Document 10B: Jeanne Deroin, "Mission de la Femme dans le Present et dans l'Avenir" (Woman's Mission in the Present and Future), L'Opinion des Femmes, 28 January, 10 March, 10 April 1849. Translated by Karen M. Offen. Reprinted in Susan Groag Bell and Karen M. Offen, eds., Women, the Family, and Freedom: The Debate in Documents, Volume I, 1750-1880 (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1983), pp. 261-63.
L'Opinion des Femmes (Women's Views), founded by the Société Mutuelle d'Education des Femmes (Society for the Mutual Education of Women), published these articles by Deroin during its brief run in 1849. Here Deroin emphasized the gender-specific qualities that justified women's political rights and invoked religion, morality, and the interest of society. For Deroin, women deserved civil and political equality as Christians and as mothers as well as through their standing as citizens.
[28 January 1849]
By inscribing the words Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity on its banner, the February Revolution recognized in principle the rights of the people and the rights of woman.
But many women--indeed, the majority--do not understand what changes the power of their influence could bring about in human destinies if they were called on to regain the rank in society that is rightly theirs.
Most of them reject this idea as an outrage to religion and morality, and as a danger to society; they have been persuaded that they were born to obey, love, suffer, and devote themselves to others, and that they must remain shut within the constricted enclosure of the household.
Others, in contrast, have freed themselves from the yoke of these austere principles and openly defy society, which censures them severely; they misunderstand their duties because their rights are misunderstood.
Neither group realizes that they should demand all their rights in the name of religion and morality, and in the interest of society.
They do not understand that the salvation of humanity depends on the triumph of God's law, the rights of the people and of women.
Our most ardent wish is that this truth, on which our future depends, will be engraved on every heart.
It is to make women understand that for them it is not only a right but an obligation to intervene in these distasteful struggles, the sorry result of oppression, suffering, misery, and egotism.
Only they can rise above these party and sectarian hatreds that divide men, and can teach everyone how fraternity should be practiced.
* * *
[10 March 1849]
Citoyennes, it is as Christians and mothers that women must demand the rank that belongs to them in the church, the state, and the family.
As Christians--because they too are children of God and because Christ himself called them to be his apostles.
As citoyennes, because they belong to the people and have the same right as male citizens to liberty and equality.
But it is especially this sacred function as mother, which some insist is incompatible with the exercise of a citizen's rights, that imposes on woman the duty of watching over the future of her children and confers on her the right to intervene in all the activities not only of civil life but of political life as well.
Up till now politics has been the art not of governing people but rather of oppressing them; for this reason governments can maintain themselves only by the force of bayonets. To govern is to repress more or less cleverly, more or less brutally, according to the time and circumstances. This is why women have been declared incapable--and this is why they must demand the right to intervene in order to aid stout-hearted, intelligent men to transform this politics of violence and repression, which produces only deep hatred and incessant combat and which causes all suffering and social misery.
The immense need to love and be loved that God placed in the heart of woman is the powerful and fertile germ of maternal love that must inspire her and guide her in accomplishing this sacred function as mother of the human race that has been conferred on her. When women understand that they owe obedience to no one but God, that all men are their brothers, that all women are sisters, and that all of them are the mothers not only of their own children but of their sisters' children, and especially of those who hunger and thirst, those who suffer and weep, those who are orphans or abandoned--only when they have comprehended this sublime humanitarian maternity, which should serve them as a powerful bond of solidarity, will humanity really enter the path of progress.
* * *
[10 April 1849]
Woman's mission in the present . . . is apostolic; its goal is to realize the kingdom of God on earth, the reign of fraternity and universal harmony. The means is to guide humanity back onto its providential path by reuniting its separated members, divided by their opinions and interests and fighting incessantly with one another--individuals against individuals, families against families, nations against nations. But first we must put a stop to the struggle between the two halves of the grand human family, man and woman. In order to attain this goal we must loudly proclaim the civil and political equality of the two sexes and demand its application by all possible means--the press, the spoken word, by constant protests against the negation of the principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity that contain the law of God, the rights of woman and the people. We must make it absolutely clear that the abolition of the privileges of race, birth, caste, and fortune cannot be complete and radical unless the privilege of sex is totally abolished. It is the source of all the others, the last head of the hydra. Whatever the nuances of opinion, of the religious or social beliefs of the women who devote themselves to this great mission, they will understand that in this era there is but one single practical means of achieving this goal. By their duty and their devotion, women must constantly demand the right of citizenship.
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