It’s been a weird few days. A tweet of mine, what I thought was a completely mild, innocuous tweet, took off and has so far been retweeted something like 1800 times. A screenshot of that tweet was featured in a tumblr post that so far has about 140k notes.
In the tweet I’m talking about Charlotte Corday, of course. She’s the assassin that killed Marat and whose murderous act inspired the most famous piece of art to come out of the revolutionary period, David’s The Death of Marat (1793).
I’ve never been associated with anything like these numbers before, and, as you can imagine, I’ve been receiving lots of eloquent and polite correspondence on twitter as a result. Nothing as bad as if I happened to be a woman saying the same thing, of course. I’ve mostly ignored it, but I wanted to do something to catalogue some thoughts in response.
So here is an encyclopaedia of ignorance that I’ve seen so far, and some unorganised thoughts in reply.
Most importantly of all: by creating an all-male-protagonist French Revolution videogame, Ubisoft have entered a long-held tradition of downplaying or marginalising the role of women in the Revolution. This happened both at the time and through the writing of history subsequently. After her execution, Charlotte Corday was examined to find out if she was a virgin—if she had been ‘sharing her bed’ then surely we would find a man’s hand behind the assassination (this was not the case). Could a woman really have come up with this plan herself?
Women were repeatedly denied rights, both before the revolution, during it, and after it. The famous Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen remains silent on women, despite a preceding petition calling for equal rights for women. This situation lead to Olympe de Gouges’ complex and witty Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, which is ironically dedicated to Marie Antoinette, and declares (remember, this is 1791) that “This revolution will only take effect when all women become fully aware of their deplorable condition, and of the rights they have lost in society.”
Groups like the Society of Revolutionary Women were formed, and in 1793, outlawed and abolished by the Jacobin government. Then, the Napoleonic Code of 1804 reinforced French women’s status as second-class citizens.
And of course, then came the many conservative historians who had either an interest in downplaying the role of women, or whose privilege meant it was a question easily ignored. As Shirley Elson Roessler writes in her excellent Out of the Shadows: Women and Politics in the French Revolution, 1789-1795,
The topic of women’s participation in the French Revolution has generally received little attention from historians, who have displayed a tendency to minimize the role of women in the major events of those years, or else to ignore it altogether. In the nineteenth century those who did attempt to deal with the topic chose to approach it with an emphasis on individual women who had for some reason attained a degree of notoriety.
So you see that even a focus on someone like Charlotte Corday or Olympe de Gouges is a strategy that has been used to downplay the role of women in the broad fabric of the revolution. I’m pleased to see the historically-accurate presence of women in the Assassin’s Creed: Unity crowds, in the storming-of-the-palace scenario we were shown at E3—but the fact that women remain unplayable, as a hands-off role, as actors-but-not-protagonists, indicates that Ubisoft is taking a regressive step with Unity, not just for the Assassin’s Creed series, not just for the representation of women in videogames, but in representation of the women of the French Revolution.
Anonymous said: I love your bas liz cosplay! The wig is flawless, where'd you get it? Or is it your actual hair :?
Thank you kindly! That wig man… that wig was an ordeal which tested my sanity. Supposedly, the night I finished curling it, I was laughing maniacally in my sleep and whispering feverishly ”Look at the curls! It worked! IT WORKED!” So, to answer your question: I bought Arda’s lovely lace-front Matilda wig and then spent many hours hacking away at it with scissors and dual-wielding a curling iron and hairspray.