Robespierre, Old Regime Feminist? Gender, the Late Eighteenth Century and the French Revolution Revisited

It has become a commonplace of scholarship on the French Revolution that the Jacobins sought to exclude women from political and intellectual life. Even as recent work has noted that the Revolution improved women's status in areas such as divorce,' the enduring image of the Jacobins' attitude toward gender is their dismissal of women's intellectual abilities and their emphasis on mothering roles. Histories of the Revolution often include the claim made by the deputy Amar during the debate on women's political clubs that womenwere "ill-suited for elevated thoughts and serious meditations."2 Scholars generally depict this declaration either as emblematic of Jacobin misogyny or as representing the simple continuation of eighteenth-century prejudices about women, whether derived from Christianity or Rousseau ism. Against Rousseau and his followers, Condorcet has loomed as an isolated male feminist of the era for his support of expanded opportunities for women.