European Feminisms, 1700-1950: A Political History

By Karen Offen | Go to book overview

6
Internationalizing Feminism, 1870-1890

The war declared by Prussia on France in 1870 brusquely checked the momentum of organized feminist efforts in continental Europe. This war resulted in French defeat, the fall of the Second Empire, and the unification of Germany under Wilhelm I of Prussia. Following the treaty of Frankfurt in early 1871, a brief but violent civil war, known as the Paris Commune, erupted in March. Feminist activists in Paris made a broad range of claims on women's behalf during this important episode, but their efforts were once again damped down by another wave of repressive legislation and controls. Further internationalization of the women's movements ensued, though with the initiative passing from the French, considered too revolutionary by some, to the English- speaking world. French arguments for women's emancipation, which had long emphasized partnership with men and maternal influence, increasingly exhibited assertions of absolute equality and the individual right to self-development, while British arguments, even in their most individualistic forms, show upon closer examination enduring traces of the case for equality and rights based on women's distinctive civilizing mission and duties. Meanwhile, pressures for ending women's subordination began to build in Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Imperial Germany, and in the Scandinavian countries. By 1889, with the commemorations of the French Revolution, considerable progress could be recorded.


WAR, REVOLUTION, AND THE QUESTION OF WOMEN IN POLITICAL LIFE

The French events of 1870-71 have occupied a distinctive place in women's history, thanks in large part to socialist historians' early fascination with European revolutions and women's participation in them.

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