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The French Revolution was a time of great change. Following several years of unrest and uncertainty in France, peace was achieved and equality was implemented throughout the country. One of the most important changes during this time was the elimination of the powerful French aristocrats, which allowed a new government to take charge. The extreme absolute monarchy put in place by Louis XIV a century earlier was eliminated with the death of King Louis XVI and his wife Queen Marie Antoinette by guillotine, and the death of their son, the Dauphine, while under imprisonment. Despite the resulting wave of good transformations happening in the country, the acts of brutality that occurred during the decade of revolts cannot be hidden. The last King and Queen of France were young and inexperienced. Marie Antoinette has been especially viewed as a key factor in the French Revolution due to her frivolous life style and her nonchalant attitude toward her people; Antoinette was both a victim of a revolution already set in place and a catalyst for events to come. Marie Antoinette’s role in a dysfunctional society can be compared to the female political leaders of today such as Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin on the basis of family, politics, media and how each have created an impact in history that will be known for years to come.
The doomed story of the last King and Queen of France began a mere six months after the birth of Marie Antoinette, born Archduchess Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna of Austria to the Holy Roman Emperor, Francis I and Empress Maria Theresa. At this time in history, a great change was occurring to the alliances in Europe. The Treaty of Versailles signed on May 1, 1756, joined Austria with its enemy France in a defensive bond against Prussia, who had allied themselves with England. It outlined that if either country were attacked, the other would come to its aid. This was the single most important event in Marie Antoinette’s childhood, as nothing else would ever change the course of her life like the signing of this treaty and the alliance forged between two these two countries. France and Austria had always been rivals and only necessity forced these two important nations to join forces. However, this alliance could not destroy the underlying prejudices toward the other in each of the countries. In order to secure a much stronger alliance, the young Marie Antoinette and Louis XIV, the dauphin of France, were chosen to marry. This marriage was not for love – it was for political and diplomatic reasons, to unite two countries as opposed to two people. On the day Marie and Louis married officially, they did not consummate their marriage. Marie was later criticized for not producing an heir for the French throne. After the birth of the son of Comtess d’Artois, the male boy was now first in line for the throne. Concerning this, Marie was asked, “When will you give us an heir to the throne” (Fraser 137). Luckily, on December 9, 1778, Marie went into labour with her first child. She gave birth to Marie-Thérèse, a daughter, not the son France craved. However, before the Revolution started, Marie Antoinette was able to do her duty for France and give birth to a surviving son, Louis XVII Charles.
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In France, family was important in society, as was gossip. The birth of a male heir was the most important job Marie Antoinette had to do for her country. Today things are much different in North American society, where female children are not despised for their gender. In parts of the world such as China, this prejudice still occurs but it is a barbarian sexist view on which many disagree. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin both struggled due to their gender. In addition, in relation to Marie Antoinette, family was also important to them both. However, Hillary Clinton was not forced to marry Bill Clinton for political reasons like Marie. She began to date him in 1971, before marrying him in 1975. Also unlike Louis XVI, Bill Clinton was not handed the power to rule the country by birthright. In 1992, Bill Clinton ran for president, before taking the office in 1993. Hillary subsequently became the First Lady. She too, like Marie, had a female daughter named Chelsea Clinton. Sarah Palin as well eloped with her high school sweetheart, Todd Palin. They had five children, Track, Bristol, Willow, Pipe and Trig. Family is and always will be important to people with prominent positions in government due to the public being able to relate to them more if they are more like the people. Marie Antoinette’s marriage and children were always in the public eye. For example, anyone was allowed to come and watch the royal family eat their meals. Hillary and Sarah both attempted to protect their daughters from controversy and ridicule but again they were always in the public. The public has a morbid fascination with the life of the glamorous because of the desire to uncover and relate to their flaws. The people crave to see their idols as regular citizens.
Indeed, the public, controlled the duration of Marie Antoinette’s life. The people of France were under Louis XVI’s rule but Marie Antoinette also had a role to play in the politics of France. During the Revolution, she was accused of sending military secrets to Austria when France declared war on Austria and France started losing battles. She was the scapegoat for anything that went wrong. The Royal Family’s attempted escape to Vervannes cemented the public’s hatred and suspicion of treason toward the aristocrats. She did attempt to influence politics after her mother urged her based on the interests of Austria. Though Marie was accused of treason and later executed on this basis, her initial role in politics was miniscule. She had very little influence on her silent husband despite being the dominant figure in the relationship. Louis had been raised to distrust Austrians and rejected many of Marie’s choices for important ministry positions within his government. His ministers distrusted Marie’s interception and thus Austria’s influence, on French politics. When Marie gave birth to the Dauphin, Joseph Xavier Francois, her political influence did not increase nor help Austria. Her brother, the new Emperor, accused Marie of being inactive and not doing her duty to his home country. She responded and told him that she had very little power. The King rarely talked to her about politics and his background in Austrian prejudice prevented him from listening to her decisions. After the birth of the new Dauphin after Joseph died, she became much more influential in politics. She attempted to help settle the arguments between the Assembly and the King but it was to no avail. The public grew to dislike Marie much more, blaming her once more for the King’s weak ways.
This can be likened to the relationship between Hillary and Bill Clinton. When Bill Clinton won, people said it was getting a dual presidency in office due to Hillary active role in politics. She was the first First Lady to hold a postgraduate degree and she had had her own professional career before entering the White House. She became very important in many aspects of American Government, such as being a part of a group of important people who vetoed new administration. As Marie had done before her, Hillary managed to accomplish by putting her choices into over a dozen important positions. In American Politics, she is viewed as the most openly empowered First Lady in history. Again, as had happened to Marie Antoinette before her, Hillary Clinton was criticized for her heavy involvement in her husband’s job. Critics considered it inappropriate for a First Lady to play an important role as thus in the public. Bill Clinton had, after all, campaigned a promise of “two for the price of one”. Those in Arkansas affectionately called Hillary and Bill “Billary”. Sarah Palin also was, and still is, ridiculed for her vice-presidental campaign for John McCain in 2008, her policies and views criticized for being too conservative and obscure. Both women were obviously not respected by the majority of the public, as Marie Antoinette also was not.
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The media were among those who did not respect these women. In Marie Antoinete’s times leading to her execution, those in power used the newspaper, the most important source of media, to publish propaganda against the royal family. Antoinette was the favourite target. Her most famous response concerning what she would do about the bread shortages was circulated and believed, even today. It was said that Marie reportedly responded, let them eat cake. This shows how heartless the media painted their Queen. Rumours about Marie’s adultery and treason spread from their base source in the newspaper. The French people already disliked Marie for being Austrian but when they heard how Marie was spending lavish amounts of money on elaborate parties, dresses and presents for her already rich friends, they grew to hate her much more. As well, Marie had been involved in a court case involving a diamond necklace. It was called the “Diamond Necklace Affair”, Marie being accused of buying a very expensive necklace and not paying back the jewellers, leaving them in ruins. It was in fact a dupe by various people but it was the beginning of the dislike of the monarchy in the eyes of the French people. This affair made Marie even more unpopular and was used by the French during the revolution as a weapon against the family.
Scandals such as these arise more now due to the public’s unwavering need for spectacle especially towards those who are idols. In 1998, it was found out that Bill Clinton had been adulterous to Hillary with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. This is still a subject of scandal in the eyes of the American public, who continue to ridicule the Clintons. However, Hillary managed to overcome this by slandering Monica Lewinsky as a liar and stating that she would stand by her husband, even when evidence arose that the rumours were indeed true. This is like Louis XVI during the Diamond Necklace Affair, as he stood by Marie Antoinette throughout the ordeal. Historians say this is when Louis started to sympathize toward his wife, which became the beginning his compassion toward her. Hillary was accused by the media for encouraging her husband’s behaviour but ultimately she ignored them and was uninfluenced by the gossip. The big scandal in Sarah Palin’s life was the pregnancy of her unmarried teenaged daughter Bristol with her boyfriend Levi Johnston. Again, the media used this to ridicule Sarah Palin. Comedy groups used this as an act, thinking it was hilarious that this happened during Sarah Palin’s campaign with John McCain. This started a media endorsed battle between Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston, who broke off their engagement in 2009. A court case happened in Alaska, custody being award to Palin with visitation rights and child support responsibility falling on Johnson. Now an advocate on abstinence, Bristol Palin is still not respected in society where she is ridiculed for her teenage pregnancy. The media in today’s society is much larger than the French revolutionists could have imagined. With television, magazines, books, news and especially the internet, scandals such as these spread much faster globally, targeting a much larger audience; a feat the French would have been able to use to their advantage during the revolution.
Since the beginning of time, women have been perceived as inferior to men. Women were to be domestic homemakers. They could not ascend to succession in many countries and had restricted freedoms as opposed to their opposite gender. Marie Antoinette and her modern day counterparts Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, received much harder treatment than if they had been born male. Women are victimized by society for reasons that are no longer logical. Marie Antoinette could not have stopped the Revolution. Her actions were naive, but she was also victimized by a public that needed a scapegoat for all their problems. The French Revolution set in motion hundreds of years before Marie Antoinette had even been born. There was nothing she could have done in the end to change the events that happened. Bloodshed was not a necessary factor in the French Revolution – the King had agreed to most of the Assembly’s requests but the people had a lust of blood. They blamed everything on the French Monarchy even if it was not possible for them to have been the cause of so much turmoil in the kingdom. Marie Antoinette did not deserve to die because of her mistakes; however, she is now a symbol of lost direction that others can learn from today.
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