These two short articles by Désirée Gay (Jeanne Desirée Véret Gay, 1810-1891) appeared in the August 1848 issue of L’Opinion des Femmes, which seems to have been a kind of testing of the waters before the launch of the official “First Year” of the paper. That issue had been preceded by a 4-page “Prospectus,” written by Jeanne Deroin, and the paper was essentially a continuation of La Politique des Femmes, but there was still a certain amount of work to do setting the tone for the project, and Gay seems to have taken on much of that work in the one issue that appeared in 1848. These two pieces are particularly interesting because they give us a clear sense of how Gay and Deroin understood their relation to the broader radical movement, and to Proudhon, whose increasingly hostile relations with Deroin and other socialist feminists would be documented in the paper.
It is the modern Proteus.—It is the hydra with innumerable heads.—You fall upon the communists!—Socialism rises up behind you in another form.—Socialism is the crucible into which all those touched by misery inevitably fall, one by one.—Socialism, which a few years ago was the meeting of several systems, is today a militant army, peaceful in its spirit, but marching with the blind force of the providential legions, which have at all times led the people towards their new destinies! — Désirée Gay
As women and as Christians, we embrace with all our hearts the opinions expressed by M. Proudhon, against the system of Malthus; we have seen, not without pain, over the last few years, Miss Martineau and several intelligent women of England, declare themselves partisans of a doctrine that simple and honest spirits reject as immoral and anti-religious. — Désirée Gay
For those who know even the outlines of the subsequent battles, this phrase—”As women and as Christians, we embrace with all our hearts the opinions expressed by M. Proudhon…”—is as priceless as it is perhaps unexpected. But the truth is that socialist feminists were among Proudhon’s most ardent defenders early on, and remained active on the practical side of mutualism long after his death.