[The articles by “Jeanne Marie” in l’Opinion des Femmes have been attributed to a number of people, including Jeanne Deroin, but the most likely identification seems to be Jeanne-Marie-Fabienne Poinsard, aka Jenny d’Hericourt.]
In 1622, Marie Le Jars de Gournay, adoptive daughter of Montaigne, published a work entitled On the Equality of the Sexes, where by a tight reasoning, and an irresistible logic, she proved that at all times God had desired that equality. A bit later, around 1673, a learned doctor at the Sorbonne, Poulain de la Barre, also wrote a spiritual and victorious panegyric in favor of woman, which he recognized as inferior to man only because the latter willingly left her in ignorance in order to in order to enslave her longer to his will.
How much time is required for a just, trust idea to make its way in the world, while, by a bizarre aberration, the error has implanted itself rapidly and prospered there marvelously! Two hundred years have passed since these truths have been written; the revolutions have dragged their level across the earth, and the error, although weakened, still survives.
In 1848, in the middle of the century of enlightenment and progress, one man dared to ask, in full National Assembly, the exclusion of women from all political meetings and clubs where social questions were treated regarding the future of their brothers, of their children, and even their own future! And not only was this man heard, but this iniquitous decree was adopted almost unanimously, and no protest was raised. There, as everywhere, the strongest irrationality has triumphed, and woman has been declared eternally a minor.
Yet if we go back in history, at all times of social renewal, we see women actively participate. At the first revolutionary signal, we have seen them rush from all sides, dash into the arena, hearts filled with a common sentiment (the love of humanity), to shake off in a few hours the prejudices which have crushed them for so many centuries, and cast to the revolutionary wind, with an unparalleled ardor, the soiled rags of a civilization in delirium!
Constantly oppressed, woman is joined by a holy bond to the oppressed of all countries, of all the classes that is not one of their sufferings which does not awaken in her a tender commiseration, not one of their joys or hopes which does not have a sympathetic echo in her heart.
There is no emancipation of which she has not been the author or accomplice. It is the patrician girl who, first, trampling under foot an impious law, dared to give her hand to the son of the artisan who was raised up to her by the force of intelligence and love alone.
It was the women who, from the times of Voltaire and Jean-Jacques, spread with more conviction and courage the philosophical truthscalled to dethrone error and unmask the lie.
It was the women of the court of Louis XVI who, first, attacked that royal, childish etiquette on which a power still rested, undermined at its base and ready to collapse. Finally, when 89 sounded, among the women of all ranks, equality and fraternity were proclaimed with an energetic selflessness and it is by reddening the scaffold with their martyrs’ blood that that Madame Rolland, Lucile Desmoulins, Olympe de Gouges, and tutti quanti, have taught humanity that woman, the equal of man in intelligence and love, can also equal him in courage by drawing her strength from her heart.
In vain men want to make you doubt this palpable truth; each of them makes a personal exception either for the woman that he loves, for his mother, or for the sister for whom he has proven his boundless devotion; so that all these individual exceptions taken together coming close to making up the whole feminine realm, man denies to women generally the qualities he grants to each individually.
Many men view with fright woman elevated in her mind by studies like their own, and taking an active part in the affaires over which they have thus far held the monopoly. Their fear is that, carried into these regions of a new order, she will lose some of the grace and beauty which, in their eyes, makes up her greatest charm. We believe that fear is fanciful. Woman, better educated, more serious, giving aid to men in the realm of business, and even of politics, by her originality, her finesse, would cast some flowers of poetry on that sad ground: she would lose nothing from it, and men and politics would gain.
Moreover, those charms, which they would preserve in woman at the price of her liberty and intelligence, are often irrevocably taken from her by cares or illness; then she reaches an age where they are inevitably stripped from her. What remains for her then? What is her place, her mission? With what will she concern herself? Apart from the family, she has been introduced to nothing, and too often that family itself becomes hostile to her; the interests, which are not safeguarded for anyone, are still less so for the woman, and for her their defense is the source of a thousand sorrows!
But most importantly—woe, woe!—if her soul remains young, if you loving faculties are not completely extinguished, along with her beauty, neither in the family such as civilization has made it, nor in the city, as the legislators have made it, will she find the food she needs; at that time she might as well die, for there is no longer any place for her here below.
Then, these lively graces with which God has endowed woman in order to reestablish equilibrium between strength and weakness, these graces, I say, which could be a powerful lever in this world, the motive of all the grandiose actions, the recompense for all the sacrifices, for all the devotions! well, you reduce them to the petty proportions of an often shameful gallantry; you make weapons of them, which you skillfully turn against woman herself. Thus, the more God has given her, the more beautiful, noble, gracious and intelligent she is, the more all want to contain her, enclose her in a circle sometimes so narrow that she is stifled there; replacing in this way the domestic isolation that you stigmatize among the Orientals, with a moral and intellectual isolation which, at a given time, leads to the same results. Beyond the first years of youth, the woman of the Orient only counts as a slave to he on whom she has heaped her treasures of beauty and love; just so, at a given time, the woman of the Occident only counts as a fireside, a living room tapestry, where too often she becomes the focus of ironic jibes. Young, she often blushes for her beauty, shamelessly coveted; old, she blushes and suffers from her idleness and neglect.
That is the part that, in his justice, man has played toward woman; and yet, when it is a question of initiative to be taken, of progress to be accomplished, you see her follow man, sometimes even to lead him. Then, with an instinctive good sense that even her enemies are forced to recognize, one sees her disappear completely in the days of stagnation and status quo. That is what happened in 1830; women disappeared, so to speak, from the active scene, understanding that there was nothing for them to do in the midst of that shop of upstart grocers. Indeed, they, whose mission was to preserve without stain the traditions of honor and patriotism bequeathed them by the past, could only could only groan at the shrews politics which prepared, within France, ruin and misery, and led, outside, to disrepute and contempt.
However, in 1831 and 1832, the Saint-Simonians spoke some words to woman, who suddenly awoke from her lethargic slumber; the preaching of the apostle Barrault, and of Enfantin, cast into her soul the leaven of new ideas that nothing could remove from now on. And, when the revolution de 1848 broke out, making its rallying cry, Socialisme, heard everywhere, woman was ready to accept it; for she had already understood that that word was the word of the future. Thus, if there was incontestable truth, and yet one always contested, it is that man has wandered for so many centuries in the mysteries of the social labyrinth because he wanted to walk alone, constantly rejecting the Ariadne who wished in vain to help him find his way, that of the true, the beautiful, the good—the true road, finally, originally traced by God, and the only one which leads to happiness. And it will always be the same as long as man shuts himself up with his tyrannical habits, as in a vicious circles, where the evil, constantly reproduced, becomes for the future a consequence of the past.
Let us struggle then peacefully, since progress is the prize of battle. To work, men of the future! Socialist republicans of all schools, to work! Finally boldly call woman to you, that half of your soul, your heart, and your intelligence, too long misunderstood and abandoned; labor together to found the new era, the law of the future, the law of solidarity, indulgence and love.
God protect your combined efforts.
Source: L’Opinion des Femmes, 1, 1 (January 28, 1849) 5-6.
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]