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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Department of History

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Gendered Nations:The French Revolution and Women’s Political Participation


Most theories of nationalism have taken a supposedly gender neutral approach that have resulted in a pattern of minimizing women's contributions to the nation in scholarship. However, culturally specific conceptions of gender difference inform nationalisms and are produced by the nation as seen in the political exclusion of French women during the French Revolution. The nationalisms of the French Revolution were in part inspired by enlightenment philosophies and championed universal rights for the people of France but the limits to these universal rights were made clear as women were systematically excluded from political participation. If gender differences and nationalisms are understood as being contingent then the exclusion of women from the full benefits of citizenship during the French Revolution henceforth is defined by conceptions of gender and interpretations of enlightenment values by the French nation. Furthermore, particular women who defied beliefs concerning the nature of their gender found ways to participate in politics during the French Revolution and not only became early voices for women’s rights, but at times found themselves in a state of tension with the nation. Future scholarship holds the potential for “recasting the study of gender and of the nation” when nations are understood as inherently gendered. Considerations of the interactions between gender differences and nationalisms will provide new insight into the larger workings of historical events, like in the case of the French Revolution.

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