Woman—Her Position and Duties

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Jean Deroin

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I BEGIN by asserting, what to me is an axiom, that Woman must be either a slave and prostitute or free and chaste. There is no middle ground.

Repress no longer the full action of women's powers; favor the free development of their intellect; present a truly noble end for their activity, and all fears for the weakness of their hearts, or the delusions of their imaginations, may be laid aside

You wish to knit more closely the bonds of family, oh men! yet you sunder them by the maxim, "Man for the forum and workshop, woman for the domestic hearth." Separated from husbands and sons, fathers and brothers, what remains for women but to console themselves, in actual isolation and servitude, by dreaming of a celestial country, where they shall have true rights of citizenship, and be no more pressed down by inequalities and privileges denied. Vainly you endeavor to establish civil equality now; Society rests on the family; so long as the family is founded in inequality, society will retrace its old devious paths, and sink back again into what is called "the natural order of things" From the beginning of the world there have been slaves and masters, the oppressed and tyrants, the privileged by sex, race, birth, caste, fortune; these will continue just so long as you refuse to fulfill the plain duties of fraternity towards those whom God has given you as sisters and companions.

Do you ask, what will be the mission of woman beyond the limits of the family? What, indeed! She will come to aid you—in re-establishing order in the wretchedly mismanaged establishment which is called the State,—in substituting just distribution of the products of toil for the habitual privation beneath which the broken down laborer now groans and suffers.

A mother of a family, worthy the name, loves by preference the weak and suffering among her children, but with anxious solicitude she seeks to protect all equally from hunger and cold, and strives to awaken in all their hearts a sentiment of mutual sympathy. Will she not do for the great family of society, what she now does for the small household, so soon as the narrow circle of domestic affections is enlarged and raised to the level of high humanitary interests.

It is as Christians, as Citizens, as Mothers, that women should reclaim the position which belongs to them, in the Church, in the State, in the Family.

As Christians, because they are like men, children of God, and Christ himself has summoned them to be his apostles.

As Citizens, because they too are a part of the people, entitled to the rights of liberty and equality, enjoyed by other citizens.

Especially as Mothers, whose sacred functions are so often considered as incompatible with the duties of citizenship, should women reclaim their right to watch over and guide their children not only in the acts of civil life, but throughout the whole range of political duties.

Thus far in the world's history, Politics has been used as the art of oppressing, rather than of governing, the people; and governments have been forced, therefore, to maintain power by the bayonet. To govern, it is thought, is to repress, more or less skillfully, more or less brutally, according to time and circumstances, the desires of men. Therefore have women been considered incapable of governing. But here is found the very reason, why they should insist upon their right to aid all men of heart and intelligence in transferring this Politics of violence and oppression, which has produced and must produce bitter hatred, and which is the source of all social suffering and misery.

The exhaustless desire to love and to be beloved, which God has planted in the heart of woman, is the powerful and fruitful germ of that matured love, which should always inspire her, and guide her to the fulfillment of the sacred function entrusted to her. of being a mother to the whole human family. When women shall comprehend that they owe obedience only to God; that all men are their brethren; that all women arc their sisters; and that they are called to be mothers not only of their own children, but also of the children of their sisters, and especially mothers to all who are hungry and cold in mourning and sorrow, orphaned and outcast;—when women shall comprehend this sublime humanitary maternity which should bind them all in one by the tie of solidarity, then will the Race really enter on the path of progress.

[to Be Continued.]






It is as mothers, that women should consecrate themselves to the work of preparing a better future for their children. Is there an intelligent mother, worthy of that name, who does not experience profound anxiety in seeing these frail creatures cast out to grow up amid the disturbances of revolutionary eras, and in thinking of the storms which an improvident system of politics, selfish at once and cruel, has brought upon their heads? All mothers, whatever their social position or their faith, must have the same interest, the same end.—the well-being of their children. All then should equally desire a social organization which would give them a feeling of security as to the future fate of beings so dear. This never has been given, never could be given by societies based, as those of the past have been, on the right of the strongest, on privilege, on the oppression of man. But this feeling of security can and will spring up in societies, based, as those of the future are to be, on the principles of fraternity and universal solidarity, of which woman should be the most ardent apostle.

If women of the privileged classes could but be made to understand that their present high condition can not protect their children from the vicissitudes of fortune; if they could but learn to remember that their own ancestors perhaps, once bent the knee as slaves and serfs, before the progenitors of the very half-clad beggar boys upon whom they now look down with pity; if the veil of the past could but be lifted before them; then would they comprehend that their maternal love must not be confined to their own children, but enlarged to embrace the young of this and all succeeding generations; then would they recognize the truth, that only when unitary societies shall pledge themselves to ensure the well-being of each of their members however humble, can security be felt for the happiness of any one, however honored.

And if women of the working classes would but comprehend that it is one of their duties to reclaim the right of being completely mothers; if they could but be taught that society is bound to exert a watchful providence over the child before its birth, by exempting the mother from exhausting toil during the period when she is fulfilling her sacred function of supplying society with new members,—members who will be active, intelligent, useful, and every way fit for advancing the general prosperity, in proportion to the harmonious development to all their faculties; then would they become convinced of the necessity of that grand social reform which can alone ensure them the right of preserving their children from misery, ignorance and despotism.

When women of all classes shall accept these great truths, then will all mothers unite to accomplish that grand Mission of humanity, which religion and the true science of society make known.

The mission of women in the present age, is an apostleship, whose end is the introduction of God's kingdom upon earth. The means of fulfilling that end, is to lead mankind into the way Which Providence marks out, by reconciling individuals, families, classes, nations, now separated from one another by hostile interests, varying opinions, and incessant competition. But the indispensable condition for this reconcilement is to put away once and forever, the causes of strife between the two grand halves of humanity, man and woman. And the very first step toward this reform is to proclaim on high the civil and political equality of the sexes, and to demand the practical realization of the rights of women, by the press, by speech, and incessant protests against the violations of those principles of liberty, equality) and fraternity, which are the law of God. It should be clearly understood, that the. abolition of the privileges of race, birth, caste, fortune, can not be complete and radical, until the privilege of sex is utterly destroyed, because this is the root of all the others. And now, whatever may be the varieties of opinion and of faith, religious and social, among women consecrated to the accomplishment of their sublime mission, let all be convinced that in this era of transition, the only practicable mode of fulfilling their high duty is the reclaiming of woman's rights to citizenship.

Let women then, who comprehend the grandeur of their religious and social mission, unite and pledge to each other their devoted aid, in introducing by every means of action, consistent with the dignity of their sex, and peaceful sentiments, the Reign of God upon earth—the realization of the three great principles, which hold in germ the happy societies of future ages.

Let us demand in the name of Fraternity, that the sacred law of Solidarity, which unites in one living body, all members of the human family, should be no longer misconceived and disobeyed; and that all shall be admitted to partake of the blessings which God bestows on all; that society as a whole shall become responsible for the well-being of each of its members; and that no one shall consider himself exempt from the duty of using every faculty for the common good.

Let us demand in the name of Equality, a total abolition of the privileges of sex, race, birth, caste, fortune;

For Women, for Children, for the Laboring classes we would secure the first of all rights, the right to live, and a full development of every power, physical, intellectual, moral:

Education, free and equal;

Professional and scientific culture, according to aptitudes;

The right to labor;

Admissions to social functions in proportion to power of usefulness, without distinction of sex;

Means of enjoyment and social relaxation, so requisite for those oppressed by anxiety and toil;

For the sick and infirm, affectionate care; for the aged, generous hospitality and honorable repose; due recompense and respect for all.

Let us demand in the name of Liberty, honor for the rights of every human being; liberty of conscience; liberty of speech; liberty of the press; liberty of association; freedom for all without distinction of sex to participate in making laws, and distributing the profits of labor.

If our words of peace and conciliation are heard, there will be an end to bloody conflicts and inhuman tricks of policy. Misery and Ignorance, the last of the peoples tyrants, will disappear forever: because fraternity, equality, liberty, will thenceforth be verified in deeds.

  • Jean Deroin, “Woman—Her Position and Duties,” The Spirit of the Age 1, no. 2 (July 14, 1849): 27-28.
  • Jean Deroin, “Woman—Her Position and Duties,” The Spirit of the Age 1, no. 4 (July 28, 1849): 59.