Women in 18th Century France

Women in 18th

Century France

Many changes occurred during the Enlightenment
period of the eighteenth century. For instance, more and more emphasis
was placed on the family as the eighteenth century passed. There
were three groups of urban women in eighteenth century, lower-class, middle-class,
and upper-class. This essay will discuss the experiences of the lower
and middle class urban women. It will also cover Olympe de Gouges’,

The Declaration of the Rights of Woman.

The changes were different for lower-class
women as opposed to middle class women. "Only those wealthy enough
to afford to dispense with women’s work could partake of the new domesticity."

Our textbook, does not spend as much time talking about the lower class
as it does the middle class. None the less, it seems that in the
cities, the condition of the poor was as desperate as it ever had been.

Mothers abandoned their children to foundling hospitals because they could
not raise them properly themselves. It was thought that they would
live a better life at the hospitals, but hospital death rates were close
to 80 percent. Women who had a job could not afford the material
needed to educate their own children, nor did they even have time to educate
them if it were possible. Working women now used wet nurses, which
in the past had only been used by the wealthy. Lower-class women
had no privacy whatsoever as large families often lived in one room.

Wives were still beaten by their husbands. Having a large amount of suffering
was nothing new, however, the urban poor blamed the government for all
of the economic hardships.

Women fought alongside men in urban revolutionary
activities. In October 1789, a group of women, acting on their own,
forced the king to leave Versailles for Paris. It was the job of
women to buy food for the family, and when they became unable to do this,
the situation became intolerable. They wanted the king to deal with
these problems himself.

For Bourgeois women there were many changes.

Marriages that had been arranged in the past, became more of a romantic
relationship as well as economic. Mothers stayed at home and cared
for their children more. "The image of the doting mother replaced
that of the domestic drudge." Female education and the intellectual
pursuits of females became more accepted and common. Although Men
were more likely to be literate than women were, over one quarter of French
women could read at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and towards
the end of the century that number had doubled. With the increase
of female literacy, the overall rates also increased as women began to
teach children. The leisure time of bourgeois women increased greatly
and more entertainment and literature was available to them. Women
began to read more and a vast number of books were available to them; a
teach-yourself book, fanciful romances, and books of moral instruction.

Domestic life also began to change.

In the past, marriages had based on economic partnership and "a means to
carry on lineage" . Husbands ruled over their wives and made all
of the family decisions. Even in the middle of the eighteenth century,
the "rule of thumb" was passed; it said that a husband could legally beat
his wife as long as the stick was no thicker than his thumb. During
the second half of the eighteenth century, all of this began to change.

Although economic elements of marriage were still very much a factor, many
other elements came into play. "A new desire for individual happiness,
romantic and sexual attraction developed into a factor in marriage" .Courting
became a more common occurrence as "prospective partners could dance, dine,
and converse with each other to determine compatibility". Young people
were now able to search for their own marriage partners and could turn
down unsuitable ones. Married couples began to spend more time together
and personal lives changed dramatically. Houses were built so that
husbands and wives could have privacy from their children and anyone else
who may bother them. Sexual activity outside the marriage and premarital
pregnancy rates were on the rise as well. Village festivals still
shamed husbands whose wives were unfaithful or women with bad reputations.

Furthermore, Women began to bear fewer
children, which had a great impact of the lives of women. Few children
reduced the danger of death and gave them more leisure time to use at their
discretion. The early part of a woman’s marriage was devoted to her
children. People had a new attitude towards raising children.

Mothers began spending more of her time to raising her own children.

The use of wet-nurses steadily declined, as