Françoise Battagliola, Historie du travail des femmes, Éditions La Découverte, Imprimerie Europe Media Duplication de Lassay-les-Châteaux, Paris, 2011, Third ed., 121 pp.

Manuel J. Peláez
María del Carmen Amaya Galván

Abstract: This a summary book by Françoise Battagliola on the history of women’s work in France during the XIXth and XXth centuries, which virtually focuses on the third, fourth and fifth Republics. The author’s approach is mainly sociological. She believes French women’s schooling and, then, their access to almost all university studies has led to a noticeable change in women’s intellectual work. However, she thinks there are still essentially feminine professions while others are mostly male.

Key words: Women’s Work, Family Life, Working Population, Feminist Policies, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Olympe de Gouges, Inequality, University Women, Social Catholicism, Feminization of Employment, Feminist Unionism.

This book by the French sociologist Françoise Battagliola is included in the “Repères” summary collection, where a large number of books on Labour Sociology, Social Policy, History of Feminism, Gender Violence, and other related topics have been published.
Its title does not relate entirely to the book contents since we are faced with a study on women’s work evolution in France from the beginning of the second half of the XIXth century until the beginning of the XXIst century, even though very elementary previous historical comments can be found in pp. 8-12. Since 1984, the author has been conducting research on women’s work, the relations between the sexes, the difference between the wife’s housework and that of the concubine’s, and women’s career path throughout history. Battagliola always focuses on contemporary history1.
Nevertheless, it is surprising how Françoise Battagliola, as opposed to other French scholars, not only follows (even though she mainly does) her country’s doctrine but she also echoes research on gender carried out in England and the United States, while, at the same time, she does not mention any Italian, German or Spanish researchers.
Battagliola’s main criticism towards women’s work is the fact that historiography is a science written by men and, consequently, this has led to an underestimation of the jobs performed by women.
Françoise Battagliola forgets such an outstanding character in the feminine world as Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793)2, who is the author of a Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, of which articles six, ten and thirteen provide for equal labour rights between men and women.
Neither does she mention Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), a man with a more orderly life than what could be believed on first impression3, who is the father of French Anarchism and his conception of women, which was particularly developed in his work La pornocratie ou les femmes dans les temps modernes4, is undoubtedly full of assertions that clash with today’s defense of gender interests. He questions physical, intellectual and moral equality between men and women, because, in 1858, it would entail equality between them in the family, economy, government, the judiciary and the war5, which in fact did not exist. He, then, digresses about male physical strength, female beauty, men’s ability for certain job types and women’s for other. He also questions the fact that the weaker sex was tyrannized at his time although he largely admits that it was degraded. He notes that, since 1791, in France, sixty thousand patents had been taken out by men and only half a dozen by women, all the latter referring to fashion-related products6. Then he goes on to weild classical and very outdated arguments regarding the size and shape of the female brain, which have been greatly surpassed in the second half of the XXth century in terms of professional and labour equality between the sexes. Pierre Joseph Proudhon questions, among other things, women’s access to the judiciary, and denies them the possibility of accessing because of their lack of moral strength7. This claim from mid XIXth century differs from today’s reality in some countries like Spain, where there is a growing presence of women in the judiciary, magistracy and prosecution, and mostly women have been successful in competitive examinations in the last twenty years, but their presence at the top of the Spanish justice is still limited.
According to P. J. Proudhon, men’s ratio of power and influence with respect to women’s is 27 to 8. Men correspond to the 3x3x3 formula, while women are reduced by Proudhon to 2x2x2. On the other hand, women beat men regarding the optimum expression of the ideals of life. Hence, it would be absurd to proclaim gender equality8. The trend towards the lewd, naturally according to this French Anarchism prince, is more deeply-rooted in women than in men, including animality inclinations. Proudhon clearly proves this trend with actual facts: firstly, young girls’ early flirtatious attitude as compared to young boys’ shyness; secondly, both prostitution and pimping are more rooted among women than among men9; thirdly, historically there are almost no records of polyandry whereas there have been many cases of polygyny, which has been accepted by many civilizations and still remains very widespread in some countries10, not only at the time when Proudhon wrote his book, but in the XXIst century; and, lastly, Proudhon pinpoints a rooted trend «in some women to reduce marriage to the level of concubinage because of the predominance of love over the law.»11 However, afterwards, Proudhon will state that «the holiness of the home is the result of women’s work; from this holiness of the family will emerge» the spirit and republican virtues12. Proudhon’s conclusion is surprising: «Men primarily have a power of action; whereas women have a power of fascination. From the diversity of their natures derives their diversity of qualities, functions, destinations.»13 Men provide work and its corresponding income to the family, but Proudhon does not value women’s work since he believes women only provide their beauty, «charm, grace, love, idealism, all their body, soul and spirit seductions.»14 The anarchist Joseph Proudhon concludes with an extremely shocking idea nowadays: «A woman cannot educate her children when her spirit, imagination and heart are concerned with politics, society and literature matters.»15 Proudhon recommends marital fidelity and considers free love as a type of tyranny16.
In a 1876 census in France, the difference between male and female workers in agriculture, industry, trade, transport, and in liberal professions showed a remarkable inequality in number in favor of men, while, in the case of people living solely on their income, there was a slight majority of women.
F. Battagliola then revises: union hostility against women working in factories; Auclert Hubertine’s participation in the Third French Labour National Conference, held in Marseille in 1879, in defense of women’s freedom against humiliation and discrimination; 2nd November 1892 Law on children and women’s work in industrial premises; the long battle for maternity leave; and, women’s action in industry and trade on the occasion of the First World War.
At the end of the war, and before the beginning of the next one, in September 1939, women in France start working massively in service sector professions, while, at the same time, significantly increase their presence in primary education. This presence would grow reaching 66% in 1932.
Moreover, in the twenties and thirties of the XXth century, the presence of Catholic feminist unionism and the impact of both Rerum novarum and Quadragesimo anno (p. 71) can be felt in France.
The Republic of Vichy brought about some ideological changes in which women’s vocation for reproduction prevailed, and legal restrictions on female labour, primarily as regards married women, were introduced.
In the period 1945 to 1975, France witnesses how women’s working reality in many professional activities improves and a consolidation of professional equality and their access to certain studies, such as Engineering, in which there used to be a complete minority of women before then.
In neighboring Belgium, Marie Popelin (1846-1913) enrolled at the Law Faculty of the Université libre de Bruxelles in 1882. She was admitted and managed to earn a degree and a doctorate in Law. However, when trying to join the bar association she was not allowed the exercise of the profession. Popelin became a feminist icon. In France, Jeanne Chauvin (1862-1923) was the first woman who was sworn in as a lawyer. Popelin also had much to do with the philosophy of coeducation in the Francophone world.
The conclusion that may be reached at the end of Françoise Battagliola’s book is that women’s working life in France, during the XIXth and XXth centuries, has been full of frequent inequality, contradictions and paradoxes while, at the same time, there has been considerable progress in terms of women’s social and professional dignity. [Recibida el 6 de septiembre de 2011].


1 See some of her books and those she has coordinated together with Marie-Agnès Barrère-Maurisson and Alice Barthez, or with Elizabeth Brown and Maryse Jaspard.

2 See Sophie Mousset, Olympe de Gouges et les droits de la femme, Le Félin, Paris, 2003.

3 Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mémoires sur ma vie, Maspero, Paris, 1983, which includes a selection and classification of texts effected by Bernard Voyenne.

4 This book was published in Paris in 1875 but it had been written before then since Proudhon had died in 1865. See assessment on its contents by J. P. Deschodt, “Proudhon et la querelle feministe”, in L’identité sexuelle. Contumace et défaut criminel, Paris, 2008, pp. 129-139, and by Paul Gourgues, “Proudhon et la famille”, in Pierre Joseph Proudhon. L’ordre dans la anarchie, which includes the proceedings of a symposium held on 7th May 2009 in the Centre de Recherches Hannah Arendt and was published by Éditions Cujas, Paris, 2009, pp. 105-133. We have not considered this assessment and, instead, have studied Proudhon’s book, which is as surprising as the rest of his work.

5 P. J. Proudhon, La pornocratie ou les femmes dans les temps modernes, p. 5. See also Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Amour et mariage, A. Lacroix, Paris, 1876, which includes sharp reflections.

6 P. J. Proudhon, La pornocratie ou les femmes dans les temps modernes, p. 26.

7 pp.38-39.

8 P. J. Proudhon, La pornocratie ou les femmes dans les temps modernes, p. 35.

9 P. J. Proudhon, La pornocratie ou les femmes dans les temps modernes, p. 41.

10 P. J. Proudhon, La pornocratie ou les femmes dans les temps modernes, p. 41.

11 P. J. Proudhon, La pornocratie ou les femmes dans les temps modernes, pp. 41-42. Unless otherwise stated, English translations of quotations are ours.

12 P. J. Proudhon, La pornocratie ou les femmes dans les temps modernes, p. 42.

13 P. J. Proudhon, La pornocratie ou les femmes dans les temps modernes, p. 44.

14 P. J. Proudhon, La pornocratie ou les femmes dans les temps modernes, p. 48.

15 P. J. Proudhon, La pornocratie ou les femmes dans les temps modernes, p. 170.

16 P. J. Proudhon, La pornocratie ou les femmes dans les temps modernes, p. 208.


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