Revolutionary Change and Its Impact on Women

“It was during the French revolution that for the first time European women were promised equal rights with regard to political participation, employment, marriage, divorce, and even the burden of waging war.” (Letzter 1998, p.58).

Revolution has always been identified as the root cause for different changes in almost all the spheres of a society. An analysis through the different revolutions of the world will be capable of realising the real changes it brought to social, cultural and even in the nature of man. The predominant change brought by revolution is well evident with the revolutions like French, Russian, Mexican, and so on. Analysing the role and the change revolution brought to women, one has to go through different ages and different revolutions. It is crystal clear that one cannot reach to a conclusion about the revolutionary change brought to women with a cursory reading of women’s history. The study of revolutionary change on women includes the overall change/partial change effected in women with revolution. Regarding revolutionary change and its impact on women, one has to keep in mind the fact that each and every revolution is different from the other in one way or other, and the degree of change may vary from revolution to revolution influenced by various elements.

The history of women, like the world history, was not widely taught for a long time. One of the prominent reasons for this was that the male folk concentrated only in the histories of “man” or “mankind.” As such, it is somewhat difficult for one to identify the state of women before the so called revolutions. Nevertheless, one has to go back to the history for understanding the state of women folk before and after the revolutions.

Woman’s condition before revolution

Before the revolt, French women had no civil or economic rights and no social, political and economic freedom. They had no freedom to express their thoughts and beliefs and had no equality before law as it was male-oriented. They were lawfully submissive to their husbands or fathers in all areas of life, especially in marriage agreements, birthright laws, possessions and tax laws. The girls had no right to select their better half and were forced to accept the marriage arranged by their parents. They even had no right of divorce from their husbands and were forced to live under their dominance as the marriages were permanent. They had no right to keep the possessions innate with them and were to depend upon their husband or father if they needed money and other things. The working women had no economic rights and were given low wages for their work and also lacked social protection in all areas. Not only the women but the poor peasants were also denied the basic human rights, and they lived in the most awful conditions. It is obvious that women’s condition before the revolution was extremely pathetic. Thus, the discrimination of women, the rustic and urban peasants and the middle class led to the revolution.

French revolutionary change and its impacts on women

While dealing with revolutionary changes and its impacts on woman it is important to know what caused for such a revolution and what are the reasons of that revolution. While considering French revolution there lies exactly for the revolution as the people want their social rights fully to select a republic and are fed up with the rule of monarchy. The two-section of French society especially women and the middle- class and poor come forward to gain their social, political and economic freedom as well as their right to participate in government, freedom of expression and the equality before law. Thus there such attempt to reform France from the hand of king and monarchy to a one republic facilitates them to lead to the French revolution. Their pitiful condition gave them enough courage to present a petition before the king demanding their right to a sufficient education, the consent to send female deputies to the Estates, and also the right to earn a reputable living. The campaigners explicated, “We ask to be enlightened, to have work, not in order to usurp men’s authority, but in order to be better esteemed by them.” (French revolution, the/ introduction 2009). On the other side some of them were very radical in their demands and even published some booklets in the pseudonyms of males. Marie Gouze was a good example for a female writer who wrote under the pseudonym of male and expressed the intense feelings of their depressed condition. (French revolution, the/ introduction 2009). Most of these booklets were addressed to the monarchies so as to make them understand their real conditions. Some of them had the courage to march to the royal palace for their equal rights and they even gained the favor of some male leaders to a certain extend.

French woman attained their goals to a certain extend after the revolution as they became politically significant and were economically profited especially in the laws of inheritance and property rights. Even the divorce law more enhanced their civil status and it facilitate them to disband marriages promptly and reasonably. Thus through French revolution woman folk attained a lot of courage to face everything and were benefited in every level.

Impact of revolution on Russian women

As in the case of every revolution, the Russian revolution that occurred in the year 1917 had a widespread impact on the womenfolk. It brought drastic changes on almost all aspects of the life of women. The revolution had the positive impact of spreading the boards of women’s freedom and that took them to the position of a higher standard of living. Besides, it protected their rights and facilitated a few more. As an after-effect of the revolution there occurred a reformation of certain laws that enabled women to equalize their legal status with that of the men. It was aimed at the liberation of women and the Bolsheviks were quite aware of the fact that women’s liberation is possible only with a qualitative economic development.

Before the revolution in Russia, the male dominant society insisted a complete obedience from the part of women. As in the case of many other countries, Russia also considered women as inferior to men. But oddly enough, they were regarded as superior in the household management and morality. It inspired them to acquire an equal status with the menfolk and the revolution facilitated a favourable atmosphere to materialize their dream. In regard of women’s ability and service in all level they are considered as” angels of the household “and they got a confidence to change from all traditional system. Even men considered themselves as a superior in religious practises it is women who mainly done all the holiness, but it was never noticed by the male dominant society.

The state of the Russian women in the pre-revolutionary period was to an extent similar to that of Mexican women. Like the Mexican women, the Russian women were also under the supremacy of the male folk before the 1917 Russian revolution. (Nosotro 2007). Regarding manual labour, one can see the interesting fact that it was the Russian women who worked more than menfolk, whereas the male had the legal right to abuse their wives and children by assuring the working capacity of their women in the fields.

Impact of revolution on Chinese women

In ancient China, women in the society were treated as a second class community for a long time. In the political, educational, communal level as well as family life too, women were treated as mediocre to men. As they were away from any kind of human rights which the men folks possessed, for each and everything women had to depend upon men. When they were children they were to obey their fathers, after that they have to obey their husbands and at last they have to obey their sons. In the ancient times, women didn’t enjoy any freedom of their own. “They are portrayed as “objects” sold off into marriage.” (Baker 2009). They had no stand of their own and in their whole life they were forced to suffer physically as well as mentally. For centuries, “women with bound feet” were a synonym for the female gender in China. (Chapter 1 historic liberation of Chinese women). After the Opium War by the supremacy of Western countries, a slight change came in the condition of women, but the women faced a great threat by the hostility of Japan. A large number of women and young children were the victims of the Japanese cruel act, and after their invasion in China, they raped thousands of women in the country. To overcome from this, Chinese women made an endless struggle, and it continued for centuries. The Reform movement had changed the situations of Chinese women. The first step of this was that they established schools for women, but it is difficult to destroy fully the old customs which forced towards the women. The women in China and Russia were still facing many problems. “There are many Chinese women who still find themselves in a marriage whose only benefit is to have children and a stable lifestyle.” (Nosotro 2007). Even though the Russia granted more human rights to women but in China, the women were forced to follow the old traditions. “From this we can see that China really did keep a tighter hold unto their traditional ways.” (Nosotro 2007).

To conclude, Analyzing the pages of world history, one can easily find the fact that each and every revolution in the world, in one way or other, provided various changes in social, religious, economic and political life of the womenfolk. Before the revolution, things were going in an opposite way to the traditional concept about women, that is, the better half of men. They were socially and lawfully submissive to their male partner. In the case of the Mexican women, one can see that the active participation of women in the Mexican revolution promoted notable changes in the stature of women. Russian revolution paved the way for a qualitative economic development of women. After the revolution, women folk in Russia and Mexico acquired a new status or a structured life style because of the implementation of certain laws. Through the reform movement during the time of the Opium war, Chinese women achieved significant developments in social, religious, economic and educational fields. In short, it is difficult to identify the changes of womenfolk in world history because the history has been marked in favour of patriarchal society. One can see the glimpses of revolutionary change and its impact on women’s life.

Iranian women and their revolutionary change

Regarding the women of pre-Revolutionary Iran, one can see them as keeping alien ideas, images and practices. Male chauvinism and very strict religious principles forced them to lead their life within the limits of four walls. In order to keep women away from engaging non-Islamic activates or accessing public space, the religion and society implemented many rules. These rules also include keeping morality in dressing. These Iranian women had to face many domestic restrictions that made their life difficult. “One was the pressure of family attachment, domesticity, marriage and motherhood.” (Moghadam 2003, p.194).

Analysing the domesticity if Iran, there also existed the male supremacy and gender differences in handling familial affairs. These gender differences prevented Iranian women to come to the frontiers of society and imprint their own marks. The words of Valentine M. Moghadam make it clear when he gives a clear picture about the Iranian women in the pre-Revolutionary period. According to Moghadam, “Because of the physiological and psychological differences, husbands and wives in the family and men and women in the society, were to have different roles and expectations.” (Moghadam 2003, p.194). The Islamic thinkers were so strict in following the rules of their religion and they strongly recommended sexuality as sacred duty which should be divinely ordained. But one can infer that there had also existed a kind of sexual superiority among men and it is crystal clear when reading through the writings of the women writers which are filled with female sexuality. Many writers criticises this factor of tying female to stake ignoring their moral rights.

Later the innovations of different laws changed the state of women folk of Iran and it assured their legal and moral rights. Even then there remained many issues like the veiling of women. It is the denial of the rights of Islamic women caused for protestations of non-Islamic women. Most of the Islamic thinkers had believed that the veiling of women as a strict religious discipline and a step to ‘moral cleansing’ of society and eradication of the degenerate culture of the monarchical order (Moghadam 2003, p.193). But one has to regard the fact that gender differences and the treatment of women are subjected to change in accordance with the political and cultural change and the right of women depends on these changes.

Negative impacts of revolution

Along with the positive aspects of the revolutions, one can also see its negative impact on women affecting their political, educational, social and economical growth. Their attempts to make France free from king, clergy and aristocratic rule became the entire need of the nation which later paved the way for the French revolution.

An evaluation of the state of women during the French revolution calls our attention to both its positive as well as negative impacts. Though the French women participated in the revolution for achieving equal status with men, they could not achieve their aim. “The male-dominant views of the time are contrasted with the arguments for women’s equality, and it is shown that women were ultimately suppressed by the male leaders of the Revolution.” (The impact of the french revolution on women’s right 2009). It makes clear the fact the even after the revolution there existed a male chauvinist society which kept its dominant power over the female. Different historical studies have identified that it was in the last decades of the eighteenth century, France’s middle-class and poor women tried to absorb political, economic, and social power. But they cannot reach to their destination (Moghadam 2003, p.193)

Evaluation of the revolutionary changes of women also leads to have a look on the way of their dressing. One can see a notable change in Iranian women’s dressing and to an extent, this change stands as the symbol of their revolutionary change. it is clearly visible with the Qashqa’i women’s rise to new national standards of modest Islamic dress. Regarding the Pahlavi shahs of Iran, they restricted the ethnic dress of men since the 1920s, but it was not applicable for the womenfolk. By contrast, the Islamic Republic allowed people to follow the ethnic dress, provided with the fact that it should not violate the religious rules. Later, the women claimed for their freedom for dressing by propounding the argument that Islam has little or nothing to do with clothing. Another significant change with Qashqa’i women’ dressing was concerned with headscarf, where women exposed hair around the face, but after the revolution government restricted this freedom and it became national law. (Beck & Nashat, p. 258).

One cannot find such kind of restriction among French women. The online article, “Women and the French Revolution,” makes it clear when it writes, “That wearing pants [la culotte] will no longer be the exclusive prerogative of the male sex, but each sex will have the right to wear them in turn.” (Women and the French revolution (1789- 1795) 2003).


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