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Literary Review: The Public Nature of Women’s Work.
The journal article, The Public Nature of Women’s Work by Judith DeGroat, discusses how gender and class tensions intersected after the February Revolution, in response to the power vacuum left by this Revolution and the rise of working women in the French economy. In making her point, DeGroat uses the Fete de la Concord as the focal point to reveal these tensions, as the reception of the parade was mixed among the French public. The purpose of this festival was to “celebrate the spirit of harmony between the nation and the Republic” and as such, five hundred working class women were chosen to take part in the Parade (DeGroat 37). DeGroat argues that, the reception to this parade reveals the power struggle between working class women and men after the February Revolution, revealing how the processes of revolution can extend to the social sphere. Moreover, the February Revolution resulted in the abdication of the monarch, Louis Phillipe I and the emergence of the second republic in France, resulting in a contest for economic and political power among the working and bourgeoise classes.
In making her argument, DeGroat first assess the social background and relationship between women and men in France, before discussing the events at the Fete de la Concord. DeGroat discusses the rise of working women and how they had “emerged as a locus of tensions and debate” (DeGroat 32). This was because women were now working outside of the familial domain, challenging previous perceptions of womanhood. Furthermore, the rise of working women highlights the power struggle among workers in France, resulting in class tensions. Subsequently, DeGroat discusses the shifting perception of women as a result of these changes in society. After establishing the social background, DeGroat then discusses the mixed reviews of the Fete de la Concord and how it reflected the dynamics of both class and gender politics in France.
The Shifting Perception of Women and Social Dynamics.
The shifting perception of women among working men is reflective of how the social dynamics in France changed following the February Revolution, and consequently “provided a battle ground for competing sources and representations of source of power” (DeGroat 32). As such, a negative perception of women among working men, came out of fear that the working women was threatening their source of power. DeGroat outlines three main perceptions of the working women: economic competitors, victims and unfeminine.
The perception of working women as economic competitors represents the fear that women would take away the little economic power that working men had, as the expansion of the female labour force “challenged the dominance of male artisan corporations in the handicraft sector” (DeGroat 33). Consequently, this perception of women as economic competitors also fed into the idea that working women were nothing more than victims of the bourgeoise. It was believed among socialist writers that women were victims of “sexual and economic exploitation by the bourgeois classes”, so that the bourgeoisie could reap in more profits from them and continue to limit the economic powers of the working man (DeGroat 33). This perception of the working women highlights both the power struggle between the bourgeoise and the working class, and how women were viewed as the weaker sex and thus powerless to prevent this exploitation. This perception plays into the idea that any challenge to the male dominated labour force was a plot by the bourgeoise, with the goal of removing sources of power away from the working class.
In addition to this, there is another aspect of resentment towards the working women that DeGroat highlights, which is how the working woman was viewed as the antithesis to womanhood. This increased activism resulted in women being characterized as “mannish […] desexed, as foolish young things led by others, or as raging viragos” (DeGroat 36). As the participation of women in the workforce amplified, so did their engagement in politics which again, threatened the power of men among political circles.
Overall, these perceptions of working women in France highlight the power struggle among differing economic classes and consequently, how the revolutionary processes continued to influence French society. The February Revolution had resulted in a power vacuum, which resulted in competition among the working and the bourgeoise classes. However, when working women emerged as competitors to working men, it was met with resentment and change in how men viewed women. This resentment accelerated when working women were seen outside of the familial domain and consequently, their womanhood was questioned among men. This is because working women did not fit the image of womanhood that was generally accepted among society at the time.
A Social Revolution in France.
The definition of revolution, as defined by Goldstone is a combination of “forcible overthrow of the government, mass mobilization, the pursuit of a vision of social justice, and the creation of new political institutions (Goldstone 6). DeGroat never explicitly describes a violent revolution, yet the processes from the February Revolution is seen among the shifting social dynamics among working men and women. While DeGroat may not be discussing a revolution in the traditional sense, she is describing a social revolution that took place with the emergence of the Second Republic. As working women shifted the power dynamics between themselves and working men, the perception of women shifted as a result. Overall, there is a struggle for power among working women and men, representing a broader social revolution, where traditional gender roles were challenged.
- Degroat, Judith A. “The Public Nature of Womens Work: Definitions and Debates during the Revolution of 1848.” French Historical Studies, vol. 20, no. 1, 1997, pp. 31–47., doi:10.2307/286797.
- Goldstone, Jack A. “1. What Is a Revolution? – Very Short Introductions.” 1. What Is a Revolution? – Very Short Introductions, Oxford University Press, 27 June 2019, https://www.veryshortintroductions.com/view/10.1093/actrade/9780199858507.001.0001/actrade-9780199858507-chapter-1.
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