Fragile in every sense of the word, they [women] are obliged to to look up to man for every comfort. In the most trifling dangers they cling to their support, with parasitical tenacity, piteously demanding succour; and their natural protector extends his arm, or lifts up his voice, to guard the lovely trembler--from what? Perhaps the frown of an old cow, or the jump of a mouse; a rat would be a serious danger. In the name of reason, and even common sense, what can save such beings from contempt; even though they be soft and fair?....
I am fully persuaded that we should hear of none of these infantine airs, if girls were allowed to take sufficient exercise, and not confined in close rooms till their muscles are relaxed, and their powers of digestion destroyed.... If fear in girls, instead of being cherished, perhaps created, were treated in the same manner as cowardice in boys, we should quickly see women with more dignified aspects.... "Educate women like men," says Rousseau, "and the more they resemble our sex, the less power they will have over us." This is the very point I aim at. I do not wish them to have power over men; but over themselves. ( 106-107 )
...I cannot avoid feeling the most lively compassion for those unfortunate females who are broken off from society, and by one error torn from all those affections and relationships that improve the heart and mind. It does not frequently even deserve the name of error; for many innocent girls become the dupes of a sincere, affectionate heart, and still more are, as it may emphatically be termed, ruined before they know the difference between virtue and vice:--and thus prepared by their education for infamy, they become infamous. Asylums and Magdalens are not the proper remedies for these abuses. It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world: ( 119 )
Necessity never makes prostitution the business of men's lives; though numberless are the women who are thus rendered systematically vicious. This, however, arises, in a great degree, from the state of idleness in which women are educated, who are always taught to look up to man for a maintenance, and to consider their persons as the proper return for his exertions to support them. ( 120 )
It would almost provoke a smile of contempt, if the vain absurdities of man did not strike us on all sides, to observe, how eager men are to degrade the sex from whom they pretend to receive the chief pleasure of life.... ( 121 )
From the same source flows an opinion that young girls ought to dedicate a great part of their time to needlework; yet, this employment contracts their faculties more than any other that could have been chosen for them, by confining their thoughts to their persons.... It is not indeed the making of necessaries that weakens the mind; but the frippery of dress.... False notions of female excellence make them proud of this delicacy, though it be another fetter, that by calling the attention continually to the body, cramps the activity of the mind. ( 124-26 )
Considering the length of time that women have been dependent, is it surprising that some of them hug their chains, and fawn like the spaniel? "These dogs," observes a naturalist, "at first kept their ears erect; but custom has superseded nature, and a token of fear is become a beauty." ( 135 )
The being who patiently endures injustice, and silently bears insults, will soon become unjust, or unable to discern right from wrong.... Of what materials can that heart be composed which can melt when insulted, and instead of revolting at injustice, kiss the rod? Is it unfair to infer that her virtue is built on narrow views and selfishness, who can caress a man, with true feminine softness, the very moment when he treats her tyrannically? Nature never dictated such insincerity;--and, though prudence of this sort be termed a virtue, morality becames vague when any part is supposed to rest on false-hood. ( 136-37 )
What opinion are we to form of a system of education, when the author [Rousseau] says of his heroine, "that with her, doing things well, is but a secondary concern; her principal concern is to do them neatly."....
After thus cramping a woman's mind, if, in order to keep it fair, he have not made it quite a blank, he advises her to reflect, that a reflecting man may not yawn in her company, when he is tired of caressing her. What has she to reflect about who must obey? and would it not be a refinement on cruelty only to open her mind to make the darkness and misery of her fate visible? ( 142 )
There have been many women in the world who, instead of being supported by the reason and virtue of their fathers and brothers, have strengthened their own minds by struggling with their vices and follies; yet have never met with a hero, in the shape of a husband.... ( 148 )
Why are girls to be told that they resemble angels; but to sink them below women? (151)
A virtuous man may have a choleric or a sanguine constitution, be gay or grave, unreproved: be firm till he is almost over-bearing, or, weakly submissive, have no will or opinion of his own; but all women are to be levelled, by meekness and docility, into one character of yielding softness and gentle compliance. ( 151 )
"What signifies it," pursues this rhapsodist [Rousseau], "to women, that his reason disputes with them the empire, when his heart is devotedly theirs." It is not empire,--but equality, that they should contend for. ( 162 )
Women as well as men ought to have the common appetites and passions of their nature, they are only brutal when unchecked by reason: but the obligation to check them is the duty of mankind, not a sexual duty. ( 197 )
Still there are some loopholes out of which a man may creep, and dare to think and act for himself; but for a woman it is a herculean task, because she has difficulties peculiar to her sex to overcome which require almost superhuman powers. ( 217 )
The laws respecting woman, which I mean to discuss in a future part, make an absurd unit of a man and his wife; and by the easy transition of only considering him as responsible, she is reduced to a mere cypher. ( 218 )
But to render her really virtuous and useful, she must not, if she discharge her civil duties, want, individually, the protection of civil laws; she must not be dependent on her husband's bounty for her subsistence during his life or support after his death--for how can a being be generous who has nothing of its own? or virtuous, who is not free? ( 219 )
...Though I consider that women in the common walks of life are called to fulfil the duties of wives and mothers, by religion and reason, I cannot help lamenting that women of a superior cast have not a road open by which they can pursue more extensive plans of usefulness and independence. I may excite laughter by dropping a hint which I mean to pursue some future time, for I really think that women ought to have representatives, instead of being arbitrarily governed without having any direct share allowed them in the deliberations of government.... Women might certainly study the art of healing, and be physicians as well as nurses.... They might also study politics, and settle their benevolence on the broadest basis.... ( 220-22 )
Business of various kinds they might likewise pursue, if they were educated in a more orderly manner, which might save many from common and legal prostitution. Women would not then marry for a support, as men accept of places under government, and neglect the implied duties; nor would an attempt to earn their own subsistence--a most laudable one;--sink them almost to the level of those poor abandoned creatures who live by prostitution. For are not milliners and mantua-makers reckoned the next class? The few employments open to women, so far from being liberal, are menial; and when a superior education enables them to take charge of the education of children as governesses, they are not treated like the tutors of sons....Is not that government then very defective, and very unmindful of the happiness of one half its members, that does not provide for honest, independent women, by encouraging them to fill respectable stations?.... How many women thus waste life away the prey of discontent, who might have practiced as physicians, regulated a farm, managed a shop, and stood erect, supported by their own industry.... ( 223 )
...for girls, from various causes, are more kept down by their parents, in every sense of the word, than boys. The duty expected from them is, like all the duties arbitrarily imposed on women, more from a sense of propriety, more out of respect for decorum, than reason; and thus taught slavishly to submit to their parents, they are prepared for the slavery of marriage. ( 232 )
Were boys and girls permitted to pursue the same studies together, those graceful decencies might early be inculcated which produce modesty without those sexual distinctions that taint the mind. ( 247 )
She who has sufficient judgment to manage her children, will not submit, right or wrong, to her husband, or patiently to the social laws which make a nonentity of a wife. ( 263 )
Quotations from Norton 1967 edition, edited by Charles Hagelman.