Mar 1, 1980

Rousseau’s Anti-feminism

“Rousseau neglects to recognize how women have been warped and limited by [their respective] socialization and cultural context[s].”

Susan Mollier Okin

“Rousseau’s Natural Woman.” The Journal of Politics 41(1979):393–416.

As a rule, women were generally ignored in political philosophy of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Jean-Jacque Rousseau, one of the few philosophers who discussed women in his writings, reflected the general patriarchal bias of political theorists.

Rousseau claimed that patriarchy is a necessary basis of human society. He considered the family to be a natural state of nature, and within that institution must be one final authority—the dominant male.

Thus the socialization and education of women should be based on the principles that women were created solely to please man and to be subjected to him. The natural woman has inborn characteristics of shame and modesty, and a desire for servility. She should be only what her “husband expects her to be, “and behave asexually toward all other men.

The problems with Rousseau’s conception are that he creates a total dilemma for the woman: she has no chance to be an individual, much less a citizen. Contrary to his views of men, Rousseau neglects to recognize how women have been warped and limited by the socialization and cultural context they have been subjected to throughout their lives. Ironically, Rousseau felt that although the nurturing of intellect and reason is necessary for men, these qualities are innate in women and thus unnecessary to teach.

The purpose of studying Rousseau’s conception of women is not for the benefits of his anti-feminist stance, but rather to understand a controlling paradigm and mentality of the eighteenth and nineteenth century in exploring the situation of women.