What is the argument of opponents of women’s suffrage? Their incapacity, their feeble mind, their ignorance! They proclaim, by this very fact, that universal suffrage is a function. Men are sole responsible for regulating it. They establish themselves as the sovereign judges of the aptitudes of those who are to fulfill it. They claim to be the only ones capable of doing so; all of them are capable; and being the strongest, they exclude all women. After having banned half the nation from that role, they pompously declare that they have established universal suffrage. It is the oligarchy of sex substituted for the oligarchy of money.
It is tempting for a liberty-minded historian to leave untouched the comforting presumption that French classical liberals, who championed freedom for the individual in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, must have upheld women’s rights too. Contemporary studies, while often obliterating the role of men in the development of feminist rhetoric, have found occasionally in the history of ideas some remarkable advocates well ahead of their times, and they have offered them as objects of uncritical admiration, in a sort of reconciliatory carnival. One easily concludes that feminism was burgeoning in every century, and that the rising tide was lifting up all boats. […]