Once the French Revolution got under way, it sparked the first explicit feminist movement in history. Members of both sexes were now arguing that women should enjoy the same rights as men, but they were definitely in the minority. The prevailing view was still that women were fundamentally different from men and should confine themselves to domestic concerns. Nevertheless, a small number of women set up their own clubs and, though they hesitated to ask for the vote and other political rights, they insisted that women should be educated to be good republicans and should participate in the Revolution as much as possible, whether by ferreting out counterrevolutionaries, watching the marketplaces for infractions against the new price controls, making bandages for the war effort, or even on some rare occasions arming themselves to go to the front. In response to the upsurge in female political activity, the National Convention officially banned all women's political clubs on 29–30 October 1793. Although women continued to be denied political rights, they had acquired more civil rights than ever before. New laws established divorce for the first time and gave women equal access to it; other laws insisted that girls have the same inheritance rights as boys when families passed on their property.

After all the debates, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen remained open to modification as the Revolution changed course. In 1793 the National Convention offered a new constitution, which included a modified Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. The new declaration repeated many of the provisions of the first one but added an emphasis on social welfare (Article 21: "Society owes maintenance to unfortunate citizens"). Although the new constitution never went into effect (it was shelved while the country was at war), it and the declaration reflected a growing tension that would henceforth accompany the discussion of rights. Many questions remained to be answered: Should these rights be simple guarantees of legal freedom and equality, or should they encompass more ambitious prospects of social improvement and amelioration? Did rights apply just to legal and political activities, or did they also extend to the social and economic sphere of life? Did people have a right to help form their government?

In 1795 the National Convention wrote yet another constitution, and this one actually did go into effect. The deputies also prepared a Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and Citizen, thereby responding to a current of opinion that had already gathered some strength during the 1789 discussions. Should a declaration of rights not be accompanied by a declaration of duties? The duties listed here have a modern resonance: they include what we would call "family values," a defense of property, and a call to military service. Still, the declaration of duties made quite clear that both rights and duties pertained only to men.





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