Guyomar, "The Partisan of Political Equality between Individuals" (April 1793)
Pierre Guyomar wrote the pamphlet excerpted here during the war–torn and hungry spring of 1793, at the height of popular political mobilization that restated arguments made by Condorcet three years earlier. A political moderate, Guyomar supported equal political rights for women and compares the question of women’s rights to that of the rights of black slaves.
I have thought hard and long about the declaration of the rights of man, whether living in France or in some other country of the world. I attached the same ideas as the Latins to the word man; and here is perhaps the origin of my very excusable error. In fact their homo expressed by itself these two words consecrated by usage, man, woman; I will therefore use it in the same fashion, and if I have employed the word individual, it is because it appeared to me more appropriate for indicating humans of each sex, of all ages, all members, in my opinion, of the great family which inhabits the world. This once posed, the first question that presents itself to the mind of a partisan of political equality between the individuals of humankind is this: does the Declaration of the Rights of Man apply to women? . . .
What is then the prodigious difference between men and women? I see none in their characteristic traits. I mean soul for those who believe in it, reason and the passions for the partisans of the one or the other system. There is no doubt a difference, that of the sexes . . . but I do not conceive how a sexual difference makes for one in the equality of rights. . . . I maintain that half of the individuals of a society do not have the right to deprive the other half of the imprescriptible right of giving their opinion. Let us liberate ourselves rather from the prejudice of sex, just as we have freed ourselves from the prejudice against the color of Negroes. . . .
I think therefore that the declaration of rights is the same for men and women. I do not see what right of sovereignty could be claimed by the one which would not be immediately asserted by the other. Custom and oppression only serve to prove that power has been usurped. The law of the strongest maintains tyranny; that of justice, reason, and humanity brings us back effortlessly to equality and liberty, the bases of a democratic republic. . . .
What! At the birth of equality, would one also proclaim the enslavement of half of humankind, whose happiness we have made our project? The epoch of the new order of things will leave women in the old one, and they will date from this day their designation as islands within the Republic; they will be servants without wages, placed at the same rank that our legislators assigned to hired servants. In effect, they will have no citizenship; if they do not have the right to vote in the primary assemblies, they are not members of the sovereign. These are two empty words for them. I observe, in passing, that the name of citizeness is more than ridiculous and should be struck from our language. We should henceforth call them either wives or daughters of a citizen, never citizenesses. Either strike the word, or bring reality in line with it. . . .
Pressed by this argument in conformity with our principles, but pushed to a logical conclusion which could displease, I do not doubt that some will soon have recourse to the escape of a presumed representation. They will say therefore that a husband is the born representative of his wife. Following the same line of argument, charge him right away with drinking and eating for her, since surely the moral faculties are as independent as all the physical needs. . . .
Voting women incontestably have the right to be elected. . . . I do not even see any inconvenience in their admission to certain local offices, which would require no travel. The creation of free posts for women for policing themselves seems to me to be part of the system of equality established for male and female primary school teachers. This is far from the flagrant injustice that places them in a class with children, imbeciles, and madmen, all incapable of voting in the primary assemblies. This then is what men do to the women to whom they owe their perilous birth, the care of their childhood, their first education! Sexual pride makes them forget everything.
The materials listed below appeared originally in The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History, translated, edited, and with an introduction by Lynn Hunt (Bedford/St. Martin's: Boston/New York), 1996, 133–135.