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Debating the Woman Question in the French Third Republic, 1870–1920

Debating the Woman Question in the French Third Republic, 1870–1920

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Part of New Studies in European History

  • Publication planned for: December 2020
  • availability: Not yet published - available from December 2020
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316638408

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Not yet published - available from December 2020
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About the Authors
  • Karen Offen offers a magisterial reconstruction and analysis of the debates around relations between women and men, how they are constructed, and how they should be organized, that raged in France and its French-speaking neighbors from 1870 to 1920. The 'woman question' encompassed subjects from maternity and childbirth, and the upbringing and education of girls to marriage practices and property law, the organization of households, the distribution of work inside and outside the household, intimate sexual relations, religious beliefs and moral concerns, government-sanctioned prostitution, economic and political citizenship, and the politics of population growth. The book shows how the expansion of economic opportunities for women and the drop in the birth rate further exacerbated the debates over their status, roles, and possibilities. With the onset of the First World War, these debates were temporarily placed on hold, but they would be revived by 1916 and gain momentum during France's post-war recovery.

    • Proposes an innovative, gendered, thematic view of French history during the first fifty years of the Third Republic
    • Provides and analyzes the actual debates on the woman question as they took place over small periods of time, with attention to defenders of the masculine-dominated status quo as well as to the challengers who contested male hegemony
    • Written in narrative prose, without theoretical jargon or conceit; no theoretical template has been imposed
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'No one has done more over the past forty years to establish women's history in the scholarship of the French Third Republic than Karen Offen. Now, in Debating the Woman Question, we have her chef d'oeuvre. It was worth the wait: a deeply thought-out analysis of many sides of the 'woman question' from maternity through education to religion and economics. It is a must-read for anyone interested in modern France.' Steven C. Hause, Professor Emeritus, Washington University, St. Louis and University of Missouri, St. Louis

    'This is a brilliant reconstruction and analysis of eight decades of heated quarrels in which feminists, female as well as male, talked back to anti-feminists, contesting male authority, in France as well as in other francophone and neighboring countries. A fascinating wealth of sources, many of them unknown heretofore, inform and contextualize the analysis which leads up to Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex and will certainly arouse important scholarly debates.' Gisela Bock, Freie Universität Berlin

    'The work of a celebrated pioneer in the history of women, Karen Offen's much anticipated history of the woman question in France, is a deeply researched, erudite study of the multifaceted debates that engaged women and men across the political spectrum during the first fifty years of the Third Republic. A variety of topics emerged: the intelligence, nature, duties, rights, and other characteristics of women that qualified them for or disqualified them from full citizenship and public responsibility. The rich debate plus the engaging cast of characters should finally discredit the cliche that French women thinkers and activists were less evolved than feminist activists elsewhere. Given the widening interest in feminism today, Offen's incomparable scholarship is a foundational resource.' Bonnie G. Smith, Rutgers University, New Jersey

    'It is difficult to convey how impressive Offen's two books are, and this summary cannot do justice to them. There is no historian better versed in the intricacies of the women question in France and the breadth of the scholarship on display is breathtaking. Offen also writes beautifully. The prose is clear and lucid, and every chapter demonstrates the depth of her knowledge.' Christine Adams, H-France

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    Product details

    • Publication planned for: December 2020
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316638408
    • availability: Not yet published - available from December 2020
  • Table of Contents

    General introduction: 'what do women want?' and quotations
    Part I. Familiarization: Romance with the Republic, 1870s–1889:
    1. Relaunching the Republican campaign for women's rights:
    2. Educators, medical and social scientists, and population experts debate the woman question, 1870–1889
    3: The politics of the family, women's work, and public morality, 1870–1890
    4. The revolutionary centennial: promoting women and women's rights at the 1889 International Exposition in Paris
    Part II. Encounter: the Third Republic Faces Feminist Claims, 1890–1900: Quotations and introductory remarks
    5. The birth and 'take-off' of feminism in republican France
    6: Rights or protection for working women?
    7. Must maternity be women's form of patriotism? 8. The new century greets the woman question, 1900
    Part III. Climax: Mainstreaming the Woman Question, 1901–1914: Quotations and introductory remarks
    9. Building a force to reckon with the Republic: The Conseil National des Femmes Françaises and its allies, 1900–1914
    10. Defining, historicizing, contesting, and defending feminism: early 20th century developments
    11. Refocusing the state: depopulation, maternity, and the quest for a woman-friendly state
    12. Emerging labor issues: equal pay for equal work, travail à domicile, and women's right to work
    13. 'The alpha and omega of our demands' – the women's suffrage campaigns heat up, 1906–1914
    Part IV. Anti-Climax: the Great War and its Aftermath: Quotations and introductory remarks
    14. The Great War and the woman question
    15. 'Half the human race': epilogue and conclusion
    Appendix: important dates for the woman question debates

  • Author

    Karen Offen, Stanford University, California
    Karen Offen received her Ph.D. from Stanford University, California and is a historian and independent scholar affiliated as a Senior Scholar with the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University.

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