity for herself. De Gouges writing was awkward and barely legible,

but her ambition was never limited by lack of education or gender discrimination. She later won

fame as a journalist, actress and playwright (T&E, 491). De Gouges dedicated her life to fighting

for the rights of women.

In those times it was believed that women were inferior to men and women had no legal and political rights. Men were not able to fathom the idea of women being their equal. The thought of women having the same privileges in society, possibly acquiring the same jobs as men was unheard of; women were seen as mothers and wives.

In 1789 a new government was formed called the National Assembly. In the same year the National assembly introduces a document entitled Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen which give male citizen a loud voice when it comes to political participation and equal rights.  The politicians were only interested in preserving the rights of the male citizens. This did not please De Gouges and she strongly supported the French Revolution. De Gouges wrote and published the declaration of the rights of woman and the citizen in 1791 (SMW, 94). It called for equal rights between men and women and the protection of the rights of mothers. De Gouges intended audience in her document was women. This is an extract of her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Citizen.

Woman, wake up; the tocsin of reason is being heard throughout the whole universe; discover your rights. The powerful empire of nature is no longer surrounded by prejudice, fanaticism, superstition, and lies. The flame of truth has dispersed all the clouds of folly and usurpation. Enslaved man has multiplied his strength and needs recourse to yours to break his chains. Having become free, he has become unjust to his companion. Oh, women, women! When will you cease to be blind? What advantage have you received from the Revolution? - Olympe de Gouges, Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Citizen

         

      De Gouges wanted women to know that they were being treated unjustly and deserved all the rights that men had, and should not settle for the ill-treatment they were receiving. She argued that this document was to counter the declaration of the rights of man and the citizen which stated that freedom and equality pertained only to the male citizen. Revolutionary leaders welcomed women’s contribution to the revolution but refused to grant them political and social rights. (T&E, 491)

De Gouges argued that women should have the same rights as men, to education, to vote, to equal opportunity. In a letter to the French Queen, Marie Antoinette, De Gouges sought support in her fight for woman’s rights and her beliefs that men and women are equal in all respect but should be held accountable for their words and actions. De Gouges declaration attracted a great deal of attention but little support from the authorities (T&E 491).

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