Adventures in Feministory: Olympe de Gouges


Born in France in the year 1748, Marie Gouze (later to be known as Olympe de Gouges) was no ordinary petite fille. From a very early age she championed the rights of illegitimate children (of which she believed she was one) and their mothers, as well as writing abolitionist plays and speaking out for women's rights in France.

Gouze was married off to an older man at the age of 17, but after he died a year later she moved with her infant son, Pierre, to Paris and rechristened herself Olympe de Gouges. While there, she befriended some wealthy "in-crowd" people and slowly worked her way up the ranks of the French aristocracy, no doubt using her fancy new name to her advantage. De Gouges may have had a taste for the finer things in life, but despite the champagne and cuisse de canard she was not derailed her from her political goals.

Among the causes de Gouges supported were antislavery (she wrote several published plays and essays on the subject), the right to divorce, and the right to sexual relations outside of marriage. She also fought for equal rights for children born out of wedlock (at the time they were not considered citizens under the law).

For an asskicker francaise like de Gouges, we can imagine that the French Revolution had her pretty psyched. Psyched, that is, until she realized that the revolution meant to bring equality to the people of France was actually only meant to bring equality to the people of France who had penises. In response to the famous Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the document which called for fundamental rights for French (male) citizens, de Gouges published the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Citizen. She even used the feminine version of the word citizen (citoyenne) as a double zing at the sausage party establishment. As the nineteenth century historian Jules Michelet wrote of de Gouges, "She allowed herself to act and write about more than one affair that her weak head did not understand."

Of course, as de Gouges became more outspoken (even with that "weak head" of hers), she became more well known. While this was good for the causes she supported through her writings and public behavior (she participated in political events against the will of the establishment and she made good on the whole "sexual relations" thing), it was bad for her neck. Ironically enough, the charge that finally sent her to the guillotine on November 3, 1793 was her "opposition to the death penalty", just one of the many human rights issues de Gouges cared about passionately enough to speak out on.

Though her end was tragic, Olympe de Gouges left behind a legacy that all gutsy femmes can be inspired by.

by Kelsey Wallace
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