“Like so many eighteenth-century revolutionaries, she saw her own class, the rising bourgeoisie, as the vanguard of the revolution, and it was to the woman of her own class that she directed her arguments.” Discuss this assessment of Olympe De Gouge’s ‘Declaration des droits de la femme’. The ‘Declaration des droits de la femme’ by Olympe de Gourge was without doubt directed at her fellow bourgeois women. It is very obvious to see that the ideas stated in her declaration were aimed at the bourgeoisie, and not necessarily only at the women.
A lot of the ideas she expresses are aimed directly at the men in society as a direct opposition to the earlier ‘Declaration des droits des hommes’ which was criticised for its exclusion of women from the human rights movement. It can be argued that the declaration is an expression of selfishness from the bourgeoisie. As a whole, it argues for a united society which gains more power, but as a result of the power being shifted downwards from the higher powers and being spread out more amongst the bourgeoisie.
The working-class were never to gain anything from the power shift, and the bourgeoisie knew it. The forerunner of the original declaration was to shift power from the highers to the bourgeoisie and never to allow it to be passed any further. This was masked behind a vision of a society who worked together in harmony. The truth was always going to be far from it.
To say that her declaration was aimed directly at the women of her own class is not fully accurate, although it can be applied if one looks at the meanings of each idea.
The idea of the declaration is that each and every woman is to be treated the same as each and every other man or woman. This idea states that all women should be treated equally in the eyes of the law and should be equal to men in all punishments. Although this obviously applies to the women of her own class, it is also applicable to the women of the other classes too and this is the idea of the whole declaration.
Although its underlying aim is to shift the power, the basic ideas are all very simple and individualistic. When looking at the specific aims of the declaration, one can see that each and every individual ‘article’ is without doubt aimed at women from each social class, but that, as stated earlier, the main aim was to gain more power for the bourgeoisie, and therefore the points were quite probably aimed at the bourgeoisie themselves. The declaration is also not particularly practical in that a lot of the ideas expressed are abstract and of no real value.
This means that it may only be hypothetical arguments which may not even be of any practical use. It can be argued that de Gourge’s ideas are more of an attempt to be little the original declaration. It is easy to see that these comments are a direct accusation towards men that they are not capable of being fair towards the opposite sex. Some of her statements are very subjective and often exclusive of certain groups of people.
Although she tries to remain objective and inclusive of all groups of people, including those higher and lower than her, it is clear to see that the ideas she stresses are mainly directed towards herself and her fellow bourgeoisie. In attempting to create a universal set of human rights rules, Olympe de Gouge was trying to gain the respect of all women from all social classes in order to enforce the opinions she believe and in doing this, often created a feeling of universal rules, which no one could argue with or contest.
Although this may not have been necessarily her primary target, it definitely helped her to achieve her aim of aiding the bourgeoisie to gain more power. The idea of the royalty controlling everything was gone, and a new idea of society having the power to make decisions and everyone being treated equally in front of the law, were now extremely important to the way the country was won and its clear to see how a group of people such as the bourgeoisie society could benefit from a country run in such a way. Her contradictoriness is plain to see too.
She speaks so much of a united society and of how the society can group together to create a better France but deep down her idea is that her bourgeoisie friends can claim the power and have more control over the way the country is run. She also speaks of individualism and the power of the individual but then defeats her argument by cementing the importance of the society and group power. In conclusion, I think it’s easy to see that de Gouge used the uncertain climate of the country at that time to exert some of her beliefs onto society.
The revolution was a perfect time for her to make an impact with some rights and duties for women and in the process, prise away some of the power from the higher powers and keep it away from the working class. I think that, when looked at from this point of view, it is clear to see that the ‘Declaration des droits des femmes’ was deliberately aimed at her fellow bourgeoisie, and that it had many underlying aims, as well as the obvious aim of promoting the idea of the women’s place in the modern society.