Discussion surrounding the French Revolution most commonly includes the mention of names such as Louis XVI, Maximilien Robespierre, and Napoleon Bonaparte. These people all have something in common, as do many of the most frequently recognized major players of history - they are all men. On the rare occasion that women are spoken of, they are either shamed on account of their decision-making or disregarded altogether. For the most part, the contributions of women throughout not only the French Revolution, but history, are unbeknownst to the public. The truth of the matter is that women have played a greater role throughout time than they will ever be credited for, with Olympe de Gouges arguably being the most impactful from the grand selection of underrepresented female activists of 18th century France.
Olympe de Gouges is considered to be one of the world’s first feminists, as her radical thoughts helped strengthen the fight for women’s rights. However, her calls for equality would lead to her untimely death on the guillotine. De Gouges first gained the attention of the public following her publication of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen. Within that writing, she asserted that women are equal to men and were deserving of equal rights, an idea that went beyond the normalcy of not only that time period, but countless years prior. In fact, it was published as a response and alternate version to the document The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which established the intent of the French Revolution to be a fight for the equality of all men. Women were nowhere to be mentioned and the hypocrisy of the document garnered attention from all of those who were not addressed within it, but few were brave enough to call it out. One of those few individuals who did, in fact, make their stance on the subject of women’s rights public, was de Gouges. She was able to craft a pamphlet that would shed light on a group of underrepresented people, yet would still be overshadowed by the ideas of her male counterparts. To further add to her list of accomplishments, she also wrote plentiful plays pertaining to her feminism, with one of the most notable being Necessity of Divorce, arguing for the woman’s right to a divorce.
Her activism extended beyond the rights of women and to the institution of slavery, making her that much more of a threatening force to the social norms established in that period. She wrote the abolitionist essay titled Reflections on Black Men, which argued for the emancipation of slaves in areas such as the Saint Domingue territory, which was under the rule of France. With her considerably bold views being deemed as a threat to the power of the new French government, she was sent to the guillotine by Robespierre. Nonetheless, her revolutionary thinking, despite constantly being overlooked, will go down in history as greatly contributing to the brave fight for women’s rights.
Amina Radoncic (she/her) is a sixteen-year-old writer from Long Island, New York. She is a lover of classic literature, her favorite reads include To Kill A Mockingbird and Little Women. While she chooses to spend most of her time reading or writing, you can also find her watching history documentaries, listening to music ranging from Taylor Swift to Vivaldi, and spending time with her dog.