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Human civilization has come a remarkably long way since the 18th century. With improvements in the social, economic, and academic structures of society, it is evident that there have been numerous effects on the lives of people across the world. Considering the women, in particular, it can be stated that their lives have changed significantly as a result of several events in the history of the world. The French civilization is considered to be one of the most developed ones on the planet with a very rich history in social, political, cultural, and intellectual aspects. Generally, France is one of those countries that have had a significant impact on the cultures of other states both near and far beyond its national borders. Its historical events and occurrences are thus an important part of the factors that will help in the discussion of the changes in the women’s lives of the country over the past 150 years. This paper will consider the female’s lives in the 19th and 20th centuries to establish how much has changed for them. It will also especially focus on the differences between the women’s lives in these centuries and the ones they have now. The mentioned periods of time are considered very important in the females’ history throughout the world, and, thus, they are included so that they provide a more conclusive picture of the changes that have been experienced by the French women so far.
The 19th Century Women in France
The 19th-century women in France were second-class citizens with a lot of responsibilities and relatively little or no appreciation. They were obliged to cater to the needs of their husbands, children, and even extended families, and yet, they were neither respected nor protected by their male counterparts including their partners, fathers, brothers, and neighbors (Allen, 2008). Generally, it can be stated that the 19th century presented French women with extremely difficult circumstances on the social platform. First, they were rarely allowed to work outside the home. Economically, times were hard and the men could barely support their families. This pressed the males to allow their wives to find jobs outside the home provided it would not cause them to neglect their duties as homemakers. However, their labor was not valued the same as that of their male counterparts. They were neither paid equally nor accorded the same amount of respect.
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This means that on the social platform, the life of the 19th-century French women was unbearable, to say the least. They were oppressed and disrespected, often disregarded as lesser human beings with minimal rights. This means that they were socially incapacitated and left to live like meaningless people. The fact that they were treated as second-class citizens implies that they did not have rights and freedoms like their male counterparts. They were married off young according to their father’s interests, could not initiate a divorce unless they could prove adultery in which the man brought a concubine to their matrimonial home, and had no opportunity to claim over property and even children. Generally, they lived like the subjects of their fathers and husbands all through their lives, are expected to submit to the male folk, and yet break their backs for their entire families.
Economically, their lives were also very hard. They had to cope with the meager earnings of their husbands in maintaining the homes, and when they set out to look for work they were given lesser pay than their male colleagues. Women in the 19th century were often left with physically strenuous tasks that included farming in the rural areas while their husbands were away working in the factories in urban areas. In the town setting, women were employed as maids, accountants, governesses, cooks, hostesses, and tutors, and even in all these positions, they were paid very poorly. Generally, they were restricted with regards to the jobs that they could do, and this also limited their chances of becoming economically independent at the time.
Politically, women were really incapacitated as well. They were not allowed to vote, or even argue about the politics of the state. Their work was to sit quietly, bear children and keep the home running. While the upper-class women were mostly educated and given the chance to host salons and moderate as well as participate in public political and social discussions, they were not openly acknowledged for their leadership qualities. Rather, they were seen as worthy companions of the leaders and rulers. They also were not permitted to vote despite the intellectual prowess they acquired because they had access to good education as provided by their wealthy fathers and husbands.
It can thus be said that the life of a French woman in the 19th century was not pleasant. They worked too hard, received little compensation, and were not at all appreciated in whatever they did. And while the upper-class women may have had significantly easier lives than their peasant counterparts who had to work on the farms and as maids and cooks, they also had a hard time being appreciated for their ideas and efforts in the political and economic arena.
The 20th Century Women in France
The 20th century saw a new wave of modernization across the whole of Europe with more women taking up part-time and full-time jobs and even being able to vote. Moreover, polygamy was effectively eliminated, and women were generally considered to have rights and freedoms that were somewhat equal to those of their male counterparts. Additionally, issues of maximum working hours and minimum wage were straightened out within this century allowing them to receive equal pay for equal work done. Another significant achievement for 20th-century women in entire Europe was the introduction of the right to work without the husband’s permission that was granted in 1965 (Hunt, 2004). This implied that females could choose for themselves whether to be full-time wives or career women regardless of what their partners thought or wanted.
Like in most parts of the world, this century saw a feminism wave in France that put the rights and freedoms of women among the most important discussions. It was during this period that the Napoleonic Code was brought down due to its long-lasting oppression of womenfolk. With the growth of feminism, French women became more liberalized and capable of living independently and doing business with the male folk. This means that the 20th century saw some level of emancipation of the females with regards to what they could and could not do. Socially, they were allowed to interact more freely without gender-based prejudice. The marriages were still arranged by the parents for socio-economic interests, and the daughters often had nothing to do about it except comply and learn to love and respect their husbands. The daring ones eloped, and others even committed suicides. Towards the end of the century, however, marriage required the consent of both the mother and the father implying that daughters could have their way if they colluded with their mothers. This significantly improved their chances of having happy marriages based on mutual love and not family interests. Furthermore, females had the chance to get substantial education that turned them into a part of the country’s growing intellect. As a result, there was a significant increase in the number of influential women in terms of writers, poets, painters, and singers. They finally attained social acceptance and appreciation as worthy human beings.
Economically, they could find work and be equally paid regardless of their gender. They were also allowed to operate businesses and improve their lives even if they were married as opposed to being considered the property of their husbands as it was in the 19th century. Politically, these women could vote, thus, they had a say in the affairs of the nation.
The largest challenge that had to be faced by 20th-century women in France was the fact that they had to choose between their families and careers. The females were barely allowed to work, and when they could find work, they still had to take care of their families. As a result, a large number of women in France remained housewives through the century taking on part-time jobs that enabled them to stay at home and be the homemakers that they had been brought up to be.
Comparing the mentioned two periods, it can be stated that the 19th century was by far worse for the French women who barely endured it as human beings. They had too much work, lived like paupers, and were largely unprotected and unappreciated like second-class citizens. The 20th century, on the other hand, saw the womenfolk being recognized as a result of the global feminist movement that was going on everywhere else. And while the French women endured this oppression until the 1960s, they were eventually freed and treated like the first-class citizens that they really were.
The French Women Today
The 21st century is a largely different place for the French woman. With great advances in technology and changes in mindsets, the females in France today are neither defined nor inhibited by their cultural dispensation (Carles, 1992). They are considered equal to their male counterparts in many ways. This can be established on four pivotal grounds that are discussed below.
Economically, women in France can now own property and businesses without a male partner or sponsor. This means that they can work hard and invest in lucrative business ventures without having to submit the fruits of their labor to their husbands and fathers. They are also allowed to participate in whichever profession they choose as opposed to the previous centuries in which they were restricted to housekeeping duties and those that allowed them to remain within their houses. A major advantage of being a French woman today is the ability to have a career and a family. The tough economic times and the years of experience have taught the French people that women can contribute greatly to the economy, and thus, husbands are more willing to have career women as their wives.
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Socially, women are considered equal to their male counterparts. They have similar rights and freedoms, and they can do just about everything that their male counterparts can. In more ways than one, the French woman is now more respected, protected, and appreciated than she has ever been. They can go to school, get married as they wish, initiate a divorce if they deem fit, participate in public discussions as speakers and not just hostesses and moderators, and do many other things that they were previously banned from doing in public. This means that their lives have changed from being second-class citizens without rights and freedoms to first-class citizens protected and valued by the law just like their male counterparts.
Economically, the women in France today can participate in any profession of their choice provided they qualify for it. They can own property and run businesses just like their male counterparts. Moreover, they are not discriminated against in terms of employment and are equally compensated for the work done.
Politically, women, today can not only vote but also vie for leadership positions. The country has had several female leaders over the past few years although they are yet to register a female president.
The French women have experienced several changes concerning their lives over the past few years. Looking at the 19th and 20th centuries, it can be said that their lives today are in many ways much better than it was in the past. In the 21st century, French women go to schools, choose their careers and marriage partners, get paid equally, get hired into professions that were previously considered too masculine, and generally are appreciated and protected by the law as first-class citizens. This means that their lives have significantly improved based on the international call to appreciating women in general. Considering that the 19th and 20th centuries were both considerably dark for the females, it can be assumed that these periods helped to lay the groundwork and set the pace for the changes being registered at the moment. The women can now consider themselves more empowered socially, economically, and even politically.