This chapter considers the contradictions of women's emancipation in light of the American (1776) and the French (1789) revolutions. It shows how the resistance to women's citizenship had less to do with the necessarily slow but inevitable progress of liberal democratic ideas than it did with a contradiction at the very heart of the political thinking that articulated them—a political thinking integral to the discourse of secularism. Liberal political theory postulated the sameness of all individuals as the key to their formal equality—abstracted from their circumstances there was no discernable difference among them, they stood as equals before the law. At the same time there were differences that were thought to refuse abstraction. These were people in a state of dependency, such as propertyless peasants, wage laborers, women, children, slaves. Therefore, they could not be counted as autonomous individuals—autonomy, after all, was at the heart of the very definition of individuality.
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