French Feminism in the Nineteenth Century

By Claire Goldberg Moses | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
The Saint-Simonian Vision: Creating a New World Order

Feminism reemerged as a force in French public life beginning about 1830 among some of the groups labeled utopian socialists. Thirty- five years had passed since the Jacobins had silenced the Revolutionary feminists, and nineteenth-century feminists needed to begin again as if they were the first. Such discontinuity in the development of feminism was a pattern for most of the century: a burst of feminist activity captured the attention of the public at large; a fearful government perceived this movement either as intrinsically threatening to "order" or as dangerous by association because of feminists' alliances with the political Left; the government retaliated fiercely enough to silence feminists for decades. When feminism reemerged--normally in a moment of more liberal government when censorship and assembly laws were relaxed--it had new leaders, new goals, and new reasoning. Although historians can see the connecting links from one generation to the next, the nineteenth-century public reacted to each new wave of feminist arguments as if they were brand new. Thus did government repression effectively slow the development of French feminism in the nineteenth century.

The utopian socialist feminists were very different from their Revolutionary predecessors. In the first place, they opposed revolution because of its association with violence and terror. Second, they were Romantics rather than Enlightenment rationalists. They were spiritual, mystical, and visionary. Concerned with morality, sentiment, and the emotions, they were determinedly nonpolitical or even antipolitical. They called themselves socialists to indicate that they wished to create new ways for individuals and classes to relate to each other. The form of the political regime--whether it be

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