Parisiennes and the Fight for Equality

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Parisiennes and the Fight for Equality
There’s a deliberate exclamation mark in the title of the exhibition currently running at the Musée Carnavalet in the 3rd arrondissement: “Parisiennes, citoyennes!” It’s intended, say the curators, to invoke all the city’s women, to make them feel heard and included, perhaps even called to continue the struggle for equality. The exhibition tells the story of how civil rights for women evolved from the French Revolution until the Equality Act of 2000 and it pulls you in at every moment, with its unfolding array of photos, posters, manuscripts, film clips and artifacts. It is the history of the well-known women who fought for equality, but also of the many anonymous women who struggled alongside them. Éventail suffragiste « Je désire voter », affichant le résultat d’un référendum organisé par Le Journal du 26 avril au 3 mai, ayant réuni 505 972 voix en faveur du vote des femmes, 1914 Maison Chambrelent et Croix successeur, éventailliste publicitaire Collection CPHB © Rebecca Fanuele The story, told chronologically, gives a sense of the steady progress made towards  equality for women since 1789, but it also conveys the “two steps forward, one step back” reality of the struggle. Laws passed just before the revolution limited women’s freedom significantly: all-female clubs were banned in 1793, followed in 1795 by a decree forbidding more than five women from gathering in public or from attending political meetings. Yet it was mainly women who marched to Versailles on October 5th, 1789 to protest about food shortages and high prices. Their success in forcing the king to return to Paris under guard was a trigger to the revolution which followed. Branger, M.L., Grève des midinettes, Paris, 18 mai 1917, 1917, © Roger Viollet But women were not the main beneficiaries of the new-found democracy in France.  The Declaration of the Rights of Man made no specific mention of them. Two years later, Olympe de Gouges demanded equality in her Declaration of the Rights of Women, but her plea that women — who “had the right to be guillotined,” should also have “the right to debate” — was ignored. Indeed, she was guillotined herself during the period known as “La Terreur.” Under Napoleon, just a few years later, the Code Civil perpetuated male domination, ensuring married women had no rights over themselves or their children. By the 1830s, the feminist Louise Dauriat was demanding to know whether Louis Philippe was king for les Françaises as well as for his male subjects and feminism took a step forward when La Femme libre, the first feminist newspaper, was published in 1832. Writers like George Sand were calling for equality in marriage and the right to vote for women. Imagine how they all felt in 1848 when universal suffrage was indeed brought in, but for men only. It would be almost a century until French women gained the same right in 1944. Auguste Charpentier, Portrait de George Sand (1837 – 1839), 1837 © Paris Musées / Musée de la Vie Romantique

More in 3rd arrondissement, equality, exhibition, feminism, French feminists, musee carnavalet

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.


  • Betty Zlatchin
    2022-11-18 09:54:42
    Betty Zlatchin
    Great article on point. Looking forward for more articles about Paris from her perspective.


    • Marian Jones
      2022-11-21 10:01:42
      Marian Jones
      Thank you, Betty. It's a great exhibition and I enjoyed reviewing it and writing up the piece. There must be lots of other angles on this topic and I hope we will cover some of them in due course.