Discourse on the Injustice
Of the Laws in Favor of Men,
at the Expense of Women
December 30, 1790 — French National Convention, Paris, France
Gentlemen, since you allow me to defend my sex, I begin by seeking indulgence, if my enlightenment and my means do not satisfy the task I have undertaken, and that it does not do justice to the cause, and to you, gentlemen, I as you to consider that I am a woman, born and raised in a foreign country. If the construction of my sentences is not “according to the rules” of the French Academy, it is because I have consulted my heart more than the Dictionary of the Academy.
Gentlemen, you have admitted my sex to this patriotic club, The Friends of Truth; this is a first step toward justice. The august representatives of this happy nation have just applauded the intrepid courage of the Amazons in one of your departments and have permitted them to raise a corps for the defense of the nation. This is a first shock to the prejudices in which our existence has been enveloped; it is a violent stroke against the despotism that has proved the most difficult to uproot.
Do not be just by halves, Gentlemen; . . . soon the walls of these proud fortresses which shaped the humiliation and degradation of the French, will collapse with a crash; destroy these same walls of prejudice, perhaps more dangerous, because they are harmful to the general happiness. Justice must be the first virtue of free men, and justice demands that the laws be the same for all beings, like the air and the sun. And yet everywhere, the laws favor men at the expense of women, because all the power is in your hands. What! Will free men, an enlightened people living in a century of enlightenment and philosophy, will they consecrate what has been the abuse of power in a century of ignorance?
The prejudices which surround our sex — supported by unjust laws which only accord us a secondary existence in society and which often force us into the humiliating necessity of winning over the cantankerous and ferocious character of a man, who, by the greed of those close to us has become our master — those prejudices have changed what was for us the sweetest and the most saintly of duties, those of wife and mother, into a painful and terrible slavery.
Oh! What could be more unjust! Our life, our liberty, our fortune are no longer ours; leaving childhood, turned over to a despot whom often the heart finds repulsive, the most beautiful days of our life slip away in moans and tears, while our fortune becomes prey to fraud and debauchery.
Oh! do we not daily see abiding citizens, family men, trained in the stinking sewers . . . drunk with wine and debauchery, who forget that they are husbands and fathers, and who sacrifice burnt offerings on the altar of infamy, the tears of a virtuous wife, property and the lives of those who need them . . . insensible, but delicate and virtuous.
Oh! Gentlemen, if you wish us to be enthusiastic about the happy constitution that gives back men their rights, then begin by being just toward us. From now on we should be your voluntary companions and not your slaves. Let us merit your attachment! Do you believe that the desire for success is less becoming to us, that a good name is less dear to us than to you? And if devotion to study, if patriotic zeal, if virtue itself, which rests so often on love of glory, is as natural to us as to you, why do we not receive the same education and the same means to acquire them?
Yes, gentlemen, nature has created us to be the companion of your work and your glory . . . she made us your equal in moral strength, and possibly your superiors by the vivacity of our imagination, delicacy of sentiment, by our resignation in reverses, our strength in pain, patience in suffering, finally generosity of spirit and patriotic zeal, and if these natural qualities were strengthened by a careful education, by encouraging your approval, by public rewards, I am not afraid to say our sex would often surpass yours. . .
The French citizenesses, your wives, your sisters and your mothers, gentlemen, have they not given the world a sublime example of patriotism, courage and civic virtues? Were they not eager to sacrifice their jewellery for the need of the country? And this heroic ardour with which their delicate hands have shared your heavy work in the field of the confederation, you have used them in your efforts to form the altar of the nation, which received the oath that consolidates this freedom, this equality, happiness, no longer only a band of brothers.
Yes, gentlemen it is women who drive your daily courage to persevere and relentlessly fight the enemies of your freedom. It is they who endow the soul of your dear children, and who gathered these words on the lip of the dying victim of the nation: Live free or die.
I will not speak, Gentlemen, of those iniquitous men who pretend that nothing can exempt us from an eternal subordination. Is this not an absurdity just like those told to the French on 15 July 1789: “Leave there your just demands; you are born for slavery; nothing can exempt you from eternally obeying an arbitrary will.”
Translation by Lynn Hunt.
Source: Appel aux Françoises sur la régénération des moeurs et nécessité de l’influence des femmes dans un gouvernement libre (Paris: Cercle Social) 1790, pp. 1-9.
Also: Sur l´injustice des Loix en faveur des Hommes, au dépens de Femmes, in The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History, ed. and translated by Lynn Hunt (New York: St. Martin’s Press), 1996, pp. 122–23.