Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences


Modern Languages and Literatures

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Lois Oppenheim

Committee Member

Kathleen Loysen

Committee Member

Rabia Redouane


Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat, marquis de (1743-1794), Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793), Etta Palm d'Aelders, Théroigne de Méricourt (1762-1817), Feminism--France--History, Women and religion, Feminism--Religious aspects--Christianity, Feminism--Religious aspects--Islam


Francophone feminism is a long process, interspersed with obstacles, which began with the French Revolution of 1789, but it is mostly during the 20th and 21st century that it has become universal. Its development has always collided with religion. Indeed, all monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) relegate women to a secondary position by explicitly recognizing the man as head of the household. These religions have also had difficulty allowing women to attain certain hierarchical positions within the religion. Thus, in Catholicism, women do not have access to the priesthood and even less to the papacy. It is the same among Muslims for the Imamate today. Beside this religious barrier, men have also put pressure on women in all areas of social life, this by virtue of their need to dominate, which they most often justify as drawn from the Holy Scriptures.

Fortunately, men and women passionate about justice have come to the defense of women in what has been characterized as the feminist movement. We will first discuss Condorcet who was a theorist of feminism. It was he who laid the foundation for the doctrine of this movement. After him, at the time of the French Revolution of 1789, there were three women who emerged from within the ranks of the feminist combat: Olympe de Gouges, Etta Palm d’Aelders and Theroigne de Mericourt. Later, in the 20th century, there were also women engaged either in literature, such as Simone de Beauvoir and Hélène Cixous, or in politics, such as Simone Veil, who carried the feminist battle for equality between men and women, and also for the sake of women’s growth in and of itself, further into all areas of social life. Their combined actions have led to concrete results improving the feminine condition. We can cite among other benefits the Law on the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy (abortion), family planning initiatives, and also schooling for all allowing women to have the same diplomas as men and be able to compete in all areas with, of course, equivalent wages.

However, the approaches to a feminist ideology have differed, depending on whether one is in a developed francophone country or in a developing francophone country. Its evolution has been faster in developed countries where it has received support through legislation and the creation of administrations, such as that of Social Security. The Family Codes of 1956 and 2004 have also adapted to the evolution of feminism. Still, in developing countries, feminism has evolved more slowly not only because of religious and social traditions, but also because of the schooling of young girls which remains insufficient. Moreover, legislation, which has been helped by international organizations such as UNICEF and Save the Children, is not uniformly applied and continues to reflect the fear of feminist claims. As an example, we can cite the practice of excision in many of these countries, which is harmful to women’s health and sexuality.

The victories of feminism are irreversible and are beginning to bear the fruits of family planning, legislation on abortion, parity for elective positions, the opening up of all jobs to women, etc. We are hopeful that with the increasing schooling of girls in developing countries, the gap in the evolution of feminism between countries will be reduced to the advantage of women throughout the world.

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