Elevate Difference

The Women Incendiaries

The Women Incendiaries was reprinted in paperback this year from the nonprofit book publisher, Haymarket Books. This classic feminist text was first published in France in 1963 and translated to English three years later. It describes the role women played in the Paris Commune, an anarchist-socialist government that took hold of Paris for two months in the spring of 1871.

This book is not a light read, but for anyone who has interest in the current political atmosphere, this revolutionary tale provides historical significance. It was a time, much like our own, when military defeat and poor political leadership encouraged an ever-widening disparity between rich and poor. The disillusionment of the working class was at an all time high, and personal dignity was often sacrificed in the name of survival.

And of those who suffered, women were one of the most transgressed. Their mother-wife role in the patriarchal society was clear, but as the working poor they were unable to live up to this moral standard, and those with money and power condemned them for it. Many of the female revolutionaries of the time rightly believed that women’s rights were an inextricable part of worker’s rights, and you could not have one without the other. With this conviction in mind, they took a large part in organizing and fighting within revolutionary organizations, including the French socialist movement that gave rise to the Paris Commune. The role they played in this battle for dignity, and its effect on the future of women’s liberation, is not mentioned in history books. But thanks to historian Edith Thomas, we have a detailed and unflinching account of these inspiring feminists.

Unfortunately, the author isn’t writing for the uninitiated. Her audience is primarily women’s studies students and historians. Thankfully, she takes extensive footnotes, and leaves a trail of books to which the reader can go for more information. If you’re a fan of classic feminist literature, this book is a must for your collection.

Written by: Jessica Star Rockers, September 1st 2007