Transcript for Episode 439: Revolutionary Feminist: Exploring the Life and Legacy of Olympe de Gouges

Table of Contents for this Episode

Category: French History


[00:00:16] Annie: This is “Join Us in France” episode 439, quatre cent trente neuf.

[00:00:23] Annie: Bonjour, I’m Annie Sargent, and “Join Us in France” is the podcast where we talk about France. Everyday life in France, great places to visit in France, French culture, history, gastronomy, and news related to travel to France.

Today on the podcast: Revolutionary Feminist: Exploring the Life and Legacy of Olympe de Gouges

[00:00:39] Annie: Today, I bring you a conversation with Elyse Rivin of Toulouse Guided Walks about Olympe de Gouges. A trailblazer in the fight for women’s rights in the 18th century France.

[00:00:52] Annie: After listening to this episode, you’ll start noticing her name when you visit France, because she left a big mark, even if her name is not on every lip.

Podcast supporters

[00:01:01] Annie: This podcast is supported by donors and listeners who buy my tours and services, including my Itinerary Consult Service and my GPS self-guided tours of Paris on the VoiceMap app.

[00:01:14] Annie: And you can browse all of that on my boutique,

The magazine part of the podcast: Bonjour and yes timing matters!

[00:01:19] Annie: For the magazine part of the podcast, after the interview, I’ll discuss why it’s so vital to get into the habit of saying “bonjour” when entering a business in France, and how timing is everything. Even seasoned Francophiles probably don’t understand this, because it goes against the grain.


Annie and Elyse about Olympe de Gouges

[00:01:49] Annie: Bonjour Elyse.

[00:01:50] Elyse Rivin: Bonjour Annie.

[00:01:51] Annie: We have a fun conversation planned today about Olympe de Gouges.

[00:01:55] Elyse Rivin: Oh, yes.

[00:01:56] Annie: She was quite the remarkable woman, wasn’t she?

[00:01:59] Elyse Rivin: She certainly was.

[00:02:01] Annie:

Who was Olympe de Gouges?

[00:02:01] Annie: She was famous for her activism and for pushing very hard for the equality of men and women. But I’m going to let you talk about all of that. But she was also famous for her Declaration of the Rights of Women. And we will get into that in a moment. But to begin with, I would like you to introduce her to us and let us know who she was and how she became so important.

[00:02:25] Elyse Rivin: Okay. So most people out there, I am sure, have never heard of Olympe de Gouges. You have to have either been in certain places to see her name on streets or squares or things like that to wonder who is this person with this very odd name.

Born in Montauban

[00:02:43] Elyse Rivin: Olympe de Gouges actually was born in Montauban, which is a city we’ve talked about that’s about a half an hour from Toulouse, in the year 1748. She was born into what would be called an upper-middle class family with a little bit of money but not noble or anything like that. And there is speculation, although I don’t know if anybody can ever prove it one way or the other, that in fact her legal father was not her biological father, that her mother had been in love with a man who was from a noble family.

Married at 17

[00:03:15] Elyse Rivin: And since the nobles and the bourgeois, which means basically your upper-middle class normal people, could not mix, they never got married, but there’s very, very much speculation that he was indeed her actual father.

[00:03:30] Elyse Rivin: In any event, she was raised in what would be considered to be a kind of comfortable environment. And her name at birth actually was Marie Gouze, G-O-U-Z-E. And unfortunately, like many, many young women who came from that kind of a milieu in the middle of the, well, 1700s, but even before and even later, at the age of 17, she was married off to someone who was 30 years her senior, and I’m cringing as I say that.

[00:04:01] Annie: Yes. that’s horrible.

[00:04:03] Elyse Rivin: Who apparently was someone that absolutely repulsed her, but young women had no rights, no individual privileges or rights of their own. They basically were told what to do and that was what the laws were about at the time. And, so at the age of 17, she was married to this man who died only two or three years later.

The young widow and her son

[00:04:24] Elyse Rivin: And in the interim, one year later, she gave birth to her only child, a son named Pierre Aubry. And when her husband died, it’s interesting in all the things I read, it doesn’t really say how he died. Well, I don’t think it makes much difference.

[00:04:38] Elyse Rivin: But what happened was, she must have had already a certain spirit of independence and probably the marriage must have really damaged her in some way in the sense that she became extremely rebellious. And what she did was she took her son and she took off for Paris where one of her older sisters was already living. This was something that was actually rather scandalous, but apparently this did not bother her at all. To be honest, I have no idea as a widow, whether she inherited a certain amount of money or not, I don’t know what the laws were at the time. But she was determined to make her way in the world without men.

[00:05:19] Annie: Right, and at the time, it was actually better to be a widow than to be a single woman. Widows enjoyed a lot more freedom to make their own decisions and run their own affairs and keep their own money than married women did. And that’s one of the reasons why she never wanted to marry again.

[00:05:41] Elyse Rivin: That’s correct. She was very adamant about it. And interestingly enough, in all of the information that there is about her, what is missing is a psychological profile that would give an idea of how she became what she became, which was an adamant feminist.

Starting in the theater

[00:06:00] Elyse Rivin: And she spent the rest of her life, which was unfortunately not that long, all of the years, basically the 22 years that she lived and was in Paris, she spent all of those years devoted to causes that involved either the equality and the freedom for women or for people of color.

[00:06:22] Elyse Rivin: And she quickly, very quickly became involved with theater groups. And it turns out that there was a difference between being in the theater and being upper class, which was more or less accepted, even if the women who were in the theater were considered a bit to be on the prostitute side or what the French would like to call, a courtesan. And people who were lower down in the economic scale who were literally considered to be not people worthy of even consideration. It’s very interesting that even in the theater, there was a question of class.

[00:06:54] Elyse Rivin: And so she became very involved in the theater. She was apparently the mistress of a wealthy businessman who was very generous to her, which helped her live what would be called a very comfortable life. She had a salon and frequented these other salons. And for those of you who are still not sure what that is, these were like literary groups and artistic groups that were usually run by upper class and aristocratic people, mostly women who received people in their homes. And it was a way of mixing with people and flirting with people and exchanging ideas at the same time.

[00:07:30] Annie: It was a book club on steroids.

[00:07:32] Elyse Rivin: It was a book club. Well, on testosterone too, I think.

[00:07:39] Annie: Yeah, they gathered and exchanged ideas and got to know nice people.

[00:07:44] Annie: We still do this. It’s called a book club.

[00:07:46] Elyse Rivin: It’s called a book club. Yeah. And I think that these salons were probably a lot more exciting and dynamic than some of the book clubs that you and I have been in.

[00:07:56] Annie: No, ours is just fantastic.

1780 Olympe de Gouges writes plays

[00:08:00] Elyse Rivin: Anyway, what happened was that actually starting in the year 1780-something, she started writing plays, or actually I don’t know if it was even prose or poetry, but she started writing things for the theater. But everything she wrote, and I did count on one of the sites on the internet, I tried to make a count of everything that is known that she wrote. She wrote over 18 pieces of theater, whether they were short or long, I don’t know. And she wrote over 60, pamphlets, posters, tracts, articles for newspapers. She was adamant in her beliefs and really, really wanted to make sure that people listened and read and understood these ideas that she had. And without understanding how this came about, one of the first things that she did was write a piece for the theater that had to do with the abolition of slavery.

[00:08:53] Annie: Right. And yes,

She is denied entry into the Pantheon

[00:08:54] Annie: I have a book. When I visited the Pantheon, which is interesting, they had a book of hers in there. We’ll talk about this in a moment, but she was denied entry into the Pantheon, but her book is there.

In defense of people of color

[00:09:07] Annie: And the first essay that they list is an essay about the abolition of slavery. I want to read just now, this is just a translation that I’m doing because I read it in French. But let’s see. Let me find it.

[00:09:22] Annie: So one of the first things she says about black people is ” the cause of blacks, firstly, if they are animals, are we not like them?

[00:09:32] Annie:

[00:09:32] Elyse Rivin: Well, I think it’s very interesting, and of course, it is a bit of a puzzle to try to understand how this became a cause celebre for her, but she was adamant in her defense of people of color and of slavery, which of course, for France, was in the islands, it was not on the mainland. This was an interesting thing. And of course, this was part of the commerce that made France rich at this time in the 18th century. And there were a lot of people who were starting to speak out about the moral aspects of slavery and things like that.

[00:10:02] Elyse Rivin: She wrote a piece that was actually not actually performed until 1791, which is really not very long before she actually died. And it was booed, and it was hissed because in the audience were a lot of people who, first of all, did not like the style with which she wrote. And secondly, I think there was probably a lot of shock that a woman would dare to write a piece that was political and that took a stand about something. And it was a popular or unpopular stand, depending upon who you were at that time.

[00:10:33] Elyse Rivin: There was a circle of people called the Salon de Defense of Noirs, or Black People. But apparently, she was not allowed to join because it was for people who had a lot of money. But she knew a lot of the people. Even Lafayette was a member of this group. There were a bunch of other people who eventually became active in the Revolution, which was not much further after this. And she became known as someone who was both a mondain which is a very interesting word, which was a very worldly person who was elegant, she was apparently very beautiful, but who apparently was considered to be pretentious.

[00:11:08] Elyse Rivin: And who was she to write these tracts about very important political things because she was not really very important as a human being?

[00:11:18] Annie: Right. One of the things that’s really interesting about her is that she believed that she had to speak even when nobody asked her to, which is really important. The whole thing about women being at the table and talking, speak up. She started this. She said, you know, I don’t need to wait for man to invite me to write a book before I write the book. I can do it.

Olympe de Gouges’s writtings

[00:11:43] Annie: She was just adamant about letting everybody know her thoughts and having just as much right to speak as anybody else, which was, it’s crazy that this was not like common knowledge, but it wasn’t.

[00:11:58] Elyse Rivin: It sounds like she was… there was obviously, deep inside her, a certain amount of anger. Now whatever style that took in terms of the way she presented her ideas, it’s hard to know and I think that I would have a hard time reading the original text from the 1700s anyway. But clearly, she was indignant at miscarriages of justice and besides her campaign, which lasted really for the rest of her life to help abolish slavery, the rest of her writings and her ideas had to do with the place of women in the world.

[00:12:33] Annie: Right. And she wrote basically on the same topics as Voltaire, but her writing is not near as fluid and easy. OK, she was mocked a little bit because she was from Montauban, which means that she was raised in Occitan, because that’s how that’s the language people spoke in everyday life.

[00:12:56] Annie: And of course she had learned French and she had gone to school some, but she had not gone to all the better schools and what have you. So people made fun of her simple kind of simpleton kind of language and whatever. But it’s not simpleton. It’s just she’s not as eloquent in her writing as someone like Voltaire. But I mean, it’s hard to live up to the same level of, you know, writing style as Voltaire. But I read it, it’s perfectly intelligible to me. But it’s yeah, it’s a bit labored, let’s put it that way.

[00:13:29] Elyse Rivin: So basically what happend was, she developed a reputation as being a trouble maker and even though she had alias and friends she put herself into dangerous situations over and over and over again. She wrote pieces about the right to divorce. She wrote pieces about the idea that women should have the same political positions as men in society.

[00:13:56] Elyse Rivin: She wrote about having maternities to help women give birth, about the fact that if you were born in an illegitimate situation, you should have the right to be acknowledged. She took on every single cause that is now considered important for women in terms of equality and of freedom.

[00:14:15] Elyse Rivin: She said that religious marriage was like putting chains on somebody. That is one of the reasons why she of course never wanted to get married a second time. She clearly was someone who was very, very adamant about all the things that a woman could do. But it’s very interesting because in the sense that if she also believed in the abolition of slavery and that people of any color were equal, she really had deep down inside her this basic idea of absolute equality for everyone.

Declaration of Human Rights and Citizenship

[00:14:45] Annie: She definitely did. And OK, so maybe this would be a good time to get into this rights of women. OK, so this is the time when they wrote the rights of men and the citizen, the Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen (Declaration of Human Rights and Citizenship). And, you know, sometimes people say, oh, they said men, but they meant humankind. They meant mankind. No, they did not. They did not. They meant men, white men.

[00:15:16] Elyse Rivin: Just like with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in the United States, it was for white men with land.

[00:15:24] Annie: Exactly. So we’ve spent a lot of time earlier in, you know, I’m in my mid 50s. When I was going to school, I had a lot of professors say, oh, but they really meant mankind. B.S. OK? I call B.S. on this one. They meant males, white males.

The rights of women

[00:15:43] Annie: Anyway, Olympe de Gouges wrote The Rights of Women very much like the rights of men. And it’s not as, again it’s not as elegantly written, but the ideas are absolutely fabulous.

Article 1 Woman is born free and lives equal to man in her rights

[00:15:57] Annie: So Article one is woman is born free and lives equal to man in her rights. We admit that today, but back then, it wasn’t obvious.

Article 2 Property, security and resistence to oppression

[00:16:09] Annie: Article two had to do with property, security and resistance to oppression, that women had just about as much right to property, security and resistance to oppression. What a concept.

[00:16:24] Elyse Rivin: Just to realize that even in England at the time and for a long time, women were not equal to men. I mean, this is not just only in France. So this was really revolutionary, these ideas.

[00:16:36] Annie: Definitely, definitely.

Article 3 The state has power to make decisions, not males

[00:16:37] Annie: Article three has to do with the state has power to make decisions, not males. It’s the state that has the power, not the males. I’m sure they love that one.

Article 4 Male tyranny

[00:16:50] Annie: Article 4 Male tyranny. The only Limits on the exercise of the natural rights of women are perpetual male tyranny.

Article 5 The laws of nature cannot be prevented

[00:16:59] Annie: Number five, the laws of nature cannot be prevented. So this was… OK… this one, she should have skipped it because you can turn the laws of nature into anything you want. So, you know.

Article 6 Women must be equally admitted to all honors, positions and public employment

[00:17:12] Annie: Article six has to do with women must be equally admitted to all honors, positions and public employment according to their capacity and without other distinctions besides those of their virtues and talents.

[00:17:29] Elyse Rivin: Just know that it wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that any of this actually happend.

[00:17:35] Annie: Yes, and some of it is not true in some countries.

[00:17:38] Annie: Some countries, today, as a matter of fact, I will put this in because it just irks me. Last night, France played the World Cup final and lost to an excellent Argentinian team. Congratulations to them. They did. They played a better game.

[00:17:54] Elyse Rivin: They did indeed.

[00:17:55] Annie: There you go. But after the competition, the emir of Qatar was introduced to a lot of officials and the referees and whatever. And he refused to shake the hand of the only woman who was a referee in this competition. And I say, B.S. Why do we put up with this today? There’s… anyway.

Article 7 & 8 & 9: Women must obey the law and not the whim of their husband

[00:18:20] Annie: Article seven and eight have to do and nine actually, all three have to do with women must obey the laws and be held to laws, not to the whim of a husband. OK, that’s that’s the idea.

[00:18:34] Elyse Rivin: I think it’s really interesting too, as you’re describing this, that she really, she has a political brain because she’s really making the distinction between the laws created by a body of government and simply men.

[00:18:48] Annie: Exactly, exactly. She’s very clear on this.

Article 10: If woman can go up the scaffold she shoud also be allowed to speak in Parliament

[00:18:51] Annie: Article 10 is the one that she’s famous for because… Okay, I’m going to read it, but the translation in English is a little odd, because the French is a little odd as well. No one is to be disquieted for his very basic opinions. Woman has the right to mount to the scaffold, she must equally have the right to mount the rostrum, provided that her demonstrations do not disturb the legally established public order. So this whole business of walking up to the scaffold, meaning I can be decapitated, if women can be decapitated, and a few had been already by the French Revolution, then I should also be allowed to talk at the French Assembly.

[00:19:33] Elyse Rivin: And help make the laws. Basically, what she’s saying is, if a woman can be, it’s interesting because this was one of the last things that she wrote. If a woman can be executed for her ideas, then she should be part of the system that creates the ideas.

[00:19:48] Annie: Exactly. Unfortunately, she was executed, but she never spoke in the French assembly. She was never allowed to speak in the French Assembly. Now, her bust was placed in the French Assembly, I think it was 1981?

[00:20:04] Elyse Rivin: 2016.

[00:20:05] Annie: Oh,

[00:20:06] Annie: Oh, okay, it’s even… Yeah, okay, 2016.

[00:20:08] Elyse Rivin: 2016. 2016.

[00:20:09] Annie: So, you know, we’re barely waking up to the idea that there’s such a blatant injustice in all of this, anyway…

Condemned for treason

[00:20:19] Elyse Rivin: We should mention, I think, also why she wound up being guillotined. Now, she died on the 3rd of November, 1793. She was a member of one of the original revolutionary committees starting in 1789, 1790. She was an active participant in many of the groups that defined the Revolution. It went with the causes she was defending, the right for people to be equal, all of these things. It was extremely important to her to be part of all of these things, even though she was not admitted as an equal in any group.

[00:20:58] Elyse Rivin: But what happened over the time, and this is, again, even for me as an American, I was thinking about this yesterday. I was going over some things, reading them. I was thinking, you, Annie, because you grew up going to school here, you have still a better grasp of everything that happened during the Revolution than I do. I mean, it’s very, very complicated for me. But basically what happened in the end, is that over the period of time between 1789 and 1793, when she was indeed executed, she changed her opinion a lot about what the Revolution should be and how it should be conducted.

[00:21:34] Elyse Rivin: And since she had an abhorrence of the death penalty and of killing in general, what happened was that even though at first she was for and with the group that was more revolutionary and a little bit more radical, she backed off a bit from that. And in the end, apparently one of the things that got her condemned at the moment of what is called the terror, which of course wound up killing a whole bunch of people anyway, was that she proposed what would today be considered to be a poll practically or petition for the population to choose between an absolute republic, a federalist kind of government and a constitutional monarchy. And the fact that she even mentioned the constitutional monarchy, she was accused of and condemned for treason.

[00:22:23] Annie: Right, right. So, this is a little bit complicated for people who don’t spend a lot of time reading about the French Revolution. But she was too far left for the Girondins, and she was too far right for the Montagnards. So, she was in between and she just did not do very well. They didn’t accept her at all.

[00:22:43] Elyse Rivin: In August of 1793, having clearly decided that she was backing off from the more extreme positions of the revolutionary groups, she was arrested. And she spent the last few months of her life in prison. She was apparently not well. She was 45 years old at this time, but she had the energy and the courage to write up to the day she was executed. She actually wrote, one of the last things she wrote was a letter to her son, but right before then, a day or two before, she wrote another tract where she talked about injustice and the position of women in society. And she said that she would be vindicated in the future, and apparently witnesses, eyewitnesses, because you know, these executions were of course public, the guillotining of people. She was only the second woman to be guillotined, the first being Marie Antoinette. And she went to the scaffold with dignity and courage. And she said, I will be vindicated, and that was the end of that.

[00:23:46] Annie: Okay, let’s get back to the articles of the rights of women. I stopped on number 11, where, you know, she had the… If I can be executed, I should have the right to argue in front of the National Assembly.

Article 11 about paternity

[00:23:58] Annie: Article 11 has to do with paternity, because she was never recognized by her father. You mentioned this at the beginning, she was the natural daughter of a wealthy man who never recognized her. And so, she goes after paternity. She says, any female citizen thus may say freely, I am the mother of a child which belongs to you, without being forced a barbarous prejudice to hide the truth. I mean, this is complicated, because there was no birth control, and so women had children at time with men that they didn’t want to have children with. And was it because they were loose women, or was it because the men kind of wanted to have sex? Maybe the women did too? I mean, it’s complicated, okay?

[00:24:52] Annie: There was no birth control and women had no right to just say, look, you’re the father of this child. But she claimed that right to just state that this is the father of my child, which was a big deal.

Article 12 All women should be equal, not just upper class women

[00:25:05] Annie: Article 12 was that the guarantee of the rights of women must be instituted for the advantage of all, not for the particular benefit of those for whom it is entrusted. What she was saying there is that she wanted all women to be equal, not just the intellectuals, not just the ones who wrote the law, not just the upper class, all women.

Article 13 Equal employment for women

[00:25:30] Annie: Article 13 has to do with equal employment. She must have the same share in the distribution of positions, employment, offices, honors and jobs. Okay? We still don’t have that today. We do not have the same distribution of positions, employment, offices, honors and jobs. We don’t. It might be another hundred years. I don’t know. Perhaps it will only be ten. I don’t know. But in some countries, it will be a hundred. Okay? So, we’re still not there. And that was Article 13.

Article 14 Women can audit the books

[00:26:03] Annie: Article 14 has to do with women having right to keep an eye on the books. Female and male citizens have the right to verify, either by themselves or through their representatives, the necessity of public contribution. So, women, as well as men, have a right to look at the books.

Article 15 Men in public office need to be accountable to women in public office

[00:26:23] Annie: Article 15 is in the same vein. The collectivity of women has the right to demand an accounting of his administration from any public agent. Okay? So, women can look at the books again.

[00:26:36] Elyse Rivin: She’s talking about corruption, too.

[00:26:38] Annie: Yeah,

Article 16 & 17 Separation of powers and property belonging to both sexes

[00:26:38] Annie: Article 16 the separation of powers, and Article 17, which is the last one, property belongs to both sexes, whether united or separate. So, property rights, it’s not just the guys that inherit, it’s everybody. What she asked for is even beyond what we’ve achieved to this day. We’ve achieved several of these things, but not all of them, and not everywhere. She was a visionary. I think she’s just stunning.

[00:27:10] Elyse Rivin: I agree. It is actually amazing to see all of these things that she put down on paper and all of these things that she claimed for women. And I think that deep down, her idea was that there should be absolute equality among human beings, no matter what, because it goes along with her feelings about slavery.

[00:27:31] Elyse Rivin: She believed, one of the last things she talked about during the revolutionary time was a universal income tax that depended upon the level of your income. That was basically what we would call a sliding proportional income tax, so that the poor were not overly burdened. She would have been a wonderful politician today. She really would be.

[00:27:50] Annie: Yeah, definitely. And one of the things that is a little bit sad is that—and we’ve hinted at this throughout this conversation— is the fact that she has not been as well recognized in France as I think she should have been. So, we do have a lot of streets and squares and places like that called Olympe de Gouges, but she’s not talked about enough. She’s not recognized enough. She is not in the Pantheon. There was a push by associations to have her be honored in the Pantheon, but they were turned down by Francois Hollande, the French president is the one who makes the decision. I don’t know if it’s going to be reconsidered now under Macron.

[00:28:40] Elyse Rivin: Macron, just in ’21 turned it down again.

[00:28:42] Elyse Rivin: We will have to wait for the next round to see what happens.

[00:28:47] Annie: We’re not privy to those conversations or the reasons why, but it’s entirely possible that the fact that she was so middle of the road politically, like, you know, she’s very much not far right, not far left. She was willing to consider a constitutional monarchy, although in the end, she said she would have voted for the death of the king anyway. So, she changed her mind an awful lot. You know, her thoughts evolved quite a bit, which I guess that’s a natural thing to happen.

[00:29:17] Elyse Rivin: And just to mention a little bit about why we’re actually even talking about her now, it is a fact that many of the studies of women in history, whether it’s in political history, art history, or anything, have come out of what are called feminist studies in the United States, which began really after World War II.

[00:29:38] Elyse Rivin: And it was a woman in the United States and another scholar actually in Germany. Interestingly enough, apparently in Germany, they have been interested in her for a while as well, that both wrote pieces about her that brought her back into the public eye, because she really was a forgotten minor figure.

[00:29:56] Elyse Rivin: There is a very paternalistic streak in French historians. And even into the 20th century, most of them poohoed her and dismissed her as being irrelevant to anything.

[00:30:10] Annie: I think this was extremely true in the 60s and the 70s.

[00:30:13] Annie: They were terrible. I mean, you read the stuff they wrote. First of all, they made shit up. Like, they made a lot of stuff up. And they were just so dismissive of anyone who wasn’t of the right class and the right, you know, gender, whatever.

[00:30:25] Elyse Rivin: I did a lot of work on American feminist studies in relation to art history. And I know that even in the United States and in other places like that, it was a real battle. But it came sooner, obviously, than in France. And then it was apparently in 1981 that a man named Olivier Blanc, who had access to her writings directly, wrote what became a very important biography of her. And it was really then only 40 years ago, from this point on, that people started to pay attention to her again and talk about her again. And it’s only been in the last few years that she is mentioned in the history books in France.

“too manly”

[00:31:03] Annie: So, throughout her life, she was accused of being too manly. They called her virago.

[00:31:10] Elyse Rivin: A nasty word.

[00:31:11] Annie: What’s a virago?

[00:31:12] Elyse Rivin: I don’t know if it’s origins are Latin or Greek, but apparently it means somebody who’s a half man, half woman, but it’s definitely an insult.

[00:31:20] Annie: And she said, and I can’t find it right now, but she wrote somewhere that she wasn’t sure if she was a man or a woman, and why did anybody care?

[00:31:30] Elyse Rivin: Right, exactly.

[00:31:31] Annie: I guess today, where we have so many conversations about transgendered and whatever, and perhaps the idea is just let people be. Like, you know, who cares? Give them rights and let them have a good life, which I think is better than some places do.

[00:31:47] Elyse Rivin: I think that here we have the case of someone who, because of her own personal experience as a young person, developed an enlightened brain, basically. I mean, sometimes it works the opposite. You become oppressed and you stay oppressed. It’s almost like her thinking exploded out of the forced marriage, out of the oppression of the first basic 20 years of her life. And she was courageous enough, even if her ideas sometimes were inconsistent, to keep on going until her end at the age of 45.

Places to go visit

[00:32:19] Annie: Do you know if there’s any places where we can go to kind of retrace her history?

[00:32:25] Annie: I mean, obviously, Montauban.

[00:32:27] Elyse Rivin: Montauban.

[00:32:28] Elyse Rivin: There is a square in the 6th Arrondissement that is named after her, but of course it’s just a square. I’m not sure exactly, I didn’t take a look on Google Maps, but I know it is in the 6th.

[00:32:37] Annie: I know in Montauban they have the Le Theatre Olympe de Gouges.

[00:32:40] Elyse Rivin: Another municipal building is named after her. There is an art piece that I have not yet seen by a famous artist who did strange video sound pieces, but apparently that he did dedicate it to her. It’s in the Museum of Modern Art of the city of Paris. So, the next time I go up to Paris, I’m going to go look for it.

[00:32:59] Elyse Rivin: Other than that, I think you have to go to the National Library to find things about her.

[00:33:04] Elyse Rivin: The French National Library.

Her heritage dispersed internationally

[00:33:05] Elyse Rivin: Other than that, the interesting thing is how her heritage basically dispersed internationally. She had one son who in fact had several children, and even though he died relatively young, his children survived. And two of his daughters, one married an Englishman who was well off and carried a lot of, I don’t know if it was copies of the writings of her grandmother, but kept things that belonged to her. And then her other granddaughter married an American, of all things, a man who actually had a plantation and was a congressman, but also was a slave owner, ironically. But she kept some of the original writings of her mom, and so I believe that there are a couple of libraries in the United States that have some of her manuscripts.

[00:33:51] Annie: That’s really interesting. Yeah, and that’s the impression I got as well, is that she is well liked in America, and better known than in France, let’s put it that way, but we’re going to change all that Elyse, aren’t we?

[00:34:03] Elyse Rivin: Oh, we sure as hell are. We’re going to start the next petition, Annie.

[00:34:07] Annie: Our little indie podcast will change everything!

[00:34:10] Elyse Rivin: We’re going to change everything.

[00:34:11] Annie: But at least, I’m glad we talked about her, because there are so many people who just get ignored. We’re always talking about the stars, and the people who make it big, but we just ignore too many people who do some good in the world, and I think she did some good in the world just by insisting that she be given a voice, and that she had a right to speak, and to express her opinion.

[00:34:36] Elyse Rivin: I think that’s what’s called courage.

[00:34:38] Annie: Absolutely.

[00:34:39] Annie: Merci beaucoup, Elyse.

[00:34:40] Elyse Rivin: Thank you, Annie.

[00:34:41] Elyse Rivin: Au revoir.

[00:34:42] Annie: Au revoir.


Thank you, patrons

[00:34:50] Annie: I would like to express my gratitude to my patrons for their continued support.

[00:34:55] Annie: By joining at, you’ll gain access to many exclusive rewards. And a warm welcome to new patrons Jennifer Ruggiero, Laura, Liam Phelan and Kevin Bruns.

[00:35:08] Annie: Your dedication to keeping this podcast going is truly appreciated. When you become a patron, I recommend that you download the Patreon app for easy access to your rewards on the go. You can enjoy perks like French pronunciation assistance, personal video updates as I explore France, and delicious French recipes beyond the ones that you can already try from my cookbook: Join Us at the Table.

[00:35:37] Annie: This week I published something short that started a great conversation as you’ll hear in a minute. And I’ll also publish a video short about whether or not you should rent an electric car when you visit France.

[00:35:49] Annie: I have opinions based on plenty of personal experience on that question.

Prepare for your trip to France

[00:35:56] Annie: And if you’re gearing up for a journey to France and listening to as many episodes as possible to prepare, keep doing it, that’s a wonderful way to prepare for your trip. You can also take advantage of my expertise as your personal itinerary consultant.

[00:36:10] Annie: To get started, simply follow these steps.

[00:36:14] Annie: Number one, purchase the service at

[00:36:19] Annie: Number two, complete a questionnaire to share your travel ideas and preferences.

[00:36:24] Annie: Number three, schedule a phone appointment during which we’ll discuss your plans for about an hour.

[00:36:30] Annie: And number four, after our conversation, I’ll send you a comprehensive document outlining the itinerary that we discussed.

[00:36:38] Annie: But please note that my schedule is usually booked up several weeks in advance. To find my next available date, visit the only place where you can buy this service,

[00:36:51] Annie: And if my schedule is fully booked before it’s time for your trip and you cannot consult with me directly, fear not, you can still take me along on your parisian adventure with my GPS self-guided tours available on the VoiceMap app.

[00:37:07] Annie: I’ve created seven immersive tours, each showcasing a distinct iconic neighborhood of Paris. You can choose from the Eiffel Tower, which is available in English or French, Île de la Cité, Le Marais, Montmartre, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, or the Latin Quarter.

[00:37:26] Annie: Experience a worry-free parisian experience as my voice guides you through the amazing sights and tells you about the significance of the places where you are standing.

[00:37:37] Annie: Access these tours via the VoiceMap app for immediate access, or receive a special listener discount by buying my tours at

Saying Bonjour

[00:37:51] Annie: All right, let’s get to the magazine part of the podcast. Saying Bonjour, and how timing is everything. French people’s insistence on saying Bonjour is not about being prickly.

[00:38:04] Annie: Rather, it is rooted in our cultural values and customs that prioritize politeness and social etiquette. In French society, greetings serve as a critical foundation for establishing mutual respect and rapport in any interaction, whether with strangers, acquaintances, or friends. Saying bonjour, which translates to “good day” or “hello,” is considered the bare minimum of politeness when entering a shop, starting a conversation, or encountering someone in public spaces.

[00:38:39] Annie: This simple gesture acknowledges the other person’s presence and sets a cordial tone for the ensuing interaction. By skipping this basic courtesy, one might inadvertently come across as impolite or disrespectful.

[00:38:56] Annie: To an outsider, the emphasis on saying bonjour might seem overly formal or even prickly. However, understanding and respecting this aspect of French culture can greatly enhance your experience in France and lead to more positive and fruitful interactions with the locals.

[00:39:15] Annie: What I just said is all true. But there is another layer, because timing matters.

[00:39:22] Annie: This week I shared a short audio bit with my patrons, where a man who’s been selling fruit in the Paris Metro is interviewed. The interview is interrupted by an American tourist who comes by to make a small purchase. And the journalist is shocked because the tourist didn’t say Bonjour. Then they discuss. This audio bit reminded my patrons of situations that they found themselves in, and I think they made great points that I want to share with all of you.

[00:39:52] Annie: Kerry wrote, ” I have a question. When you are in a small crowd/group, do you just throw out bonjour out into the air? Or do you wait until you have someone’s attention first?

[00:40:06] Annie: I ran into this situation in Paris. We approached the cheese counter, and the cheese monger was in animated conversation with a person in front of us [and slightly off to the side because it was a long lateral counter]. I did not interrupt with my Bonjour, which was at the ready, and it became quite apparent that we were being ignored.

[00:40:29] Annie: I waited and waited and waited until finally the health of all their respective children, dogs, neighbors, and favorite TV personalities had been fully dissected. Someone else came up and was served. When we were the only possible people left at the counter, I said my Bonjour and placed our order. We got that goat cheese, but it was clear that he was unhappy with me.”

[00:40:56] Annie: What happened here?

Not to interrupt?

[00:40:58] Annie: Let me give you another example of a similar situation, also from one of my patrons. Samuel wrote, “I went into a brasserie near my hotel for coffee. I had visited it for several days. Two people behind the counter were talking to each other, so I thought I should not interrupt them by saying Bonjour.

[00:41:17] Annie: I was at the counter. After they stopped talking, they kept their backs to me for some time, so I left. I figured out I should have interrupted them, but I didn’t go back.”

[00:41:30] Annie: Now he thought he should not interrupt.

[00:41:33] Annie: And then Patricia put her finger on something really important. ” I think that part of the problem is that American culture teaches us not to interrupt people. So when we are in France, it seems rude to interrupt a conversation to say Bonjour. Apparently in France, it’s the other way around. From now on, I will work even harder to say Bonjour regardless of the circumstances.” All right. This is me now.

Timing matters when saying Bonjour

[00:42:01] Annie: Here is how Bonjour works and why timing matters.

[00:42:06] Annie: You don’t have to get somebody’s attention before saying Bonjour. When you enter a store, you’re saying Bonjour to no one in particular. You say it out in the air, as Kerry said. Walk in and immediately say Bonjour as if you were talking to yourself. Don’t worry about interrupting anything because you’re really not interrupting, since you’re not talking to anyone in particular.

[00:42:33] Annie: You’re just announcing your arrival. You are wishing a good day to everyone and anyone in the room. It signals your good disposition by wishing a good day to everyone here.

[00:42:46] Annie: And I think it could be interpreted as, ” I’m no threat to anyone. I know the drill. I’m civilized. I’m one of us.” That sort of thing. Say Bonjour immediately the second you walk in. The people in the room will probably respond by saying Bonjour back and will probably not make eye contact with you at that point either.

[00:43:09] Annie: Perhaps they’ll briefly glance in your general direction. Then wait your turn. And when it’s your turn, approach the person who’s going to be serving you, cheese monger, bakery person, or whoever is taking care of you.

[00:43:23] Annie: Make eye contact then and say Bonjour again. This person will also make eye contact, say Bonjour, and attend to you. The take home message is this. Don’t wait until it’s your turn to say Bonjour. Say it immediately as you enter a shop. Don’t worry about interrupting.

[00:43:43] Annie: Don’t worry about giving the impression that you’re trying to skip the line because you’re not. All you’re doing is signaling the fact that you’re in a good disposition and polite by saying Bonjour.

[00:43:57] Annie: I would love to hear your feedback about this. You can email me, and I will be very happy to discuss this further with you.

This week in French news

[00:44:07] Annie: This week in French news, at long last it appears news outlets have stopped giving headlines to how much we should all be upset about modifying retirement age. Yesterday, for the first time, not a single news outlet put it on their front page. Hooray! That’s almost two weeks after the Constitutional Council announced that it was done with and well within the rules of the French Constitution, and six weeks after the law passed.

[00:44:33] Annie: We are not quick in France. They didn’t want to give this one up. I think what finally put an end to it is this. A few days ago, Emmanuel Macron decided to meet with the public, shake hands, talk to regular French people, to anyone who shows up. He’s been doing this on and off all along, but last week he did a public address on TV and he said he was going to start doing this again.

[00:44:56] Annie: People who opposed him showed up with frying pans and pans of every sort and made so much noise that the event had to be cancelled. Of course, news outlets were all over and spinning all sorts of theories. What does it mean when a dozen yahoos show up somewhere banging pans? Has it been done since the French Revolution?

[00:45:18] Annie: How deep is the hate of the French people towards Macron? Will he ever dare come out of the Elysée Palace again? How will he possibly continue being president for four years? Are the police allowed to screen who comes into these events and refuse entry to folks with pots and pans? Is that a violation of our rights?

[00:45:39] Annie: You get my drift? Days of this sort of coverage. And then, right on cue, Marine Le Pen pushes videos of her shaking hands at public events and nobody’s banging pots or pans or anything. They’re all smiling and looking happy to see her.

[00:45:57] Annie: And all the news outlets started saying, “Look, what a contrast. Isn’t it obvious? We love Marine Le Pen.” On prime time, her face all over the place. And then it occurred to them, “Wait a minute. Do we love Marine Le Pen? Has she played us?” Yes indeed, she did. And that gave the news outlets pause. By playing up the narrative that everyone is supposed to hate Macron, even though it’s literally a few dozen yahoos doing this, they’re making it easy for Le Pen to look really good.

[00:46:33] Annie: Nevermind the fact that she has zero proposal to fix the problem of funding retirements. She’s been asked and everything she proposed was idiotic and clearly couldn’t work. I mean, a third grader could do the math to prove her wrong. And all the people who’ve been handed a microphone to repeat ad nauseam that Macron does not listen, he doesn’t listen to what?

[00:46:58] Annie: To the deafening silence when they are asked what they would do to solve this problem? Because it’s a hard problem to solve and nobody has an easy solution. Just saying you want to do nothing to change is sticking your head in the sand.

[00:47:13] Annie: At any rate, I think the press will stop fanning the flames because they’re looking like they are rooting for Le Pen at this point.

[00:47:23] Annie: And that’s a bridge that most of them don’t want to cross. Thank God.

Personal update

[00:47:28] Annie: For my personal update this week, it’s going to be very short because I’m off to Spain. I won’t do any itineraries or episode recordings this week, but I will publish an episode next Sunday, as always. I’ll be walking on the beach and sipping something delicious.

[00:47:46] Annie: You can also help your friends plan their trip to France by sharing the podcast trailer with them. It’s concise, it’s very short and I think they’ll get the idea that perhaps it would help them have a better time in France. Just go to

[00:48:07] Annie: And I would love to play more voice feedback on the show. If you have a question or a comment, record a voice memo on your phone and email it to me

[00:48:18] Annie: And if you let me, I’ll play it on the show. Show notes and a full transcript for this episode are on

[00:48:30] Annie: A big thank you to podcast editor Cristian Cotovan who produces the transcripts, and where you can find in which episode we talked about this one place that you are interested in.

[00:48:42] Annie: Next week on the podcast, an episode about slow family travel in France with James Olsen. So many great tips and an enthusiastic traveler. I think you’ll love that interview. Thank you so much for listening, and I hope you join me next time so we can look around France together.

[00:49:01] Annie: Au revoir!


[00:49:02] Annie Sargent: The Join Us in France Travel Podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and Copyright 2023 by Addicted to France. It is released under a Creative Commons, attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives license.

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Category: French History