Gender in Pre-Revolutionary
The subject of this chapter is not women or men or sex so much as gender, as imagined, enacted, and contested in the decades preceding the Revolution. It is impossible to understand the culturally constructed sets of attributes and behaviors considered appropriate in males and females without reference to each other. The following pages address both, with special attention to masculinity, which has been studied less extensively and creatively than femininity, and special emphasis on its instability.1 According to the 1740, 1762, and 1798 editions of the dictionary of the Académie française, “masculine” means “appertaining to the male,” while “feminine” means not only “that which appertains to the female” but also “that which resembles the female.”2 The examples of usage indicate that a man could have a feminine face, voice, walk, or manners. The lack of symmetry in the definitions suggests that contemporaries likened males to women more commonly than they likened females to men. Within the gendered principles and social practices of the Old Regime, husbands, fathers, and kings frequently violated, or at least could be plausibly charged with violating, expectations about masculine conduct through excess or weakness.
The foundations of absolutism were not composed of antiquated