Olympe De Gouges (1748–1793)
Olympe de Gouges—the self-invented name of Marie Gouzes—was a playwright and pamphleteer who took an active part in the French Revolution. She agitated for the emancipation of slaves, divorce, and the rights of illegitimate children and unmarried mothers. After her own unhappy marriage she renounced marriage as such, proposing that the marriage contract be replaced by a "social contract" that specified the equal rights of the partners, including the right to end the union. Her best-known work is the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and Citizen (1791), a direct riposte and corrective to the more famous Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789. In it she strove to reconcile the abstract universality of that document, which she thought unreal and dangerous, with an acknowledgment of difference. Men and women were different, she argued, just as nature was variegated, but both were equally the bearer of rights, equally capable of agency and action. The Jacobins, like nearly all the leading French revolutionaries, were hostile to the claims of equality for women. They denounced Olympe's activities as "unnatural," and condemned her to death in 1793 for plastering the walls of Paris with posters opposing Jacobin centralization and in favor of the Girondist program of decentralized federalism.
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