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10 - Rethinking Gender, Sexuality, and the French Revolution

from Part I - France

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 October 2023

Wim Klooster
Affiliation:
Clark University, Massachusetts
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Summary

The French Revolution was a sexual revolution. It repeatedly challenged ideas of what it meant to be masculine or feminine and the rights or duties associated with those identities. It also fundamentally transformed the family and changed laws around sexual behavior. Popular understandings of gender and sexuality shaped how revolutionaries approached everything from political rights to policing, education to nationality, military recruitment to festivals. This essay concentrates on two major aspects of these changes. First, it reassesses questions of citizenship, especially women’s citizenship. By revisiting key turning points in empowering or disenfranchising women and bringing together the stories of both metropolitan France and the French Caribbean, we can see myriad ways in which women acted as citizens or were understood to be citizens, even when they were excluded from the direct exercise of political rights. Secondly, it investigates both sexualized ways of understanding political power and changes in the forms of behavior revolutionaries treated as legally or socially acceptable, from transformations in marriage and the recognition of children born out of wedlock to the decriminalization of prostitution and male homosexuality. Doing so reveals how much the French revolutionary personal was political.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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