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Rousseau on Women and the Family

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What is Rousseau's general teaching on women and the family?

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Solution Summary

Jean Jacques Rousseau's opinions, reflections and perspectives on women and the family are explored extensively in this solution. His most prolific work on the subject matter are reviewed (Emile, The discourse on Inequality, etc.) to present a picture of how the philsopher saw the varied roles and challenges that women face in society, locating their place in society according to the social situation of his time.

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Rousseau on women and the family

For Rousseau, women are made different from men by nature and their political inequality emerges from this difference. Man, according to Rousseau, is intended by nature to "be strong and active;" woman, on the other hand, is intended to be "weak and passive." Man is intended to have "the power and the will" and women are intended to "offer little resistance." Women are "specially made for man's delight," they are "made... to be in subjection to men," and so they "ought to obey" men. Women, according to Rousseau, have been made different from men by nature, and therefore stand in a different relation to men than men do to each other.

Too much should not be made, however, of Rousseau's claims concerning natural difference and their significance for inequality. For Rousseau, differences are contrived by nature; inequalities are not. The different and politically unequal positions of men and women in civil society are constructed (in accordance with nature) toward specific social and political ends.

In both Emile and The Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau advocates a radical division of roles based on ...

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