Domesticity and Political Participation: At Home with the Jacobin Women

AuthorSandrine Bergès
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1177/10659129221079865
Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Article
Political Research Quarterly
2023, Vol. 76(1) 213223
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
sagepub.com/journals-permissions
DOI: 10.1177/10659129221079865
journals.sagepub.com/home/prq
Domesticity and Political Participation: At
Home with the Jacobin Women
Sandrine Bergès
1
Abstract
The exclusion of women from political participation and the separation of private and public spheres seem anchored in
human history to such an extent that we may think they are necessary. I offer an analysis of a philosophical moment in
history, the early years of the French Revolution, where politics and domesticity were not incompatible. I show how this
enabled women to participate in politics from within their homes, at the same time fulf‌illing their duties as wives and
mothers. The republican home, on this interpretation, was a place of power and virtue, a merging of the public and the
private sphere where political ideals and reforms could be born and nurtured. This conception of the home was derived
in great part from a reading of Rousseaus writings on motherhood. As the inf‌luence of French revolutionary women
became more visible, they were severely repressed. The fact that they could not hold on to a position of power that
derived naturally from the ideals they and others defended, I will suggest, was caused both by the fact that the framework
used to allow women political power was insecure, and by the gradual replacement of republican ideals by liberal ones.
Keywords
political participation, gender, domesticity, public and private sphere, French revolution, feminism
Private and Public Sphere: When Did
Things Go Wrong?
This paper investigates a brief philosophical moment in
European historythe French Revolution between 1789
and 1793when it was possible for women to participate
in politics. This moment failed to amplify. I ask why it did
and propose the following answer. Women philosophers
of the French Revolution wanted political inf‌luence.
Republican ideals, together with Rousseaus writings on
motherhood, had opened up a space for women to par-
ticipate from within their homes, fulf‌illing their duties as
wives and mothers in a way that mattered politically. The
republican home, as a place of power and virtue, repre-
sented a merging of the public and the private sphere and a
place where political ideals and reforms could be born and
nurtured. Yet as womensinf‌luence became more visible,
they were severely repressed and the idea that the home
could be anything other than a place to nurture children
slowly disappeared.
I will argue that the failure of domestic participation to
thrive, or even survive, was a combination of two factors.
First, while it was Rousseaus ideas that had led to a
conception of domesticity as politically powerful, these
ideas did not hold up to the scrutiny in the light of
Rousseaus views on womens nature. Secondly, as re-
publican values gave way to liberal ones from 1795
onward, the family as a political unit gave way to the
individual and the home lost its political aspect. In fact, it
turned out that even the strongest supporters of political
womanhood did not offer unconditional support, and were
quick to withdraw it. I will conclude that while the efforts
of the Jacobin women did not lead to womens political
emancipation, the ways they found of making the home
central to politics are worth investigating, as they may
help us pursue ways of increasing womens political
participation.
The pairing of the public and political, or the private
and domestic, has not always been clear-cut, mostly
because family life has not always been thought of as
separate from politics.
1
Carole Pateman argues that civic
republican thought, such as eighteenth-century philoso-
phers engaged with, to some extent enabled womens
1
Department of Philosophy, Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey
Corresponding Author:
Sandrine Bergès, Department of Philosophy, Bilkent University, Bilkent,
Ankara 06800, Turkey.
Email: sandrineberges@gmail.com

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