Jean-Jaques Rousseau – “Emile” Response Paper

In every text thus far assigned, the female sex has been largely ignored. Men write of a ‘Social Contract’ where a person’s freedoms and rights are taken into account, only if that person is a man. Rousseau is the first to address women and how they should be viewed and treated under his sexual contract.

Rousseau begins by simply stating that there are physical differences between men and women. It is in these anatomical differences that he derives his rationalization for the subjugation of all women. “By comparative anatomy and even by mere inspection one can find general differences between them that seem to be unrelated to sex. However these differences do relate to sex through connections that we cannot perceive.”(Rousseau, 1) The differences begin with the sexual anatomical differences and spread from there. He makes the astounding leap that physical differences must influence morals. He has no concrete proof save that of past experience, taking no note of the fact that prior subjugation of women might have already influenced the morals of both sexes instead of the other way around.

His faulty logic basically spreads like a plague from this point on. Rousseau makes the seemingly sensible (from a modern standpoint) statement that “In the union of sexes, each alike contributes to the common end but not in the same way.” (Rousseau, 1) He then springboards from there, stating that men are powerful and women are weak. Woman is made to please a man, but it is not quite as necessary for the man to please the woman. He doesn’t have to try so hard at it. She should just be pleased through his natural strength. Subsequently, women gain their strength through sexually tempting man and then pushing him away. Man will always force himself. Woman always resists, just less so when she actually wants to procreate. This is one way in which Rousseau legitimizes the forced sex acts upon women, reversing the true nature of the situation so that women seem in control of their own rape.

Later, Rousseau goes on to state that a woman’s place in society is dependent upon the opinions of that society. “Worth alone will not suffice, a woman must be thought worthy;” (Rousseau, 4) From here, he goes on to deduce that since this opinion is all that matters, women want to please men. That is what they live for, to please men and to rear their children. He stipulates that women should only want to please men who have a manly character – a man of “worth.” (Rousseau, 5)

The last issue Rousseau takes up is women’s freedom. He writes that women should be given some freedom, but at the height of it, when they are enjoying themselves, it should be taken away. This constant restraint will lead to a natural docility “which woman requires all her life, for she will always be in subjugation to a man, or to man’s judgment, and she will never be free to set her own opinion above his.” It is this idea that leads to important political consequences. It is the final statement that shows mans domination over woman and how it is a product of the sexual contract.

This suppression of women can only end up in one type of society, a patriarchy. A governmental system is then created based on this, where political right is based on sexual right and women have no sexual rights, according to Rousseau. “The original pact is a sexual as well as a social contract: it is sexual in the sense of patriarchal – that is, the contract establishes men’s political right over women – and also sexual in the sense of establishing orderly access by men to women’s bodies.” (Pateman, 2) If women have no sexual rights, then they also have no political rights. The consequences are extraordinarily negative for women. They have absolutely no representation in the political arena. Thus, they are not able to speak for themselves, promote new ways of thinking and get new laws passed. In this way, they are held down more permanently. It is amazing to think we were ever able to rise above this so much as we have today.

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