In Western society, the national movement for women’s liberation emerges in the second half of the nineteenth century, when women first manifest as autonomous organized political power. The term feminism, which means “women’s liberation,” was first used in political debates (Hannam, 2007). As a synonym for female liberation, the word “feminism” was commonly used in Europe at the turn of the twentieth century. The principle of equitable social rights for men and women dates back to the Enlightenment and the Great French Revolution of the 18th century, and is linked to the declaration of the revolutionary definition of man’s “normal rights and freedoms.” Undoubtedly, women have always been striving for freedom of actions and speech. However, in spite of that will, they were considered as “belongings” of their husbands and fathers. There are the two stories of the two women, who have been living in Europe of 18th and 19th centuries, Marie Antoinette and Henrietta Rosin.
Marie Antoinette was born in November 2nd, 1755 in Vienna, Austria. She was The Queen of France, the youngest daughter of the Emperor Francis I and Maria Theresa, also the wife of the King of France Louis XVI since 1770 (Yonge, 2004). Maria Antoinette was the youngest daughter of Emperor Maria Theresa and Francis I, rulers of the Holy Roman Empire. When the girl was ten years old, her father died, leaving his wife an empire and eight children. Maria Theresa turned out to be a very business woman; she not only managed the state perfectly, but also arranged a successful future for her offspring. Marie Antoinette was engaged to the heir of France, Ludvig. The wedding took place on May 16, 1770. Ludvig did not want to take part in social life, sweating and blushing at the sight of an adored wife. The young couple received full power. While the royal couple quietly existed in their cozy little world, catastrophic events were brewing in the country. Marie Antoinette believed that she had the natural right not to pay attention to the dissatisfaction of fellow citizens. She maintained a frivolous calm, confident that all this would pass. On October 5th, enraged Parisian mob broke into Versailles, and the next day the royal family was brought under arrest to the palace of the Tuileries. For almost two years, Ludwig and his family were imprisoned here. On October 16, 1793, the court sentenced the death sentence to the queen. Marie Antoinette did not make any plans: she wanted power only over herself and her time. Her main task was to please, conquer and admire, and, with her endless energy, the queen of France took up the role of the fashion queen: now and for a decade and a half dresses, hairstyles, ornaments and manners of Marie Antoinette will become the law for the ladies of Europe.
Another famous woman, Sarah Bernhardt was born on October 23, 1844 in Paris. As a child, she fell out of the cradle, landing directly on the coals of a burning fireplace. So that the girl did not interfere with the secular entertainment of her mother, she was given up for education in a Catholic monastery. By the age of eleven, Sarah had become a zealous Catholic, surprising with her religious zeal of nuns. However, by nature she was very quick-tempered and stubborn; sometimes she was surrounded by uncontrollable bouts of anger. By the patronage of the Duke, she was admitted to the National Academy of Music and Recitation. And soon a scandal broke out, after which Sarah was kicked out of the Comedie Française. She had toured extensively all over the world. Only in the US she visited nine times. There was no language barrier for it. As American journalists wrote, the public would be racked by its performances, even if it played in Chinese. For the rest of her life, she could not imagine living without a theater.
The famous actress has always been eccentric. There is only one mahogany coffin that accompanied her on all trips. In childhood, when the doctors diagnosed the girl with a terrible diagnosis: consumption, she begged her mother to buy her a coffin so that she would not be put in some ugly one (Bernhardt, 1907). In the coffin Sarah Bernhard rested, read, and memorized new roles. In Paris, even there were rumors that in the grave, Sarah Bernhard indulged in amorous pleasures. Sarah Bernhard liked to shock the audience, and not only on stage. Even her home she designed very unordinary. The apartment she “decorated” with stuffed birds, holding in their beaks skull. As for pets, in addition to traditional cats and dogs, the actress acquired a monkey; she had a cheetah, a white Irish wolfhound and chameleons in the garden.
Maria Antoinette: “In France it was not easy to be a woman. Even when you are engaged with a powerful man, you personally have no right towards him”.
Sarah Bernhardt: “It did not change much a hundred of years later.”
M. A.: “France has always set the tone for the world, both in the rules of behavior in society and in political economy. The way the women of France acted and what was done to keep them in check-was reflected in the lives of neighboring countries.
S. B.: “In Vienna, known at the time of the Congress as “the biggest love market in Europe”, when the general population was approaching 400 thousand people, prostitutes in the city numbered 20 thousand. Metternich, the brilliant chancellor, depended on women, having three mistresses at the same time, and was convinced that all men depend on women. He introduced women into politics and used them as mediators for collecting information and as secret agents.”
M. A.: “Men were incredibly powerful and there were no possibilities to set free in any way and be able to manage my own life, at least.”
S. B.: “In the 19th century, the power of Austria has been considering some act. It proclaimed that all women who, regardless of age and class, profession or academic degree, after the release of this Act, will resort to seducing or forcing any citizen of His Majesty to marry through perfumes, paints, cosmetics, linen, artificial teeth or false hair, corsets, Pendant thighs or high-heeled shoes will be fined under the current law against witchcraft and similar forensic crimes, and marriages concluded in such circumstances are recognized by the offended party as guilty Will be considered invalid and canceled.” It had no effect, but it made women worry a lot. The reason is that it could have made use, women, slaves to our husbands.”
M.A.: “Unfortunately, we will not see, what will happen next. Women are people, just like all men are. I do not really understand why it happens that we are worthless. Of course, we are weaker, in terms of physical strengths, however, our mental abilities are not worse than men’s ones at all! I feel so bad for women!”
S.B.: “Even as an actress, I felt this inequality. It was prohibited for me t play as many roles as I wanted, in contrast to men! Such a strictly hierarchized feudal society always paid special attention to my behavior and etiquette. It was considered as a means of emphasizing the status of the social situation. Even though I was not poor, I felt uncomfortable, but I was convinced that it was a must for each woman.”
M. A. “Nowadays it does not matter; however, there is still no equality. On the other hand, I look at the modern women and envy. Seriously, it is great! They have the right to work and to study; they do not have to ask for men’s permits, when traveling and so forth. The Europe of 18th and 19th centuries had no similar conditions.”
S. B.: “Exactly. Men tend to believe that women would turn feminism into matriarchy; however, they are not afraid of the constant patriarchy. It is even hard to explain, why they are considered as better than us!”
M.A.: “To be honest, I would like to live in a modern world. There is hope that both genders will be equal one day.”
S.B.: “You are probably right.”
Bernhardt, Sarah. “My Double Life: Memoirs of Sarah Bernhardt”. Heinemann, 1907.
Hannam, June. “Feminism”. Taylor & Francis, 2007.
Yonge, Charles Duke “The Life of Maria Antoinette”, 2004. Retrieved from http://www.freeinfosociety.com/media/pdf/4773.pdf, 18 May, 2017.