Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen (1791) | Study Guide

Olympe de Gouges

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Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen (1791) | Quotes


Man, are you capable of being fair? A woman is asking: at least you will allow her that right. Tell me? What gave you the sovereign right to oppress my sex?


In the prologue, Gouges castigates men. She is furious that male revolutionaries refused to let women serve as delegates to France's new National Assembly. Here, she previews key ideas of her declaration: the concept of natural rights and the discussion of where authority (sovereign power) comes from. These were important concepts in revolutionary and Enlightenment thinking.


Mothers, daughters, sisters, female representatives of the nation ask to be constituted as a national assembly.


Gouges changes the wording of the preamble of the Declaration of the Rights of Man. That document declares that representatives of the French people are now organized as a National Assembly. Gouges adjusts the language to demand that women be able to take part. She stresses that women are part of the nation, the body of French citizens. Revolutionaries sought to place "the Nation" at the center of the political system. The nation, rather than the king, would have power. Gouges wants it recognized that women are part of this nation.


The principle of all sovereignty rests essentially in the nation, which is but the reuniting of woman and man.

Article 3

The first part of this sentence repeats the language of the Declaration of the Rights of Man verbatim. Gouges adds the second part, defining what the nation is. Her point is that women and men together make up the nation. The male delegates to the Assembly, however, refuse to fully recognize this.


Liberty and justice consist in restoring all that belongs to another; hence the exercise of the natural rights of woman has no other limits than those that the perpetual tyranny of man opposes to them.

Article 4

The Assembly's Declaration of the Rights of Man defines liberty as freedom to do anything that does not harm anyone else. Gouges pairs the concepts of liberty and justice. She defines them as giving back whatever belongs to another person. She is referring to the idea of the natural rights of women, which have been denied. She calls for men to give women back the rights they naturally have.


The laws of nature and reason prohibit all actions which are injurious to society.

Article 5

The Declaration of the Rights of Man defines what laws can do: prohibit actions that harm society. This provision placed limits on the kinds of laws that could be imposed; the intention was to preserve freedom, but also to protect the common good. Gouges's declaration replaces the notion of the law with "the laws of nature and reason." She is pointing out that laws are frequently unjust. The universal, natural laws she believes in both ensure rights for women and protect society.


The law should be the expression of the general will. All citizenesses and citizens should take part.

Article 6

The Declaration of the Rights of Man says that law is the expression of the general will (the will of the majority of the people.) Gouges rephrases this to describe what the law should be. She goes on to specify that male and female citizens should take part in crafting laws.


[The law] must be the same for everyone. All citizenesses and citizens, being equal in its eyes, should be equally admissible to all public dignities, offices and employments.

Article 6

Again, Gouges adjusts the language of the Declaration of the Rights of Man to include women. The male revolutionaries sought to ensure equality and make the political system accessible to all social classes rather than just to a rich and privileged elite. Gouges supports the goals of the revolution but wants to go further in order to also give women full access to the political sphere.


No woman is exempted; she is indicted, arrested, and detained ... by the law. Women like men obey this rigorous law.

Article 7

The Declaration of the Rights of Man states that "no person shall be accused, arrested, or imprisoned except in the cases and according to the forms prescribed by law." This was an attempt to prevent powerful elites from imprisoning or harassing those without power. According to the Assembly's revolutionaries, the law—not powerful individuals—would determine who is arrested and imprisoned. Gouges supports this concept but takes the opportunity to point out that women are always subject to legal punishment even though they do not have legal rights.


Woman has the right to mount the scaffold, so she should have the right equally to mount the rostrum.

Article 10

Gouges again points out that women are given consideration by the law in terms of punishment but not in terms of rights. A scaffold is a platform upon which a person is executed. A rostrum is a platform from which a speaker addresses an official body. Gouges is pointing out the hypocrisy of the men of the Assembly who declare rights while denying them to women. She emphasizes that women are treated equally when it comes to consequences and demands that women also have equal access to political positions and power.


The free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of woman, since this liberty assures the recognition of children by their fathers.

Article 11

In discussing the fundamental importance of the freedom of expression, Gouges brings up an issue of great importance to her. She wants unmarried women to be able to identify the fathers of their children. Gouges was likely the illegitimate daughter of an aristocrat, although her acknowledged father was a butcher.


The safeguard of the rights of woman and the citizeness requires public powers.

Article 12

Gouges expands on the idea that a nation requires police and military powers to help protect the rights of citizens. Similarly, she says, women require legal and political protections to ensure their rights.


The citizenesses can only agree to [taxes] upon admission of an equal division, not only in wealth, but also in the public administration.

Article 14

Like the Declaration of the Rights of Man, Gouges's declaration consider the necessity of taxes and the right of citizens to oversee how taxes are set and how funds are spent. Gouges says that male and female citizens have the right to oversee taxation. But, she notes, women can only agree to taxes if they are able to participate in the institutions that regulate taxation. Gouges makes several calls for women to be able to hold public office and official positions, which they were not allowed to do.


The constitution is null and void if the majority of individuals composing the nation has not cooperated in its drafting.

Article 16

The French National Assembly was ready to write a constitution to guide the new political system they intended to set up. Gouges declares that any such constitution will not be legitimate if women are not able to participate in creating it.


Property belongs to both sexes whether united or separated.

Article 17

Property rights were a major concern for the revolutionaries. For Gouges and other women activists, women's property rights were also of crucial importance. Gouges's text seeks to extend property rights to both married and unmarried women.


Women, wake up; the tocsin of reason sounds throughout the universe; recognize your rights. The powerful empire of nature is no longer surrounded by prejudice, fanaticism, superstition, and lies.


Gouges urges women to become politically engaged and to back her project. A tocsin was an alarm bell, such as might be rung to alert people of a fire. Gouges says that the bell of reason—rational thought—is ringing everywhere. This is a reference to the spread of Enlightenment ideas. Gouges wants the ideals of Enlightenment thought to extend to women.

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