Friday, July 23, 2010

Moral Monstresses

Captain Jouenne began his indictment, immediately elevating the proceedings to dizzying heights. Civilization itself was at stake.

The horrible campaign against civilization begun on last March 18, by people who believe in neither God nor Country, as Jules Allix, one of them, proclaimed, must bring before you not only men forgetful of their most sacred duties, but also - and, alas, in great number - unworthy creatures who seem to have taken on the task of becoming an opprobrium to their sex, and of repudiating the great and magnificent role of woman in society.

And what, then, was this magnificent role? That of "legitimate" wife, the object of our affection and respect, entirely devoted to her family whom she served as guide and protectress - she must exercise her influence over man, to maintain his respect for his social duties.

"But if, deserting this sacred mission, the nature of her influence changes, and serves none but the spirit of evil, she becomes a moral monstrosity; then woman is more dangerous than the most dangerous man."

Even though these seamstresses, cleaning women and laundresses could scarcely be mistaken for victims of culture, what Captain Jouenne was putting on trial was education for women:

If they were illiterate, one might perhaps grieve as one damned them; but among these women - and I blush to give them the name of women - we find some who are unable to summon to their aid even the paltry resource of ignorance....While lofty minds (and we must cordially second them) call for that important benefit of education for the people, what a bitter dissapointment is this for them and for us! Among the accused we see schoolteachers. These women cannot pretend that the idea of good and evil was unknown to them.

Edith Thomas, The Women Incendiaries (Les PĆ©troleuses)

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