Broken Promises of the French Revolution




Broken Promises of the French Revolution:
Why French Women Did Not Get the Vote Until 1944

Thesis: Therefore, because of the discontinuity of French political history, the strength of the Patriarchal culture, and the inability of the French feminist movement to form a cohesive unit, French women could not obtain the right to vote until 1944.
- Definition of French Feminism -
I. Exploration of French Culture: The Patriarchal Society
II. Women and The French Revolution of 1789
III. Women Under the Napoleonic Code and 19th Century Romanticism
IV. Class Separations: The State of Women in France During the Industrial Revolution
V. The Twentieth Century: Women Caught in a Political Power Play
A. WWI
B. La Politique Nataliste
C. Louise Weiss
VI. The Right to Vote
VII. Conclusion
Appendix A: Budget of a small hand in ready-made clothes industry
Appendix B: Timeline of legislation concerning women in France

Broken Promises of the French Revolution:
Why French Women Did Not Get the Right to Vote Until 1944


To answer the question of why French women did not receive the right to vote until April 21, 1944, one only needs to look at the paradoxical nature of the French Revolution of 1789 for the answer. The Revolution that promised "liberté, égalité, et fraternité," for all delivered on its promise by giving to history the Reign of Terror 1793-1794, led by the Jacobins and characterized by hasty and tyrannical justice. Though the French had thrown off the shackles of the monarchy, it adopted the murderous treachery of the Jacobins and nearly crowned Napoleon king (Wolf 36). French history is plagued with this kind of paradox and incongruency, and it is in this political atmosphere that French feminism tried to grow. The legacy of the French Revolution seemed to include a fear of revolutionary violence that resulted in the government periodically repressing those who espoused new ideas (Moses 6). Feminism, being a revolutionary movement, was often subject to these repressions. From the Revolution to the end of World War Two, women would be subject to being the "second sex." Therefore, because of the discontinuity of French political history, the strength of the Patriarchal culture, and the inability of the French feminist movement to form a cohesive unit, French women could not obtain the right to vote until 1944.
Before treading further into the history of French politics and its affects upon women, one must have a working definition for French feminism. What is feminism? Merriam-Webster defines feminism as, "The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes," (Merriam-Webster 277). Feminism as it pertains to France needs a more in-depth description. Feminist theory in France appeared as a revolutionary movement that would jam the theoretical machinery of republican discourse, exposing its limits and disrupting its smooth functioning (Duchen 7). The republic showed inherent flaws in its philosophy when it promised universal suffrage to all and delivered suffrage for all males, considering its wives, mothers, and daughters as non-citizens. French Feminists faced an uphill battle with the strong patriarchal institutions upheld in the government, as well as in the church and home. Therefore, French feminism was a radical political movement often fought against by the status quo that sought "the end of a political relationship of the sexes characterized by masculine dominance and female subordinance," (Moses 7).

Exploration of French Culture: The Patriarchal Society
The roots of the struggles French feminists faced when fighting to obtain true universal suffrage lie in the development of Western cultural ideals that they fought to change. French social patterns are a fusion of Greco-Latin, Judaic, and Germanic traditions in which patriarchal family life is a common factor (Moses 1). Women of these societies were denied all civic rights, education, and property. For example, one of the laws borrowed from the Roman system and incorporated into first French constitution was known as infirmus imbecillus sexus, women being considered as legal nonpersons (Moses 2). Supporting this structure was the backbone of the Catholic Church. Though the Catholic Church espoused the veneration of the Virgin Mary, her exultation by men was in its essence a form of chivalric idealization of women. Women were denied roles of leadership in the church and, if called, could only serve a spiritual calling by becoming a submissive nun.
Though French politics were split Left and Right, they could agree upon one thing: the subjugation