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Caricature of Women in France The cartoons of women which appeared in 1848 are part of a longstanding tradition. Caricaturists like Honoré Daumier, Cham, Edmond de Beaumont and Henri Emy were already well-established and had many years' experience in portraying woman in all of her characteristic poses. Caricatures of women from the revolutionary period were particularly interesting because they were a specific response to women's activism during this period. Not only did they record women's demands for the right to vote, the legalization of divorce, wider access to education and better job opportunities and higher wages. These pictures were also part of the opposition to these demands. Through ridicule of the women revolutionaries and their aims, Daumier and others attempted to reduce the power of radical women.

These caricaturists very clearly responded to the increase in women's public activities. The number of cartoons that focused on women's demands for equal rights reached its height between May and July 1848. It tapered off toward the end of 1848, and few caricatures of women from 1849 addressed the question of feminist demands. In the first few weeks after the revolution of February 24, satiric magazines like Charivari and the Journal pour Rire published cartoons that gently mocked middle-class women and lorettes -- the pretty working-class girls who became the mistresses of bourgeois men. Many were apolitical depictions of Paris during the carnival season. In one, an overweight middle-class woman has just chosen one of two men as her dancing partner. The caption read: "The happier of the two is not the dancer."

However by April, the cartoons were responding directly to women's demands that they be allowed to participate in public life and take an active role in the revolution. Some of these were of a type that would continue to be popular throughout the revolution; they combined older stereotypes about women with current events. One from the Journal pour Rire for April 8 showed a middle-class couple in conversation. The wife said, "I need a shawl, I need a dress, I need a hat..." The husband replies, "But, my dear wife, I don't have any money and..."

"Well, fine!" the wife interrupts, "Ask the government for some -- everyone else does it, so do what they're doing!"

Other cartoonists also sought to diffuse the anxiety created by the idea of female soldiers by showing that women in uniform were the same frivolous creatures they had always been. Two caricatures from this period showed women gathered together outdoors, dressed in a combination of military and conventional feminine clothing. One portraied several women holding bayonets, creating a double-meaning for the caption: "Take up arms! Let's go off to fix our make-up!" In another, the cartoonist made fun of women for their inability to stop talking and their willingness to spend their husbands' money on clothes. (Figure 1) Edmond de Beaumont portrayed the Vésuviennes, a unit of women soldiers, as similarly conventional. While he drew them wearing pants and carrying guns, they were still graceful and full of charm. (Figure 2) The idea of women as soldiers was threatening to men -- and liberating to the Parisian women who used the image to sanction their own protests in 1848. However, even with their rifles in hand, Beaumont's Vésuviennes were still sweet young girls, designed to amuse, not alarm his audience.

The woman orator challenged conventional ideas of femininity nearly as much as did the idea of women as soldiers. The women's club took women out of the home and away from their children; more importantly, it gave women a public forum controlled by their own sex, where they could speak publicly on substantive issues -- and where men were not necessarily welcome. For his series "Les Divorceuses," Daumier drew a cartoon which showed the power of having such a forum. In it, an unattractive woman, swept up in her own rhetoric, advocated divorce from the speaker's platform to a large hall filled with women. As in many of Daumier's caricatures, these women were full of barely contained energy and emotion; they appeared unpredictable and even dangerous. (Figure 3)

Feminists were usually shown as despising marriage and all of its duties, from bearing children to sewing buttons on a man's pants. (Figure 4) In a series called "Current Events", Beaumont drew a "Banquet Féminosocialiste" -- a group of women, their children underfoot, raising their glasses as a very obviously pregnant young woman proposed a toast to the abolition of the family. For his series on socialist women, Daumier drew three unattractive women who declared, "The insurrection against husbands is proclaimed the most sacred of duties." Caricaturists alternated between depicting women's support of divorce as a threat to men, and asserting (rather weakly, in many cases) that men had better reasons than women to want divorce. In Charivari, a child exclaimed, "Look, papa, this is the writing exercise that mama has given me this morning," and showed a horrified father a piece of paper on which he had written "divorce" over and over. Many cartoons made the point that women had little to gain from divorce, since, as things stood in French society, they already controlled men without it. In one, a scowling woman declared that her husband wasn't much, but she liked him and was against divorce. Her husband, standing behind her, was dressed in rags. He had a rope tied around his ankle, the other end of which his wife held firmly in her hand.

The most consistently recurring theme, however, was that women could not escape their sexual desires or their desirability to men. Daumier and others used sexual innuendo to belittle women's attempts to take part in public life. If a wife told her husband that she was off to the women's club, she was, in fact, surely on her way to meet her lover. The humor in these cartoons was part of a tried and true formula by 1848; in Daumier's series of drawings of the Bluestockings from the early 1830s, he often portrayed these intellectual women as in search of illicit sex rather than knowledge. In one, a timid husband entered his drawing room, saying, "My dear, have you finished collaborating with the gentleman?" -- while his wife and her co-author just manage to raise themselves upright on the sofa.

Alternatively, feminists and radical women were shown as ugly, shrewish or disgruntled. Caricaturists suggested that they simply wanted to turn the tables on men and to rule over them instead of being ruled. (Figure 5) According to Daumier and others these women looked to feminism as a substitute for woman's "natural" activities, caring for her husband and children. These women were shown trying to control the sexual pleasure of others out of envy -- what each feminist really wanted was a man of her own. In one caricature, four ugly old women were talking together and one said, "Mesdemoiselles, let us decree that all bachelors will be seized, arrested and married off on the spot!"

Many of the cartoons played on the absurdity of men and women exchanging roles. They echoed the socialist Proudhon, who said of Jeanne Deroin, "A woman legislator is about as conceivable as a male wet-nurse." To them, nothing could be more ridiculous than a woman at a lecture podium, or a group of men sitting at a ball, looking timidly up at the women who might ask one of them to dance. Many of these pictures frankly acknowledged that women's lot was inferior to that of men and accused women of wanting only to turn the tables on men. One explicit cartoon by Emy showed a defiant wife in pants exclaiming "Slavery is abolished, Monsieur my husband, now it's your turn to be a slave," while her husband, wearing a skirt and carrying a marketing basket, looked at her anxiously. In 1848, caricature was very much a two-way street of communication between men and women. Women were aware of how they were portrayed in the press; in the case of the Vésuviennes, they took up a mocking image of their sex as soldiers and used it, at least temporarily, to expand their role in public life. Both caricaturists and their female subjects saw the irony inherent in depicting the republic as a valiant woman, Marianne, while still restricting women's place in that republic to the home. One cartoonist even suggested that women would march on the Provisional Government to right this wrong. (Figure 6) However, both sides understood the double-edged nature of the charivari -- the ritualized and temporary reversal of roles in the social hierarchy. In the short run, women did gain a wider sphere of public activity, even if woman did not quite ride man's back, whip in hand, as one artist so vividly depicted her. But eventually, turning the world upside down had its traditional effect, that of anchoring the relations between men and wom en all the more firmly "right side up."

Illustrations Figure 1. Women in uniform, gathered outdoors under a large tree. Caption: "Plan for uniforms. The citizenesses of the republic wish to organize themselves in a voluntary mobile corps, and to supply their uniforms at their husbands' expense. They promise to maintain order at all times and to maintain silence ... once in awhile." Journal pour Rire, 8 April 1848. Figure 2. Four Vésuviennes, all in pants and military hats. Caption: "Well now, Virginia. This is the first time one can boast of having forced to toe the line." Edmond de Beaumont, "Les Vésuviennes" Charivai, 15 May 1848. Figure 3. Woman speaking vehemently from a platform to a large room full of women. Honor‚ Daumier, "Les Divorceuses." Charivari " Les Vésuviennes" , June, 1848. Figure 4. Vésuvienne wearing pants and a military hat, her gun in hand. Caption: "`Phrasie ... only sew this but ton for me. I can't go out without it.' `Never again!' Edmond de Beaumont, "Les Vésuviennes" Charivari, 20 June 1848. Figure 6. Dignified young woman in mid-twenties, talking to other attentive women under some trees. Caption: "Citizenesses, what is liberty? A woman! What is the Republic? A woman! Why do we leave the power to men? ... it isn't as if they govern so well! Let us march to the Provisional Government and lift it up, so that it will fall ... at our knees." Journal pour Rire, 13 May 1848.
Micheèle Plott


Struminger, Laura S. "The Vésuviennes: Images of Women Warriors in 1848 and their Significance for French History," History of European Ideas VIII, No. 4/5 (1987), 451-488.

Daumier, Honor. Lib Women (Bluestockings and Socialist Women). preface by Françoise Parturier. New York and Paris: Leon Amiel Publisher Inc., 1974.

Aguhlon, Maurice. Marianne into Battle: Republican imagery and symbolism in France, 1789-1880. Cambridge and London: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Clark, T.J. The Absolute Bourgeois: Artists and Politics in France, 1848-1851. Greenwich, Conn.: 1973.

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