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Olympe de Gouges

The Rights of Woman

Olympe de Gouges

Man, are you capable of being just? It is a WOMAN who poses this question; you will not deprive her of this right at least. Tell me, what gives you the sovereign power to oppress my sex? Your strength? Your talents? Observe the creator in his wisdom; survey in all her grandeur that very nature with whom you seem to wish to be in harmony, and give me, if you dare, just one example of this tyrannical empire. Go back to the animals, consult the elements, study the plants, and finally cast a glance at all the modifications of organic matter, and surrender to the evidence when I offer you the means to do so; search, probe deeper, and try to distinguish, if you can, the sexes in the administration of nature. Everywhere you will find them mingled; every where they cooperate in harmonious togetherness in this immortal masterpiece. Man alone has raised his exceptional circumstances to a principle. Bizarre, blind, bloated with science and degenerated in a century of enlightenment and wisdom into the crassest of ignorance, he wants to command as a despot, a sex which is endowed with all intellectual faculties; he pretends to enjoy the Revolution and reclaim his rights to equality, in order to say nothing more about it.

Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Woman-Citizen

To be declared by the National Assembly in its last sessions or in those of the next legislature.

Preamble Mothers, daughters, sisters [and, the] representatives of the nation demand to be constituted into a national assembly. Considering that ignorance, omission, or scorn for the rights of the WOMAN are the only causes of public misfortunes and of the corruption of governments, they have resolved to set forth in a solemn declaration the natural, inalienable, and sacred rights of the WOMAN, in order that this declaration, being constantly exposed before all the members of the society, may ceaselessly remind them of their rights and duties; in order that the authoritative acts of women and the authoritative acts of men may be at each moment compared with and, be respectful of the purpose of all political institutions; and in order that the Woman-citizens demands, henceforth based on simple and incontestable principles, may always support the constitution, good mores, and the happiness of all. In consequence, the sex that is as superior in beauty as it is in courage during the suffering of maternity recognizes and declares, in the presence and under the auspices of the supreme being, the following Rights of WOMAN and of the WOMAN-CITIZEN.

Article 1
Woman is born free and remains equal to man in her rights. Social distinctions can be based only upon the common utility.

Article 2
The purpose of any political association is the conservation of the natural and unwritten rights of woman and of man: these rights are liberty, prosperity, security, and especially resistance to oppression.

Article 3
The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation, which is nothing but the union of woman and man: no body and no individual can exercise any authority that does not come expressly from it.

Article 4
Liberty and justice consist of restoring all that belongs to others; hence, the only limits on the exercise of the natural rights of woman are those that emanate from perpetual male tyranny; these limits are to be reformed according to the laws of nature and reason.

Article 5
Laws of nature and reason prohibit all acts harmful to society: all that is not forbidden by these wise and divine laws, can not he prohibited, and no one can be constrained to do that which these laws do not command.

Article 6
The laws must be the expression of the general will; all female and male citizens must take part either personally or through their representatives in its formation; it must be the same for all: male and female citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, must be equally eligible for all honors, positions, and public offices according to their capacity and without other distinctions besides those of their virtues and talents. 3

Article 7
No woman is an exception: she is accused, arrested, and detained according to cases determined by law. Women, like men, obey this rigorous law.

Article 8
The law must establish only those penalties that are strictly and obviously necessary, and no woman can be punished except by virtue of a law established and promulgated prior to the offence and legally applicable to women.

Article 9
Any woman being declared guilty, all severity is exercised by the law.

Article 10
No one is to be harmed even for his very basic opinions. Woman has the right to mount the scaffold; she must equally have the right to take the rostrum, provided that her demonstrations do not disturb the legally established public order.

Article 11
The free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the most precious rights of woman, since this liberty assures the recognition of children by their fathers. Any WomanCitizen thus may say freely, I am the mother of this child which belongs to you, without being forced by a barbarous prejudice to conceal the truth; save to respond to the abuse of this liberty in cases determined by the law.

Article 12
The guarantee of the rights of woman and of the Woman-citizen implies a major benefit; this guarantee must be instituted for the advantage of all, and not for the specific use of those to whom it is entrusted.

Article 13
For the support of the public force and the expenses of administration, the contributions of women and men are equal. Woman has a share in all the duties and in all the painful tasks; therefore, she must have the same share in the distribution of posts, employments, offices, honors and jobs.

Article 14
Female and male citizens have the right to verify, either by themselves or through their representatives, the necessity of the public fund. This can apply to women only if they are granted an equal share, not only in wealth, but also in public administration, and in the determination of the quota, the tax base, the collection, and the duration of the tax.

Article 15
The collectivity of women, along with men contributing to the public fund, has the right to demand an accounting of its administration, from any public agent.

Article 16
No society has a constitution without the guarantee of the rights and the separation of powers: the constitution is null if the majority of individuals comprising the nation have not cooperated in drafting it.

Article 17
Property belongs to both sexes whether united or separate; for each it is an inviolable and sacred right; no one can be deprived of it, since it is the true heritage of nature, unless the legally determined public need obviously dictates it, and then only under the condition of a just and prior indemnity.

Woman, wake up! The tocsin of reason is being heard throughout the universe; recognize your rights. The powerful empire of nature is no longer surrounded by prejudice, fanaticism, superstition, and lies. The flaming torch 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. O women! Women, when will you cease to be blind? What advantages have you received from the Revolution? A more pronounced scorn, a more marked disdain. In the centuries of corruption you have ruled only over the weakness of men. Your empire is destroyed, what then are you left with? The conviction of mans injustices and, the reclamation of your patrimony, based on the wise decrees of nature what have you to dread from such a fine undertaking? The bon mot of the legislator of the marriage of Cana? 1 Do you fear that our French legislators, correctors of morality, long ensnared by political practices and, hanging from the branches of politics now out of date, will only say again to you: WOMEN, what is there in common between you and us? Everything, you will have to answer. If they stubbornly persist in their weakness in putting this non sequitur in contradiction to their principles, oppose courageously with the force of reason the empty pretensions of superiority; unite yourselves beneath the standards of philosophy; deploy all the energy of your character, and you will soon see that these haughty men, will not be groveling at your feet as servile adorers, but will be proud to share with you the treasures of the supreme being. Regardless of what barriers confront you, it is in your power to free yourselves; you have only to wish it. Let us pass now to the shocking tableau of what you have been in the past; and since national education is in the air at this moment, let us see whether our wise legislators will think judiciously about the education of women. Women have done more harm than good. Constraint and dissimulation have been their lot. What force has robbed them of, guile has returned to them; they had recourse to all the resources of their charms, and the most irreproachable person could not resist them. Poison, the chains and the sword were all subject to them; they commanded crime, fortune and virtue. The French government especially depended throughout the centuries on the nocturnal administrations of women, the cabinet kept no secret from their indiscretion; embassies, military commands, ministry, presidency, pontificate, college of cardinals; in short, anything which characterizes the folly of men, profane and sacred, all have been subject to the cupidity and ambition of this sex, formerly contemptible and respected, and since the revolution, respectable and disdained.

In this sort of contradictory situation, what remarks could I not make! I have but a moment to make them, but this moment will arrest the attention of the remotest posterity. Under the Ancien Regime, all was perverted, all guilty; but could not the amelioration of conditions be perceived even in the very substance of vices? A woman only had to be beautiful or pleasant; when she possessed these two advantages, she saw a hundred fortunes at her feet. If she did not profit from them, then she was a bizarre character or had a rare philosophy which made her scorn wealth; then she was deemed to be considered a crazy, headstrong woman; the most indecent woman made herself respected with gold; and, commerce in women was a kind of industry in the upper classes, which, henceforth, will have no more credit. If it still had it, the REVOLUTION would be lost, and under the new relationships we would still be corrupt. However, can reason conceal the fact that any other path to fortune is closed to the woman bought by a man like the slave on the African coasts? The difference is great; that is known. The slave is commanded by the master; but if the master gives her liberty without recompense, and at an age when the slave has lost all her charms, what will become of this unfortunate woman? She will be the toy of scorn, even the doors of charity are closed to her; she is poor and old, and they say: why did she not know how to make her fortune? Reason finds other examples that are even more touching. A young, inexperienced woman, seduced by a man whom she loves, will abandon her parents to follow him; the ingrate will leave her after a few years, and the older she has become with him, the more inhuman is his inconstancy; if she has children, he will abandon her all the same. If he is rich, he will consider himself excused from sharing his fortune with his noble victims. If some involvement binds him to his duties, he will deny them, trusting that the laws will support him. If he is married, any other obligation loses its rights. Then what laws remain to extirpate this vice all the way to its roots? The law of dividing wealth between men and women and public administration. It can easily be seen that one who is born into a rich family gains very much from such equal sharing; but the one born into a poor family with merit and virtue : what is her lot? Poverty and opprobrium. If she does not excel precisely in music or painting, she cannot be admitted to any public function even when she has all the capacity for it. I will go more deeply into this in the new edition of all my political writings, with notes, which I propose to give to the public in a few days.2 Now again on the subject of mores. Marriage is the tomb of trust and love. The married women can with impunity give bastards to her husband, and also give them the wealth which does not belong to them. The woman who is unmarried has only one feeble right; ancient and inhuman laws refuse to her and to her children the right to the name and the wealth of their father; and no new laws have been made in this matter. If it is considered a paradox and impossibility on my part to try to give my sex an honorable and just place, then I leave it to future people to attain glory for dealing with this matter; but while we wait, the way can be prepared through national education, by restoring customs and conjugal conventions. Notes 1. It is written in the Bible that Jesus performed his first miracle in a festival in the town of Cana, in
ancient Palestine. Here the author compared the parliamentary sessions of post-revolutionary France with that festival.

2. The French civilization took more than two hundred years to cover these few days of Olympe de
Gouges. A critical edition of her political writings was published in 1993.

About the Author

Olympe de Gouges
(1745 / according to some 1748 - 1793) Mother: Anne-Olympe Mouisset, a resident of Montauban, Quercy, Southern France; a washer woman / a servant by profession according to some and, wife of butcher Pierre Gouze. Father: Jacques Le Franc de Cax, Marquis de Pompignan, the Judge of Montauban, author of some fame and, member of the Academie Franaise, never recognized this daughter born out of his sexual intercourse with Anne-Olympe. This girl grew up with the name Marie Gouze, as the daughter of her mothers husband, though Pierre Gouzes name did not appear as her father in any document of significance. In the year 1765, Marie married a French officer Louis Aubrey, who was much older than her. They had a son after two years. Her husband died in the third year of their marriage. Marie refused to live out her life as a widow or to remarry. She chose to be known there after, as Olympe de Gouges: a variation of her mothers name and, mothers husbands surname. In 1770 she left Montauban for Paris and, settled there to lead a courtesans life. She chose her customer-lovers with discernment and, had a few men of high social rank as steady lovers. She also enjoyed the company of noted authors and philosophers of the time, such as the Encyclopedist Marquis de Condorcet and, picked up the codified literary language of Paris. Olympe de Gouges wrote quite a few plays, novels, sociopolitical pamphlets and, posters. She also published the same with financial support from her reliable steady lovers. Since 1788 Olympe de Gouges veered more and more towards active politics. With the unfolding of the first French revolution of 1789, She began to agitate for several democratic demands, such as: the liberation of slaves, establishment of a national theatre for showing plays written by women writers, construction of hospitals with indoor departments, enactment of divorce laws, open legal recognition and equal rights for bastards and unwed mothers, full and equal legal rights of women and men in marriage and in divorce, greater employment opportunities for women, legal alternatives to the system of private dowry, better education for women, peoples juries for criminal trials, social solidarity with the poorest of the poor, public sector work for the unemployed, voluntary payment of income taxes and, abolition of death penalty. In October 1879, she proposed a radical platform for social and political reforms to the French National Assembly, incorporating these demands. In 1791 Olympe de Gouges became a member of the Socit des Citoyennes Rpublicaine Rvolutionnaries (Society of Republican Revolutionary Woman-Citizen) organized by Marquise Sophie Condorcet and others and, upon being urged by the members of this Society, produced her epoch-making Dclaration des droits de la Femme et de la Citoyenne (Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Woman-citizen). When the Constituent National Assembly of France published the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, as the Preamble to the proposed Constitution of their land, on that very day, the 3rd of September 1791, Olympe de Gouges too published her above mentioned Declaration. Olympes text was influenced by Marquis de Condorcets essay Sur ladmission des femmes aux droits de Cite (On the Admission of Women to the Rights of Citizenship) [1790] and, its

structure closely followed that of the afore mentioned Preamble to the proposed French Constitution. This was followed by her Contrat Social (Social Contract) for the joint sexual life of a woman and a man, proposed as an alternative to the customary marriage vows. Here among other things she wrote that: It is not the prostitutes who contribute most to the depravity of morals, it is the women of society. In regenerating the letter, the former are changed. This link of fraternal union will first bring disorder, but in consequence it will produce at the end a perfect harmony. In this work she also spoke in favor of women joining in all the activities of men, marriage of Catholic priests and, abolition of slavery in the French colonies in the interests of moral elevation of her society. Many of the intellectuals of Paris, who welcomed her when she began writing plays and novels, were disturbed by her active participation in social and political movements and, they quickly rejected her. Some said that: Olympe does not know what she is talking about; and, that her weak head failed to understand so many of such very large issues. Others found her not up to the mark as an author; and said that her language was weak, stylistically flawed. Tyrannical Montagnards called her a moderate, even a royalist and, an enemy of the people. The supporters of patriarchy called her a wayward woman, a degenerate and, a libertine. The fact remains that this sex worker, thinker and revolutionary was on many issues way ahead of the French and the human civilization of her time. She mounted strident criticism of the lust for power and opportunism of Maximilien Robespierre, leader of the Montagnards in the then French politics and, courted the displeasure of his followers. These patriarchal politicians grew angry with her ceaseless thundering at all forms of injustice, corruption and, despotic lust for power. They accused her with the baseless charges of being an enemy of rule of law and of the people, conducted a sham trial and, sentenced her to death. She was guillotined on the 3rd of November 1793 and, it was around this time that she was rejected by her own son Pierre. Patriarchy, embodied in the father, the state and the son, completed its circle of betrayal, violent injustice and, revenge upon Olympe de Gouges. In the politics of the first French Revolution, Olympe de Gouges was a supporter of the Girondins. It may be pointed out here, in passing, that some ideas of the leader and theoretician of the Girondins, Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville (1754-1793) exerted considerable influence on Karl Marx. In Marxs excerpts (Marx 1998 : 427) from Brissot de Warville, one encounters the idea, that the overwhelming majority of the people, being propertyless, have no fatherland; that it is impossible for them to belong to the civil society indeed they stand in hostile opposition to it; hence, to restore to the people their rights an idea that, we may have noted, runs like a bright red thread throughout all the sentences of Olymple de Gouges Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Woman-Citizen the entire machine of existing administration must be smashed. These ideas subsequently entered into the Manifesto of the Communist Party and, grew into the thesis about the need to break up the bourgeois state machine in the course of the proletarian revolution formulated in Marxs Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte and, in The Civil War in France. In the history of the modern movement for the liberation of women, Olympe de Gouges is the first person, who created an open public discourse and social commotion on the issue of equal rights of women and men. As a pioneer of this movement, this is her principal

contribution in the history of human civilization. About two hundred years after the death of this revolutionary, thinker and sex worker, thousands of kilometers away from the Paris of her initiatives, in the city of Kolkata, in West Bengal, India the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) <> has created the space for the first open public discourse and commotion around the issues of equal legal, political, civic and social rights for the sex workers. Having done that, Durbar has unknowingly trodden the path of her foremother Olympe.

Victory to the movement for establishing the equal rights of Woman and of the Woman-Citizen of all professions! Long Live the teachings of Olympe de Gouges! Let there be public recognition of the historic contributions of Sex Workers in the movement for Liberation of all Human Beings, including Women and Men!
Literature 1. The Rights of Woman by Olympe de Gouges. In: Haase-Dubosc, Damielle et al. (Eds.). 2003. French Feminism: An Indian Anthology, pp. 141-147 and, 435-436. New Delhi etc.: Sage Publications. Olympe de Gouges. 1791. The Rights of Women. <> accessed on 02.07.2007. The Trial of Olympe de Gouges. <> accessed on 03.07.2007. Ren Vinet. Olympe de Gouges, a Daughter of Quercy on her way to the Pantheon. First published in French in La Semaine du Lot, no. 273, 3 November 2001. English translation by Donald NicholsonSmith.<> accessed on 04.07.2007. Olympe de Gouges: Biography and Much More. <> accessed on 05.07.2007. Jill Evans. Olympe de Gouges. gouges.pdf accessed on 06.07.2007 Karl Marx. 1998. Exzerpte aus Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville, Observations dun republicain sur les diffrens systmes dadministrations provinciales, particulirement sur ceux de MM. Turgot & Necker, & sur le bien quon peut en esprer dans les gouvernemens monarchiques. In: Oeuvres posthumes de Turgot ... (Lausanne, 1787). In: MEGA IV/3. Exzerpte und Notizen : Sommer 1844 bis Anfang 1847. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.

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Kolkata, 10 July 2007. Sumita and Pradip Baksi. 9

The Fountain of Regeneration, in the Debris of the Bastille, August 10, 1793. By Charles Monnet