The Legacy of the Past: Patriarchy and Resistance
Throughout the nineteenth century, the majority of French men and women accepted the centuries-old patriarchal system that regulated sexual roles and rights. This system, with roots extending into the distant past, had survived centuries of social, economic, and religious change. The seemingly constant nature of the subjugation of the female sex was the most powerful argument that nineteenth-century patriarchalists could muster in its defense.
Nineteenth-century feminists, however, believed that the unchanging patriarchal system was simply background to a drama rich with historical change. They were inspired by their belief that civilization had progressed to a point where further change would transform the patriarchal system itself. They were strengthened by their awareness that the challenge to patriarchy was not their invention. Feminism had a prior history, much of which was familiar to nineteenth-century French feminists and shaped their efforts to fashion an ideology suitable to the particular needs of their time and place. The dual legacy of patriarchy and resistance sets the stage for the development of nineteenth-century French feminism.
Historically, French social patterns are a fusion of three main traditions: the Greco-Latin, the Judaic, and the Germanic. Patriarchal family life is common to all three traditions. 1 The major characteristics of the patriarchal family in Western cultures are the insistence on legitimacy, since descent