Marie Antoinette’s unpopularity in France manifested itself in accusations of her wild, uncontrolled sexuality, often in the form of short pamphlets that denounced her character. The nation’s intense hatred stemmed from her status as a foreigner, as she came to France from Austria, and her role as a public figure and woman in power. In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, people tended to fear female influence in politics. Queens and mistresses in particular could hold a lot of sway over male rulers using their sexuality as a way to influence rulers to get what they wanted. This gave queens and mistresses a lot of political influence, even if unofficially. This female power over one ruler was fragmented by positions of queen, official mistresses, and unofficial mistresses so the influence was not coming from only one source, which lessened the overall effect (Goodman 52). This was not the case with Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI as he did not have any official mistresses and kept no favorites. This left his queen as the sole female influence in his life, which many perceived as threatening since it gave the queen more power to influence politics and royal decisions than any previous queen had (Thomas 17). Also, since Louis XVI was widely thought of a weak ruler in France, the French people thought they could rightly blame their queen for all the misfortunes in France. This was because Marie Antoinette was the sole female influence on Louis XVI, and the French populace, who still had faith in their monarch but hated their foreign queen, saw Marie Antoinette as using her sexuality to sway her husband towards damaging decisions for the nation (Goodman 52).
Women’s involvement in politics was seen as a corruptive in the late eighteenth century. As mentioned in the last section, ideas of women’s domestic role put women decisively in the private sphere, taking care of their children at home. Women who did not conform to this idea were perceived as threatening, especially women with a large public presence. This was mainly because public women were seen as corrupted women who could use their sexuality as a weapon against men, particularly men in power, and thus gain political influence themselves. Like the idea of women’s domesticity, Jean-Jacques Rousseau also contributed to the idea of “the corrupting influence of women’s involvement in politics” (Goodman 245).
Marie Antoinette was one of these public women. She became a very visible public figure, especially through imposing her own style and fashion within the court, something previous queens of France never did (Thomas 22). The role she took on usually belonged to the king’s favorite or the king himself, but Louis XVI had no mistresses and preferred to stay out of the public eye, leaving all the power and influence of this role to Marie Antoinette. This role she had is precisely what the pamphleteers found so threatening and targeted in their pamphlets. The pamphlets levied against Marie Antoinette were not much different than the negative manifestations of public opinion against previous women holding positions of power. There was a long tradition in France of using evidence of public opinion like pamphlets and songs to criticize powerful women, especially foreign women like Marie Antoinette (Thomas 132). The difference in the case of Marie Antoinette is that during her time as queen, the French Revolution broke out and her negative public image became dangerous (Thomas 132).
Examples of popular modern culture take very different stances on the topic of Marie Antoinette’s sexuality. Some try to downplay the accusations against her and declare them all false, especially in the case of the accusations of homosexuality against her. Others tend to glorify her sexual liberation. Either way, Marie Antoinette’s sexuality is still a matter of debate today, as it was during her lifetime.