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Voila La Citoyenne

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Olwen Hufton chronicles the varied but influential voices of feminine awareness that intervened, often decisively and despite male misgivings, in the course of the Revolution.

For the constitution makers of the Constituent Assembly the question of who should exercise political power as full citizens was a moot point. Excluded from voting even in primary elections were three kinds of people: those who did not pay tax equivalent to the income from three days labour; servants deemed incapable, because of the nature of their occupation, of objective behaviour; and women. The first two exclusions were hotly debated. Indeed, Robespierre virtually established his political reputation on his attack on the limitations of the male franchise 'voulez vous qu'un citoyen soit unetre rare? The third exclusion went unquestioned. A woman, whose full rational powers were scarcely conceded by the Enlightenment, was not deemed a political animal but one dependent upon the decisions of husband or father with whom she must agree. The Revolution triumphant was perceived as a male affair in which the female paradigm was Sophie, Emile's docile companion content to limit her role to conscious maternity and the breeding of the perfect virtuous citizen. In the corner of David's Oath of the Horatii cower the frightened wives and the mother of brothers prepared to defend the Republic, whose hard, glistening biceps contrast with the soft insubstantial forms of their womenfolk. Similarly the unflinching commitment of David's Brutus to macho Republican virtue is contrasted with the weeping womanfolk. Voila la citoyenne.


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