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About this book

This compelling study traces the changes in women's lives in France from 1789 to the present. Susan K. Foley surveys the patterns of women's experiences in the socially-segregated society of the early nineteenth century, and then traces the evolution of their lifestyles to the turn of the twenty-first century, when many of the earlier social distinctions had disappeared.

Focusing on women's contested place within the political nation, Women in France since 1789 examines:

- the on-going strength of notions of sexual difference
- recurrent debates over gender
- the anxiety created by women's perceived departure from ideals of womanhood
- major controversies over matters such as reproductive rights, significant cultural changes, and women's often under-estimated political roles.

By addressing and exploring these key issues, Foley demonstrates women's efforts over two centuries to create a place in society on their own terms.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The French Revolution and Gender Politics — Creating a World of Difference

Introduction: The French Revolution and Gender Politics — Creating a World of Difference

Abstract
The ‘ladies’ who presented this petition to the National Assembly in late 1789 called on the male legislators to end privileges based on sex, consistent with their abolition of other forms of discrimination. They requested the Assembly to confer on women ‘the same liberty, the same advantages, the same rights and the same honours as the masculine sex’.1 The National Assembly and the governments that followed between 1789 and 1799 proved unwilling to do this. Following the coup d’état of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799, the inequality of women was officially inscribed in the new legal code, the Code Napoléon of 1804. Some women embraced the maternal role to which they were now assigned, but French women emerged from the Revolutionary decade with clear legal and political disadvantages compared to men.
Susan K. Foley

The Social Structures of Difference: The Nineteenth-Century Gender Order

Frontmatter

1. Elite Women

Abstract
The social elite that emerged from the Revolutionary period was a mixed group with diverse social origins, often referred to as the ‘notability’. The old nobility was still a force to be reckoned with in the early decades of the nineteenth century, although its influence waned thereafter. It was gradually surpassed by a new elite based in principle on ‘merit’, which in practice meant on wealth and economic power. Some families gained their social promotion through the Revolutionary changes fostering a market economy; others had been promoted by Napoleon, who had created his own nobility to reward his supporters. The political affiliations of the elite were therefore diverse, but they shared a commitment to a society marked by hierarchy and the rule of the few over the many. The women of this diverse elite form the focus of this chapter.
Susan K. Foley

2. Urban Working Women

Abstract
The modern gender order based on ‘separate spheres’ presupposed women’s economic dependence on men and their dedication to home and family. But the ‘domestic wife’ was unknown amongst the urban labouring population, where a ‘family economy’ based on production in the home generally prevailed. Artisanal and shopkeeping couples shared productive activities, although a sexual division of labour allowed women to combine their productive tasks with their household and childcare duties. From the early nineteenth century, however, changes in the broader economy were placing this household model of production under pressure. The family workshop was being undermined by factory production, and by competitive pressures that drove down earnings and forced both men and women into wage labour outside their homes. The family wage economy, based on the wage labour outside the home of all family members, began to replace the older pattern. These changes also disrupted women’s ability to combine income-earning and family responsibilities.
Susan K. Foley

3. Peasant Women

Abstract
Peasants comprised the majority of the French population throughout most of the nineteenth century. The French Revolution had enshrined peasant ownership of the land, and family-based farming underpinned the economy throughout the century. Economic change eroded this model of agriculture, however, just as it undermined the urban family workshop. Small farms became less viable as market agriculture replaced subsistence farming. The development of market agriculture in the north of France was supported by the agricultural labour of landless peasants, just as cheap labour by workers supported economic development in the towns. Women were an important part of the agricultural labour force, both as peasant farmers and as agricultural labourers. As men departed for work in the towns in the nineteenth century, women’s role in agriculture increased. They comprised 30 per cent of the agricultural labour force in 1854, but nearly 40 per cent in 1911.1
Susan K. Foley

Sex and Citizenship, 1814–1914

Frontmatter

4. Women, Politics and Citizenship, 1814–1852

Abstract
The early years of the nineteenth century were marked by a search for political stability after a decade of Revolutionary upheaval. The restoration of the monarchy had little public support, and a variety of political groupings — monarchists, Bonapartists and republicans — struggled for power. The period saw two further revolutions (in 1830 and 1848) and a coup d’état in 1851 that brought the nephew of Napoleon I to power. France became an Empire again in 1852.
Susan K. Foley

5. Women and the Creation of Republican France, 1852–1914

Abstract
The Second Republic was born in hope in February 1848, mortally wounded in the June uprising, and killed off by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte’s coup d’état of December 1851. Twelve months later Louis-Napoléon established the Second Empire and became Emperor Napoleon III. Martial law was imposed in December 1851, and strict limits on rights of assembly prevented any public discussion of political ideas. Republican organisations and publications were banned, and activists imprisoned or driven into exile. Women who had been prominent in the campaign for women’s rights were amongst those prosecuted, especially committed socialists like Jeanne Deroin and Pauline Roland. Deroin fled to England, while Roland was imprisoned in Algeria. The undemocratic Second Empire was not receptive to arguments for female political rights.
Susan K. Foley

Women in the Era of the Great Wars, 1890–1944

Frontmatter

6. ‘New Women’ in the Era of the Great War, 1890s–1920s

Abstract
The Great War of 1914–1918 brought to an end the ‘Belle Epoque’, the quarter-century before the war when life for Europe’s bourgeoisie reached its finest flowering. The war dramatically affected European and world history. It undermined assumptions about Europe’s ‘civilised’ values.1 In France, where much of the conflict took place, the war left an impact that can still be distinguished today.2
Susan K. Foley

7. Taking Sides: Women in the 1930s

Abstract
The dominant historical interpretation presents the 1930s as the ‘triumph of familialism’ rather than of the ‘new woman’.1 In this scenario, the period from the 1890s to the 1920s was merely a ‘phoney war’ of the sexes: change threatened but did not really eventuate. The longer skirts and hair of the 1930s symbolised, in this analysis, the recovery of conventional femininity and the return to domesticity.2 French films of the 1930s illustrate this pattern, presenting a panoply of female characters who, having dabbled in independence, find their fulfilment in marriage and devotion to a husband.3
Susan K. Foley

8. Vichy France: Reviving the ‘Natural Woman’, 1940–1944

Abstract
When Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, Britain and France declared war. The Communists were excluded from the Assembly almost immediately because Russia was allied with Germany. Their exclusion meant the final collapse of the ‘Popular Front’ coalition that had become increasingly divided over relations with Hitler’s Germany. The defeat of France within six weeks in May–June 1940 led to the resignation of Prime Minister Reynaud. He was replaced by 84-year-old Marshall Pétain, hero of the First World War. On 10 July 1940 the Third Republic was formally dissolved when the Deputies voted to extend ‘full powers’ to Pétain and establish a new constitution.1 Pétain declared himself ‘leader (chef) of the French State’, rather than President of the French Republic, signifying the change of regime. ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ was replaced by ‘Work, Family, Fatherland.’ This government made its headquarters in the town of Vichy, in the centre of France, and became known as the Vichy government.
Susan K. Foley

Transformations and Continuities, 1945–2003

Frontmatter

9. From the Liberation to ‘Women’s Liberation’, 1945–1975

Abstract
After France was liberated in 1944, the Vichy regime was succeeded by the Fourth Republic (1946–1958). Vichy’s authoritarian agenda was overturned in favour of democracy and women became citizens, marking a major shift in French politics. Yet women did not enjoy full equality under the law despite the fact that sexual equality was inscribed in the Constitution.
Susan K. Foley

10. The Politics of ‘Women’s Place’ since 1975

Abstract
By 1975, all the major legal hurdles to women’s equal citizenship with men had been overcome. They had equal political rights. They had gained major revisions to the Civil Code. Access to contraception and the legalisation of abortion made it possible to control childbearing, ending prohibitions that had seriously impeded women’s participation in public life. Women were free to assume their full rights as citizens alongside men. Yet the proportion of women in the National Assembly remained one of the lowest in Europe, and the numbers of women in government ministries and the upper echelons of the bureaucracy also remained small: theoretical equality did not translate readily into ‘real’ equality of power between the sexes.
Susan K. Foley

Conclusion: Equality and ‘Difference’ — Women’s Lives from the Eighteenth to the Twenty-first Century

Abstract
French society has changed dramatically over the last two centuries. The eighteenth-century world of horse-drawn carts, village isolation and widespread illiteracy is barely recognisable in the current world of the TGV, urban density and the internet. From this perspective, a sense of ‘progress’ in considering the changes in women’s lives over that period is inevitable. Yet this does not mean that the history of French women since 1789 fits a Whiggish model of constant improvement. The dominant impression is instead one of slow and fitful transition, in which change in women’s lives has frequently been contested (by women, as well as by men) and often perceived as negative.
Susan K. Foley
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