Much has been written about Marie Antoinette’s head, for she lost it by guillotine during the French Revolution in 1793. But what of her heart? We know that women have been excluded from history, and that the ignorance engendered by our exclusion has profound consequences, chief among them the abject state imposed by apparent lack of tradition. This is, ultimately, one of the two major reasons women’s history is so important to the progress of women. The other reason is that what is already written is often false, the story shaped to fit the narrative of powerful men who sought to maintain that power. Not only must we write down our histories, we must also inspect what is already available and correct the record where it is wrong.
Few cases explicate this dynamic better than the story of Marie Antoinette, and the story of 7,000 more women you’ve most likely never heard of. This is the story of women in petticoats and aprons, mothers, workers, anguished French women who marched to appeal to the only feminine authority they had in the corporeal world, the Queen of France. This is the story of their appeal and the limits of her authority, and of a great document that you’ve also most likely never heard of, a document which calls us across time to examine exactly how far we’ve come as women.
The Women’s March on Versailles
Picture it, if you will: a sea of long skirts, of pitchforks and pikes, of muskets scattered in the arms of scarfed women. These women were on their way to the vast country palace of the King, to demand bread and to return the royal family to Paris, where it must confront the plight of its people. As they walked, the women sang, and more women joined. That’s what the scene looked like on the Women’s March to Versailles, also known as the Women’s Bread March, an event important to the French Revolution. Continue reading