A Different Way to Revolt


Olympe de Gouges was forty-five years old when she was beheaded in front of all of Paris after being convicted of treason. This was not uncommon in 1793, when the Reign of Terror was sweeping France. The budding French republic was being so fervently protected that what emerged wasn’t a republic at all. Maximilien Robespierre and his Committee of Public Safety were responsible for thousands of deaths, declaring everyone whose opinion they disliked an “enemy of the republic."

Olympe de Gouges was deemed an enemy because of her writing. As a female activist, she wrote many plays and pamphlets challenging the gender dynamics in France at the time. Her magnum opus is “Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen” published in 1791. In it, De Gouges argues that France can never be a republic without the inclusion of women in the political system. She even includes a script for agreeing to be partners in a relationship. It was, however, not well received by the male population of France, and made her a target for the Committee of Public Safety after the revolution.

At Olympe de Gouges’s trial, the same piece of evidence was used by both the prosecutor and defendant: France Preserved, or the Tyrant Dethroned, de Gouges’s new play. At the end of the first act, a swarm of revolutionaries surround Marie Antoinette, the recently executed Queen of France. De Gouges wrote herself as one of these revolutionaries. Amazingly, instead of murdering her, de Gouges takes the time to reason with Antoinette. It’s a scolding in place of a scorching. De Gouges’s prosecutors used this to argue against her. They claim that it showed sympathy to the monarchy. Maybe they were right. Maybe Olympe de Gouges wished that she could have saved the monarchy, or at least the royal family.

I am sixteen right now. The year is 2018. Looking at the world around me, it can feel like not much has changed since the Reign of Terror. We are angry and vicious, and being so might destroy our perfect democracy before it happens in the first place. But we have the choice in how we write the end of our fist act. There is the option to just blindly reject any difference in opinion until there is no democracy to speak of and no people to govern. Or, we can write the ending like de Gouges’s. One in which we reprimand our government for their wrongdoings, but look to a future in which they serve us better. Let’s challenge ourselves to reason with the Marie Antoinettes of our lives. We have the power to find a different way to revolt.


By Ilana Maiman

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