War on Today’s Society
October 29, 1904 — Meeting of women’s movement activists to protest the Centennial of the Civil Code
[All] women, in whatever situation they were born, have an interest in a profound [social] upheaval. Among us there are no “ruling classes,” no “privileged classes.” All of us can declare war on today’s society, for all of us are more or less ruined, our bodies, our hearts, our consciences brutalized by its laws. Great ladies are mistreated by princely brutes; bourgeoises dispossessed of their property; working women frustrated by their meager salaries; active, intelligent women who wish to utilize the resources of their brains, to develop their personalities freely, and who see so many doors closing before them, so many obstacles rising in their path; proud women who are repelled by the idea of being kept women, who suffer from not being able to be self-sufficient and having each day to beg their subsistence rom some “protector” — legal or illegal — who often makes them pay dearly for his protection. Mothers, especially! Society does not acknowledge and denigrates, even while it dares ask them to multiply their troubles and to work for it unceasingly and without reprieve! And this, my sisters, this is the supreme inequity, among so many others! The most odious aspect of the situation we find ourselves in is that they invoke against us precisely that thing that ought to plead on our behalf. They see as an obstacle to our re-establishment — a pretext for drenching us with sorrow and humiliation in this maternal function — this terrible and sublime function that ought, on the contrary, to assure us every honor and every solicitude!
No honors are too great, no praise too high, for those brave soldiers who are mutilated in battle. But on your own battlefield, we mothers find no glory to be garnered. So-called civilized society has placed the work of death above the work of life by reserving, by some inconceivable aberration, its homage for the destructive soldier, its disdainful indifference for the woman who creates life. And when, revolted by such injustice — in the very name of our duties— we dare to reclaim our rights, they reply to us, with a shrug of the shoulders:
Rights? What would you do with them, oh woman? Have you any need of rights? Accomplish without a murmur the sole task that suits you; the task that is your sole reason for existing. Make citizens and soldiers for us; give birth, give birth without pause; destroy your grace and wear away your health by continual gestation. Go! suffer and grieve; weep and wail; submit to your martyr’s destiny; but do not count on anyone thanking you. Expect no recompense. You are made to give and not to receive. A married woman— your child will remain the property of his father, of the happy father whose only task I the common work is limited to a few moments of pleasure; and you, the sorrowful and battered créatrice, who has paid with your blood, your tears — you will not exist, you will not count! In marriage, annihilated as a wife, you will be equally annihilated as a mother. [As an] unwed mother, on the other hand, you alone will bear the weight of what bourgeois hypocrisy disdainfully calls your “fault.” And it will not be enough to expiate it by bearing the physical tortures that constitute for you, woman, a sort of ransom for love; it will not be enough for you — poor girl — to experience all alone in your attic room, without assistance, without care, without one word of consoling love, without a comforting squeeze of the hand, the “sacred torment” of mothers. No! Society, the guardian of “morality,” will arrive to add its refinements! For you it reserves — the better to punish you — abandonment, disdain, misery; impossibility of remaking a happy and free life for yourself through your labor; even the impossibility of obtaining some assistance; and finally, the obligation of making your sad choice between suicide and prostitution. And if then, panic-stricken, desperate, weary of suffering, you suppress [the life of] this small being that you wanted so much to love, it [society] will find judges to send you away to finish your miserable existence in a bed of prison straw.
Oh, is it not true, citoyennes, my sisters; is it not true, you liberated and conscious women, you who have come here this evening to join your protests with our own; is it not true that a woman must be a mother in order to become truly indignant? That she must have experienced all aspects of a woman’s life? that she know how much sorrow and sacrifice there is in this sublime role, to understand just how much is owed to her, to measure well the ingratitude of man, and to stand up tall and straight in the face of dogma and codes, in the face of churches that insult her and of social institutions that crush her!!
But beware, oh Society! The day will come — don’t doubt it — that it has already come for some — when the eternal victim will become weary of carrying in her loins sons whom you will later teach to scorn their mothers, or daughters destined — alas! — to the same life of sacrifice and humiliation! The day when we will refuse to give you, ogres, your ration of cannon-fodder, of work-fodder, and fodder for suffering! The day, at last, when we will become mothers only when we please, when we will have resolved, after careful reflection, that we ourselves have good reason to do so; and especially when we will be very certain that we can make of our children beings who are strong enough so that they will not become your victims, and revolted enough by you so that you will have no reason to take pride over our birthings.
Source: La Fronde, I November 1904.
Also: Women, the Family, and Freedom: The Debate in Documents, eds. Karen M. Offen and Susan Groag Bell (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press) 1983, pp. 134-136.