A lot of skepticism about the interest of women philosophers of the French Revolution is due to the belief that the arguments of women involved in the Revolution came from a place of great privilege, and that they did nothing to address the plight of women who were poor, or even enslaved.
This leads critiques to nod gently and say, perhaps, that this first effort towards women's emancipation was indeed admirable, and helped set the tone for later efforts, but that it isn't quite what we're looking for.
Similar points are often made about Mary Wollstonecraft – her feminism was too bourgeois, and it did not address the pressing concerns of working class women (despite the fact that half of her final book, Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman, concerns the plight of working class women).
Some things need to be cleared up here. Out of the three women I research, only one, Sophie de Grouchy, was an aristocrat. Olympe de Gouges, (Marie Gouzes by birth) was the illegitimate daughter of an aristocrat. But the father who brought her up was a butcher, and her mother died in poverty. She was educated badly, like a country girl, and only became cultured and literate because she worked hard on teaching herself as a young adult.
Manon Roland's father was an artisan, and by the time she was a teenager, he was a failing alcoholic of an artisan. His people had been wine sellers. Her maternal aunt was a servant in the household of a rich woman. Manon was brought up in Paris, and her education received more care because she was a bright, and an only child. But she describes running errands as a child in the streets by the Ile de la Cité, mixing with the common people and not looking or feeling any different from them. Manon married into minor nobility (Jean-Marie Roland was the younger son of a small aristocratic family, but had to earn a living for himself by working as an inspector of textile manufactures).
So why do people assume that these women must have been aristocrats? Perhaps because they don't think it would have been possible for women who were not already privileged to stand out from the crowds, to educate themselves, and to make their voices heard. This is something that men can do – women must conform and stay with their family.
Another side of the prejudice is the enduring belief that as privileged women, they would not have been in a position to understand or sympathize with women who were not privileged. Again this is an objection that specifically applies to women. No-one complains of Condorcet that he was an aristocrat. No one suggests that as such his political writings are outdated, or unhelpful for the common people.
So I'm just setting the record straight here. The women of the French Revolution were not all aristocrats, and even when they were, they were just as capable of being informed about the poor and the disadvantaged as their male counterparts were. Of course, privilege remained an obstacle to full understanding, but not to the extent to which we should now reject their writings. So keep reading!
This is where I live blog about my new book project, an intellectual biography of three French Revolutionary women philosophers.