Competing Notions of Women's Liberation: The Legacy of French Revolutionary 'Feminism' and Terror in Revolutionary Russia


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Bachelor's Degree

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The French Revolution has long stood within the revolutionary zeitgeist as the mother of all revolutions. This is not simply a catchy phrase, but instead a statement on the ways revolutionary leaders and thinkers tend to look back on the past for reference, and the position of the French Revolution within the history of the world as the first great revolution. While many gender historians and other scholars have devoted a great deal of time to understanding the position of women within various historical revolutionary contexts, including the French Revolution, there has been little published and explored in how concepts of women’s liberation have changed over time through a reference to the historical record of past revolutions. And while the French Revolution and Russian Revolutions of 1917 are often compared and studied in reference to each other, there is still not a lot published comparing the French and Russian Revolutions in regards to women’s liberation including what ‘feminism’ meant to either group of revolutionary women and how the events of the French Revolution shaped women’s liberation during the February and October Revolutions of 1917. As gender historian Joan Wallach Scott argues, feminism cannot be understood under a single definition as it exists within the context of its own time period and is informed by contemporary ideas, and also by the understanding of feminism before said contextual time period. Not only will this thesis seek to define and understand the differences in the constructions of a feminist ideology in each of these revolutionary moments, but also to understand how the legacy of the French Revolution informed the revolutionary Russian definition of women’s liberation for female revolutionaries. It will also seek to compare and analyze texts from intellectuals who influenced not only male revolutionaries, but women revolutionaries who may or may not have tied their revolutionary ethos to what we would contemporarily be considered ‘feminist’ in some way or another. This thesis is organized as follows: Comparative Ideologies, French Revolutionary ‘Feminism’, Russian Revolutionary ‘Feminism’, and the Conclusion where ideologies and actions will be compared between the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution of 1917.