Women and the "Rights of Man," 1750-1830

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104 Women and the "Rights of Man," 1750-1830

tence is subject to countless evils, would have for her part all the diffi­culties of virtue?

Fathers of the country, do not stain your immortal work by such a measure. No doubt a moral code is necessary—but morals are the work of time and education. They cannot be commanded. License is the natu­ral result of the oppressive regime of indissoluble marriage and of the dull, enervating education of the cloisters, the haunts of ignorance and fanaticism that you in your wisdom have destroyed. You will crown your work by according girls a moral education equal to that of their brothers, for education is to the soul what dew is to plants. It fertilizes, makes blossom, strengthens, and carries the seed productive of virtues and tal­ents to perfect maturity.

Representatives of the nation, vote down this unjust and unseemly code, in the name of honor, in the name of holy liberty. It would become the apple of discord in families and the tomb of liberty. Constraint with­ers the soul; the slave thinks only of breaking his chains, of avenging his servitude. No doubt the committee, in order to justify this odious article, consulted the theologians and not the philosophers. Well then, consult your own hearts! They will instruct you more fully than will the maxims of the jurists of past centuries—these men steeped in despotism, who consider the barrenness of their souls a result of virtue. Nature created us to be your equals, your companions and your friends; we are the mainstays of your childhood, the happiness of your mature years, and the consolation of your old age, all honorable titles that you must surely acknowledge.

26. Olympe de Gouges (1791)

Man, are you capable of being just? It is a woman who asks you this question; at least you will not deny her this right. Tell me! Who has given you the sovereign authority to oppress my sex? Your strength? Your tal­ents? Observe the creator in his wisdom; regard nature in all her gran­deur, with which you seem to want to compare yourself; and give me, if you dare, an example of this tyrannical empire.* Go back to the animals, consult the elements, study the plants, then glance over all the modifica­tions of organized matter, and cede to the evidence when I offer you the means. Seek, search, and distinguish, if you can, the sexes in the admin­istration of nature. Everywhere you will find them mingled, everywhere they cooperate in harmony with this immortal masterpiece.

Only man has fashioned himself a principle out of this exception. Bi­zarre, blind, bloated by science and degenerate, in this century of en-lightenment and wisdom, he, in grossest ignorance, wishes to exercise the command of a despot over a sex that has received every intellectual fac­ulty; he claims to rejoice in the Revolution and claims his rights to equal­ity, at the very least.

* From Paris to Peru, from Rome to Japan, the most stupid animal, in my opinion, man.

26. Olympe de Gouges (1791) 105

Declaration of the Rights of Woman and Citizen,

To be decreed by the National Assembly in its last meetings or in those of the next legislature.


The mothers, daughters, and sisters, representatives of the nation, de­mand to be constituted a national assembly. Considering that ignorance, disregard of or contempt for the rights of women are the only causes of public misfortune and of governmental corruption, they have resolved to set forth in a solemn declaration, the natural, inalienable and sacred rights of woman; to the end that this declaration, constantly held up to all members of society, may always remind them of their rights and du­ties; to the end that the acts based on women's power and those based on the power of men, being constantly measured against the goal of all po­litical institutions, may be more respected; and so that the demands of female citizens, henceforth founded on simple and indisputable princi­ples, may ever uphold the constitution and good morals, and may con­tribute to the happiness of all.

Consequently, the sex that is superior in beauty as well as in courage of maternal suffering, recognizes and declares, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of woman and citizen.

Article One. Woman is born free and remains equal in rights to man. Social distinctions can be founded only on general utility.

II. The goal of every political association is the preservation of the
natural and irrevocable rights of Woman and Man. These rights are lib­erty, property, security, and especially resistance to oppression.

  1. The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the Nation,
    which is none other than the union of Woman and Man; no group, no
    individual can exercise any authority that is not derived expressly from

  2. Liberty and Justice consist of rendering to persons those things
    that belong to them; thus, the exercise of woman's natural rights is lim­ited only by the perpetual tyranny with which man opposes her; these
    limits must be changed according to the laws of nature and reason.

V. The laws of nature and of reason prohibit all acts harmful to so­ciety; whatever is not prohibited by these wise and divine laws cannot be
prevented, and no one can be forced to do anything unspecified by the

VI. The law should be the expression of the general will: all fe­male and male citizens must participate in its elaboration personally or
through their representatives. It should be the same for all; all female and
male citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, should be equally ad­missible to all public offices, places, and employments, according to their
capacities and with no distinctions other than those of their virtues and

VII. No woman is immune; she can be accused, arrested, and detained

106 Women and the "Rights of Man," 1750-1830

in such cases as determined by law. Women, like men, must obey these rigorous laws.

VIII. Only punishments strictly and obviously necessary may be estab­
lished by law. No one may be punished except under a law established
and promulgated before the offense occurred, and which is legally ap­
plicable to women.

IX. If any woman is declared guilty, then the law must be enforced

X. No one should be punished for their opinions. Woman has the
right to mount the scaffold; she should likewise have the right to speak in
public, provided that her demonstrations do not disrupt public order as
established by law.

XI. Free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the most
precious rights of woman, since this liberty assures the legitimate pater­
nity of fathers with regard to their children. Every female citizen can
therefore freely say: "I am the mother of a child that belongs to you,"
without a barbaric prejudice forcing her to conceal the truth; she must
also answer for the abuse of this liberty in cases determined by law.

XII. Guarantee of the rights of woman and female citizens requires the
existence of public services. Such guarantee should be established for the
advantage of everyone, not for the personal benefit of those to whom
these services are entrusted.

  1. For the maintenance of public forces and administrative ex­penses, the contributions of women and men shall be equal; the woman
    shares in all forced labor and all painful tasks, therefore she should have
    the same share in the distribution of positions, tasks, assignments, hon­ors, and industry.

  2. Female and male citizens have the right to determine the need for
    public taxes, either by themselves or through their representatives. Fe­
    male citizens can agree to this only if they are admitted to an equal share
    not only in wealth but also in public administration, and by determining
    the proportion and extent of tax collection.

XV. The mass of women, allied for tax purposes to the mass of
men, has the right to hold every public official accountable for his

XVI. Any society in which the guarantee of rights is not assured, or
the separation of powers determined, has no constitution. The constitu­tion is invalid if the majority of individuals who compose the Nation
have not cooperated in writing it.

XVII. The right of property is inviolable and sacred to both sexes,
jointly or separately. No one can be deprived of it, since it is a true inheri­tance of nature except when public necessity, certified by law, clearly re­
quires it, subject to just and prior compensation.


Woman, wake up! The tocsin of reason is sounding throughout the Universe; know your rights. The powerful empire of nature is no longer surrounded by prejudices, fanaticism, superstition and lies. The torch of

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