SOME STEREOTYPICAL VIEWS OF WOMEN

--Formulated and Contested During the Restoration and Eighteenth Century

From an English translation made originally in 1677 (rpt. 1739) of François Poullain de La Barre's The Woman as Good as the Man. Or, the Equality of Both Sexes:

Let every Man (in particular) be asked his Thoughts of Women (in general) and that he would surely confess his Mind; he will tell you without doubt, That they were not made but for Man; That they are fit for nothing, but to Nurse; and Breed little Children in their Low Age; and to mind the House. It may be the more Ingenious will add, That there are many Women that have indeed Parts, and Conduct; but that even they who seem to have most, when they are nearly examined, discover [i.e., reveal] still some-what that speaks their Sex: That they have neither Solidity, nor Constancy; nor that depth of Judgment which they think to find in themselves: And that it hath been an Effect of Divine Providence, and Wisdom of Men, to have barred them from Sciences, Government, and Offices: That it would be a pleasant thing indeed, to see a Lady in the Chair (in quality of a Professor) teaching Rhetorick, or Medicine; marching along the Streets, followed by Officers, and Sergeants; putting in Execution Lawes: Playing the part of a Counsellour; pleading before Judges: Seated on a Bench, to Administer Justice in Supream Courts: Leading of an Army; giving Battel; and Speaking before States, and Princes, as the Head of an Embassy.

I do confess, such Practices would surprize us; but for no other reason, but that of Novelty. For if, in the modelling of States, and establishing the different Offices that compose them, Women had been like-wise called to Functions; we should have been as much accustomed to have seen them in Dignity, as they are to see us. And should have found it no more strange to have seen a Lady on a Throne, than a Woman in a Shop.

From Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Émile, or On Education (1762).

Books I-IV describe educating Émile, "the natural man," from infancy through childhood. In Book V, he will describe Émile's perfect mate.

Book V

We have reached the last act in the drama of youth but the denouement has still to come.

It is not good for man to be alone. Emile is now a man. We must give him the mate we promised him. The mate is Sophie. . .

Sophie, or The Woman

Sophie should be as typically woman as Émile is man. She must possess all the characteristics of humanity and womanhood which she needs for playing her part in the physical and the moral order. . . .

A perfect man and a perfect woman should no more resemble each other in mind than in countenance . . . .

. . . . One should be active and strong, the other passive and weak; it is necessary that one wills and imposes his will, it is enough that the other resists little.

Accept this principle and it follows that woman has been made especially to please man. If the man must please her in turn, the necessity is less direct. His merit resides in his mastery; he pleases by the very fact that he is strong. This is not the law of love, I admit; but it is the law of nature which is more ancient than love.

If woman is made to please and to be dominated, she ought to make herself agreeable to the man instead of provoking him: her power is in her charms; it is by them that she must constrain him to discover his power and use it. The surest way of animating this power is to render it necessary by resistance. In this way self-esteem is added to desire and the man triumphs in the victory which the woman has compelled him to achieve. Out of this relation comes attack and defence, the audacity of the one sex and the timidity of the other, and in the end the modesty and sense of shame with which nature has armed the weak for the subjugation of the strong.

. . . .

Here is therefore a third consequence of the constitution of the sexes: it is that the strongest be the master in appearance only and in effect actually depend on the weakest. And this is not due to the frivolous customs of gallantry, nor to the proud generosity of the protector, but rather to an invariable law of nature: by giving woman the capacity to stimulate desires greater than the man can satisfy, nature has made man dependent on woman's good will and has constrained him to seek to please her as a condition of her submission. . . .

Once it has been shown that men and women are essentially different in character and temperament, it follows that they ought not to have the same education. . . . Believe me, wise mother, it is a mistake to bring up your daughter to be like a good man. Make her a good woman, and you can be sure that she will be worth more for herself and for us. This does not mean that she should be brought up in utter ignorance and confined to domestic tasks. A man does not want to make his companion a servant and deprive himself of the peculiar charms of her company. That is quite against the teachings of nature, which has endowed women with quick pleasing minds. Nature means them to think, to judge, to love, to know and cultivate the mind as well as the countenance. This is the equipment nature has given them to compensate for their lack of strength and enable them to direct the strengths of men. They must learn many things, but only those which it is suitable for them to know.

As I see it, the special functions of women, their inclinations and their duties, combine to suggest the kind of education they require. Men and women are made for each other but they differ in the measure of their dependence on each other. We could get on better without women than women could get on without us. To play their part in life they must have our willing help, and for that they must earn our esteem. By the very law of nature women are at the mercy of men's judgments both for themselves and for their children. It is not enough that they should be estimable: they must be esteemed. It is not enough that they should be beautiful: they must be pleasing. It is not enough that they should be wise, their wisdom must be recognized. Their honour does not rest on their conduct but on their reputation, and it is not possible that those who consent to pass for infamous could ever be honest. The man in doing well depends upon no one but himself and can brave the public judgment, but the woman in doing well has only done half of her task, and that which one thinks about her is not less important than what she is in reality. It follows from that that the system of her education must be the opposite in that respect of ours: public opinion is the tomb of a man's virtue, but the throne of a woman's.

On the good constitution of the mothers depends that of the children,<1> and the early education of men is in their hands. On women too depend the morals, the passions, the tastes, the pleasures, and even the happiness of men. For this reason t heir education must be wholly directed to their relations with men. To give them pleasure, to be useful to them, to win their love and esteem, to train them in their childhood, to care for them when they grow up, to give them counsel and consolation, to make life sweet and agreeable for them: these are the tasks of women in all times for which they should be trained from childhood. . . .

<1> What Rousseau means by this statement, in physical terms, is clear in Book I: "Let mothers deign to nurse their babies and a general reform of morals will follow as a matter of course. The natural sentiments will re-awaken in all hearts . . . . Once women become good mothers, men will not be long in becoming good husbands and fathers."

From Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792):

from Ch. 2: "The Prevailing Opinion of a Sexual Character"

Many are the causes that, in the present corrupt state of society, contribute to enslave women by cramping their understandings and sharpening their senses. . . .

. . . . In the present state of society, a little learning is required to support the character of a gentleman; and boys are obliged to submit to a few years of discipline. But in the education of women, the cultivation of the understanding is always subordinate to the acquirement of some corporeal accomplishment; even while enervated by confinement and false notions of modesty, the body is prevented from attaining that grace and beauty which relaxed, half-formed limbs never exhibit. Besides, in youth their faculties are not brought forward by emulation; and having no serious scientific study, if they have natural sagacity it is turned too soon on life and manners. They dwell on effects, and modifications, without tracing them back to causes; and complicated rules to adjust behaviour are a weak substitute for simple principles.

As a proof that education gives this appearance of weakness to females, we may instance the example of military men, who are, like them, sent into the world before their minds have been stored with knowledge or fortified by principles. The consequences are similar; soldiers acquire a little superficial knowledge, snatched from the muddy current of conversation, and, from continually mixing with society, they gain, what is termed a knowledge of the world; and this acquaintance with manners and customs has frequently been confounded with a knowledge of the human heart. But can the crude fruit of casual observation . . . deserve such a distinction? Soldiers, as well as women, practice the minor virtues with punctilious politeness. Where is then the sexual difference, when the education has been the same? . . . .

. . . . [A]s for any depth of understanding, I will venture to affirm, that is as rarely to be found in the army as amongst women; and the cause, I maintain is the same. . . . Like the fair sex, the business of their lives is gallantry.--They were taught to please, and they live only to please. . . . [B]oth acquire manners before morals, and a knowledge of life before they have, from reflection, any acquaintance with the prey to prejudices, and taking all their opinions on credit, they blindly submit to authority. . . . [B]oth are thrown out of a useful station by the unnatural distinctions established in civilized life. Riches and hereditary honours have made cyphers of women to give consequence to the numerical figure; and idleness has produced a mixture of gallantry and despotism into society, which leads the very men who are the laves of their mistresses to tyrannize over their sisters, wives, and daughters. . . . Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience; but, as blind obedience is ever sought for by power, tyrants and sensualists are in the right when they endeavor to keep women in the dark, because the former only want slaves, and the latter a plaything. The sensualist, indeed, has been the most dangerous of tyrants, and women have been duped by their lovers, as princes by their ministers, whilst dreaming that they reigned over them.

I now principally allude to Rousseau, for his character of Sophia is undoubtedly, a captivating one, though it appears to me grossly unnatural; . . . warmly as I admire the genius of that able writer, whose opinions I shall often have occasion to cite, indignation always takes the place of admiration, and the rigid frown of insulted virtue effaces the smile of complacency . . . when I read his voluptuous reveries. . . .

. . . . Rousseau declares that a woman should never, for a moment, feel herself independent, that she should be governed by fear to exercise her natural cunning, and made a coquettish slave in order to render her a more alluring object of desire, a sweeter companion to man, whenever he chooses to relax himself. He . . . pretends to draw [his arguments] from the indications of nature. . . , and insinuates that truth and fortitude, the corner stones of all human virtue should be cultivated with certain restrictions, because, with respect to the female character, obedience is the grand lesson which ought to be impressed with unrelenting rigour.

What nonsense! when will a great man arise with sufficient strength of mind to puff away the fumes which pride and sensuality have thus spread over the subject!