Selections from The Emile by Jean Jacques Rousseau


[1247:] Here we have reached the last act of youth's drama, but we are not yet at its final scene.

[1248:] Man should not be alone. Emile is now a man. We have promised him a companion; we must give her to him. That companion is Sophie. What kind of a home does she have? Where will we find her? In order to find her, we must be able to recognize her. So let us first know what she is, and then we can better judge where she lives. 

[1249:] SOPHIE, OR THE WIFE1250:] Sophie should be a woman as Emile is a man. That is to say, she should have everything that suits the constitution of her species and of her sex so as to take her place in the physical and moral order. Let us begin, therefore, by examining the similarities and differences between her sex and ours.

[1251:] In all that does not relate to sex , woman is man. She has the same organs, the same needs, the same faculties. The machine is constructed in the same manner, the parts are the same, the workings of the one are the same as the other, and the appearance of the two is similar. From whatever aspect one considers them, they differ only by degree.

[1252:] In all that does relate to sex, woman and man are in every way related and in every way different. 

[1253:] These relations and differences must influence morals. Such a deduction is both obvious and in accordance with experience, and it shows the vanity of the disputes concerning preferences or the equality of the sexes. As if each sex, pursuing the path marked out for it by nature, were not more perfect in that very divergence than if it more closely resembled the other! In those things which the sexes have in common they are equal; where they differ they are not comparable. A perfect woman and a perfect man should no more be alike in mind than in face, and perfection admits of neither less nor more.

[1254:] In the union of the sexes, each alike contributes to the common end but not in the same way. From this diversity springs the first difference which may be observed in the moral relations between the one and the other. The one should be active and strong, the other passive and weak. It is necessary that the one have the power and the will; it is enough that the other should offer little resistance.

[1255:] Once this principle is established it follows that woman is specially made to please man. If man ought to please her in turn, the necessity is less urgent. His merit is in his power; he pleases because he is strong. This is not the law of love, I admit, but it is the law of nature.

[1256:] If woman is made to please and to be subjected, she ought to make herself pleasing to man instead of provoking him. Her strength is in her charms; by their means she should compel him to discover his strength and to use it. The surest way of arousing this strength is to make it necessary by by resistance . . .. The one triumphs from a victory that the other made him win. This is the origin of attack and defense, of the boldness of one sex and the timidity of the other, and even of the shame and modesty with which nature has armed the weak for the conquest of the strong.

[1257:] Who could imagine that nature arbitrarily prescribed the same advances to both. . . . would it be natural for them to engage in it with equal boldness? How can any one not see that with such a great disparity in the common stakes, if reserve did not impose on one sex the moderation that nature imposes on the other, the result would be the destruction of both, and the human race would perish through the very means established for preserving it?With the facility women have of arousing men's senses and of awakening in the depths of their hearts feelings that were thought to have died, if there were some unlucky country where philosophy had introduced this custom (especially if it were a hot climate where more women are born than men), the men would be tyrannized over by the women. They would eventually become their victims and would find themselves dragged to their death without ever being able to defend themselves.

[1260:] Whether the human female shares the man's desires or not, whether she is willing or unwilling to satisfy them, still she always pushes him away and defends herself, though not always with the same force nor consequently with the same success. In order for the attacker to be victorious, the one attacked must permit it or order it -- for how many skillful ways are there to stimulate the efforts of the aggressor? The freest and sweetest of acts does not permit of any real violence; indeed both reason and nature are against it -- nature, in that it has given the weakest enough strength to resist when she pleases; reason, in that real violence is not only the most brutal of acts but the one most contrary to its own ends, not only because the man thus declares war against his companion and hence gives her a right to defend her person and her liberty even at the cost of the aggressor's life, but also because the woman alone is the judge of her condition, and a child would have no father if any man might usurp a father's rights.

[1261:] Here then is a third consequence of the constitution of the sexes, which is that the stronger is the master in all appearance and yet in effect depends on the weaker. And this is not due to any frivolous custom of gallantry nor to any prideful generosity on the part of the protector, but to an invariable law of nature which, by giving the woman more of a facility to excite desires than man has to satisfy them, makes him dependent on her whether she likes it or not and forces him in turn to please her in order to obtain her consent to let him be the strongest. Is it weakness which yields to force, or is it voluntary self-surrender? This uncertainty constitutes the chief charm of the man's victory, and the woman usually has enough guile to leave him in doubt. In this respect the woman's mind exactly resembles her body; far from being ashamed of her weakness, she is glories in it. Her soft muscles offer no resistance, she professes that she cannot lift the lightest weight; she would be ashamed to be strong. And why? It is not only in order to appear delicate; it is for the sake of a more clever precaution. She is providing herself beforehand with excuses and with the right to be weak when it is necessary.

[1263:] The effect of these divergent opinions on morals is obvious. The main result has been the appearance of modern gallantry. Having found that their pleasures depend more than they expected on the good will of the fair sex, men have secured this good will by attentions which have had their reward.

. . . . She serves as a liasion between them and their father; she alone can make him love them and give him the confidence to call them his own. What tenderness and care is required to maintain a whole family as a unit! 

[1267:] It is thus not only important that the wife be faithful but that she be judged so by her husband, by those near him, by everyone. She must be modest, attentive, reserved, and she must have in others' eyes as in her own conscience the evidence of her virtue. If it is important that a father love his children, it is important that he respect their mother. Such are the reasons that put appearance on the list of the duties of women and make honor and reputation no less indispensable to them than chastity. Along with the moral differences between the sexes these principles give rise to a new motive for duty and convenience, one that prescribes especially for women the most scrupulous attention to their conduct, to their manners, to their behavior. To maintain vaguely that the two sexes are equal and that their duties are the same is to get lost in vain speeches. One hardly need to respond to all that.

[1273:] Do you wish always to be guided well? Then always follow the path that nature indicates. Everything that characterizes sex ought to be respected as established by nature. You are always saying, "Women have such and such faults that we do not have." Your pride fools you. These may be faults for you, but they are qualities for them; and everything would go less well if they were without them.

. . . . The more women resemble men, the less influence they will have over them, and then the men will truly be the masters.

[1275:] All the faculties common to both sexes are not equally shared between, them, but taken as a whole they compensate for each other. Woman is worth more as a woman and less as a man. When she makes a good use of her own rights, she has the advantage; when she tries to usurp our rights, she stays beneath us. It is impossible to go against this general truth except by quoting exceptions, which is the usual manner of argumentation by partisans of the fair sex.

[1276:] To cultivate the masculine virtues in women and to neglect their own is obviously to do them an injury. Women are too clear-sighted to be thus deceived. When they try to usurp our privileges they do not abandon their own. But the result is that being unable to manage the two, because they are incompatible, they fall below their own potential without reaching our's and loose half of their worth. Believe me, wise mother, do not try to make your daughter a good man in defiance of nature. Make her a good woman, and be sure it will be better both for her and us.

[1305:] What is, is good, and no general law can be bad. The special skill with which the female sex is endowed is a fair equivalent for its lack of strength; without it woman would be man's slave, not his helpmeet. By her superiority in this respect she maintains her equality with man and rules in obedience. She has everything against her-- our faults and her own weakness and timidity. Her beauty and her wiles are all that she has. Should she not cultivate both? Yet beauty is not universal; it may be destroyed by all sorts of accidents, it will disappear with years, and habit will destroy its influence. A woman's real resource is her wit, not that foolish wit which is so greatly admired in society, a wit which does nothing to make life happier, but that wit which is adapted to her condition, the art of taking advantage of our position and controlling us through our own strength. Words cannot tell how beneficial this is to man, what a charm it gives to the society of men and women, how it checks the petulant child and restrains the brutal husband. Wthout it the home would be a scene of strife; with it, it is the abode of happiness. I know that this power is abused by the sly and the spiteful; but what is there that is not liable to abuse? Do not destroy the means of happiness simply because bad people sometimes use them to hurt us.

[1348:] If you want to see a man in a quandary, place him between two women with each of whom he has a secret understanding, and see what a fool he looks. But put a woman in similar circumstances between two men, and the results will be even more remarkable. You will be astonished at the skill with which she cheats them both and makes them laugh at each other. Now if that woman were to show the same confidence in both, if she were to be equally familiar with both, how could they be deceived for a moment? If she treated them alike, would she not show that they both had the same claims upon her? Oh, she is far too clever for that! So far from treating them just alike, she makes a marked difference between them, and she does it so skillfully that the man she flatters thinks it is affection, and the man she ill uses think it is spite. So that each of them believes she is thinking of him, when she is thinking of no one but herself.

Woman, weak as she is and limited in her range of observation, perceives and judges the forces at her disposal to supplement her weakness, and those forces are the passions of man. Her own mechanism is more powerful than ours; she has many levers which may set the human heart in motion. She must find a way to make us desire what she cannot achieve unaided and what she considers necessary or pleasing. 

Therefore she must have a thorough knowledge of man's mind -- not an abstract knowledge of the mind of man in general, but the mind of those men who are about her, the mind of those men who have authority over her, either by law or custom. She must learn to intuit their feelings from speech and action, look and gesture. By her own speech and action, look and gesture, she must be able to inspire them with the feelings she desires, without seeming to have any such purpose. 

The men will have a better philosophy of the human heart, but she will read more accurately in the heart of men. . .. Woman has more wit, man more genius; woman observes, man reasons. Together they provide the clearest light and the profoundest knowledge which is possible to the unaided human mind -- in a word, the surest knowledge of self and of others of which the human race is capable. . . .

© Hank Edmondson 2012