“The Great Forgotten – Why History has erased women”, Titiou Lecoq‘s book, is of public interest. Everyone should read it to understand the history of patriarchy.
I discovered Titiou Lecoq nine years ago when I came across one of her columns published on Slate dealing with the life of Victor Newman, the indestructible hero of the indestructible TV series “The Young and the Restless” (“The Young and the Restless: Victor Newman, the penis that was worth three billion”). Reading the article gave me a moment of absolute laughter and I enjoyed the irony and humor of the author who exuded intelligence.
Here we are nine years later and Titiou Lecoq, who has not lost her sense of humor and who is decidedly interested in everything, offers us a historic sum on the forgotten women in History.
First things first: Titiou Lecoq’s book is perfectly sourced and correlated from an academic point of view (because we checked, right). And – as far as I am concerned – the ultimate point of honesty of her book is to explain that sometimes – on a given subject – contradictory thesis exist or that doubts remain – because such is the life of social sciences. Titiou Lecoq is looking for answers and tells us in the most neutral way possible.
Second point: the book is not so much about forgotten women in History. It is, in my humble opinion, an illuminating history of French patriarchy, based on numerous examples of unknown women. Beyond the women that Titiou Lecoq highlights over the ages (and God knows that each page contains a great deal of information and examples), the author highlights a culture and a policy that are constantly and insidiously evolving to the detriment of the female population.
The Neolithic age saw the rise of sedentarization, first violences and patriarchy in certain regions of the world.
For a few years now, my personal theory (which Titiou Lecoq does not necessarily develop) has been that the sedentarization, possession of land and desire to transmit it to an heir that a man knows to be his has established male domination.
Several facts converge at the same time to lead to this male domination. First of all, the proximity of Neolithic men to the animals they raise in enclosures probably allows them to unravel the mystery of reproduction. Second, Neolithic men understand that monogamy reduces infanticides committed by male rivals: to protect their offspring, they live with the mother of their children in order to protect them (which is not possible with several children from several mothers in several different places).
I conclude (and this is, again, very personal because this theory has not been greatly explored from an academic point of view) that men had to secure the life-bearing ones in order to make sure that the child to whom they transmitted their lands were indeed theirs. From my point of view, male domination begins at this very moment (and one will admire, in my theory, that the inventions of capitalism and patriarchy coincide).
I can’t see another reason explaining the rise of the male domination and the institution of patriarchy. In physical terms, Paleolithic men and women were equally strong. The women certainly did not stay in their caves and hunted as much as the men – but the changeover occurs during the Neolithic and I cannot help but see a correlation between private property and patriarchy. To put it simply, I see no other reason than the reproduction-capitalism juncture that could explain the male domination and patriarchy that were born at that time.
Sorry, I digress – but in fact not, because Titiou Lecoq’s book evokes what I see as three key moments in the history of patriarchy: the Neolithic, the Salic law and the Age of Enlightenment.
I make leaps, while the closing of the range of possibilities for women was a slow and insidious political and social phenomenon, which Titiou Lecoq explains extremely well.
During the Paleolithic age, the woman is as strong as the man. She hunts, she gathers. The nomadism to which she is subjected means that the pregnancies are spaced out – and mysterious. The Neolithic period is synonymous with a sedentary lifestyle and possession. And as explained above, it also becomes synonymous with general violence with “the cult of the chief”, the appearance of the sword and human sacrifices (and, in a contradictory way, the appearance of spirituality and parietal art, go figure).
Patriarchy is getting more and more sophisticated throughout the centuries. From a biological standpoint, the woman becomes a “failed man” whose attributes are only a distorted version of the male attributes (the clitoris, this aborted penis and the ovaries, these undescended testicles – what the heck). The sexual mold is the same for both sexes but that of the woman gives a degraded result, according to the sciences of Antiquity.
In France, the woman is not the equal of the man but she still knows how to be queen of kingdoms, she knows how to make war. Society is open to her, she can be an illuminator, a cathedral builder, a doctor, a mayor, a surgeon. She is everywhere.
Until the Salic law, which will be built throughout the 12th and 13th centuries. From French Kings Hugues Capet to Louis the Xth, what has been called the “Capetian miracle” meant that the royal heirs were always boys. But Louis the Xth dies prematurely in 1316, leaving an orphan, Joan II of Navarre – who is five years old. Until then, nothing prevented women from inheriting the throne. Until then, nothing prevented women from being queens of fiefs, from being leaders of armies or from waging war.
It will change with Philippe V le Long, the uncle of the little five-year-old Joan II of Navarre, who wishes to seize the throne. He mandates his advisers to unearth a rule instituting the masculinity of the throne. The counselors do even better: they insert a forgery in a real text: the Salic law.
The Salic law is an old Frankish Salian text which punishes (already!) sexual assault. The counselors twist the legal text so well that they come up with the impossibility for a woman to ascend the throne of France as a general principle. To put it simply, they do not respect the spirit of the law, they stick to the form and make a more than dubious interpretation of sentences taken out of context, such as “the public thing is better guarded and defended by man than by woman” or “it is automatically maculine to be King of France”. It was not until 1410 and the final forgery by Jean de Montreuil that the theory was completed with the reference to the Salic code and a quotation in Latin from the paragraph on proper property, where the word “terra” was replaced by the word “regnum”.
The trick is played, women will never be able to reign again until the end of the monarchy in France.
Another leap in history: the Age of Enlightenment. The Age of Enlightenment, with its mania for listing and classifying everything, unwittingly establishes categories and therefore comparisons from which women never emerge victorious when they are compared to men. Admittedly, the writers and biologists of the Age of Enlightenment question the achievements of Antiquity and establish sexual binarism.
But women gain absolutely no equality. Now, two sexes coexist but one is weak. The biologization and unbridled classification end up to be to the detriment of women but also of races. The white man normalizes, thanks to an absolutely bogus science, his domination with regard to women, slaves, other races, and nature in general. Nature itself becomes the negligible theater where the actions of the white man of the time take place – which probably explains our current issues to apprehend ecology.
Yet it was women who kicked off the Revolution by marching to Versailles to bring the royal family back to Paris on October 5, 1789. Alas, they would get no benefit from the Revolution, which saw the passage “from patriarchism to conjugalism”, to use the terms of the historian Anne Verjus.
What the father loses in rights over his daughter, the husband gains it over his wife. There is one voter per family, and it is obviously the husband. A decree of April 30, 1793 excludes women from the army (there were female soldiers in the revolutionary army before this decree). On October 30, 1793, women’s political clubs are prohibited. The Napoleon Code (applicable in France until 1965 as to matrimonial regimes) will be the final nail in the coffin of the female cause. The husband decides everything: the place of residence, the education of the children, whether his wife can take exams, work or not. He receives his wife’s salary (until 1907).
The adulterous wife goes to jail. If she is lucky enough not to be murdered by her husband who is excusable thanks to the infamous “red article” (article 324 of the French Criminal Code) which authorizes a husband to kill his unfaithful wife caught in the act. This “red article” would not be changed until 1975 and its persistence probably explains the lack of public action on domestic violence today.
The family model as we know it was born during the Revolution and will continue to improve during the 19th and 20th centuries, to slowly but unfortunately infuse French society.
However, women – evoked by Titiou Lecoq – have never stopped fighting to see their equal rights and the free disposal of their bodies recognized.
I have only taken three key moments from the story here, but Titiou Lecoq’s book is much richer than that. Once again: this book is of public interest and everyone should read it. It is currently only published in French and I look forward to its English publishing.
April 8, 2022
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