Women in the Age of Enlightenment. History Essay. (Essay Sample)
GENERAL INSTRUCTION FOR WRITTEN ASSIGNMENTS:
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*** Give your paper a descriptive title (something other than “Paper #1”)
I. Introduction paragraph: Here you will introduce, in broad terms, the issue being
discussed. The ideal introduction opens with a sentence that grabs your reader’s
attention. Your introduction will become more specific as you build toward the last
sentence of your opening paragraph, which is the thesis. The thesis is your argument
—a debatable claim that you will then proceed to support in the body of your paper. The
best way to formulate a strong thesis is to come up with a series of thought-provoking
questions as you are reading the documents supplied. A good thesis will pique your
reader’s interest and require evidence to support it. (You may also refer to, and cite,
your text, but you should focus on the primary documents assigned.)
II. Historical Context: Place the topic in its historical context - discuss the period of time
and important issues that might have affected the two writers. [this can be included in
III. Building your argument: (several paragraphs making up the bulk of your paper): In the next several
paragraphs you will support your thesis using evidence from the documents provided. In the process, you
should make clear what the two or various subjects/individuals said about the issue you are
considering, and you should make clear what you want to say. A single paragraph should cover a single
subtopic, then transition to the next paragraph (and subtopic). Each paragraph should be structured in
.......................... Topic sentence: This is a sort of mini-thesis for this paragraph, in which
you introduce the subtopic this paragraph will cover. Keep in mind here and throughout
your writing process that everything in the paper
should connect back to your main thesis.
.......................... Evidence: Your topic sentence will be followed by a few sentences with
which you marshal evidence in support of your claim. The strongest evidence is a
quotation from the reading. (Be sure to cite your
source.) Keep in mind, though, that simply quoting is not enough. It is important to
discuss the quotations and explain how they support your own ideas. In addition,
carefully select the extent of the quote - too lengthy
quotes detract from the point you are making.
........................... Transition sentence: Here you wrap up the paragraph and shift
smoothly to the next paragraph (and subtopic).
IV. Conclusion: Do more here than simply restate your thesis. The conclusion is where you
discuss the implications of the debate you have just covered, and make clear the
significance of your argument. In other words, you explain to the reader why your paper
matters, and why it was worth reading.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Emile, 1762
In the union of the sexes, each alike contributes to the common end, though in different ways. From this
diversity springs the first difference that may be observed between man and woman in their moral
relations. One should be strong and active, the other weak and passive; one must necessarily have both
the power and the will, it is sufficient for the other to offer little resistance.
This principle being established, it follows that woman was specifically made to please man. If man ought
to please her in turn, the necessity is less direct. His merit lies in his power; he pleases simply because
he is strong. I grant you this is not the law of love; but it is the law of nature, which is older than love itself.
If woman is made to please and to be subjugated to man, she ought to make herself pleasing to him
rather than to provoke him; her particular strength lies in her charms; by their means she should compel
him to discover his own strength and put it to use. The surest art of arousing this strength is to render it
necessary by resistance. Thus pride reinforces desire and each triumphs in the other's victory. From this
originates attack and defense, the boldness of one sex and the timidity of the other and finally the
modesty and shame with which nature has armed the weak for the conquest of the strong....
The relative duties of the two sexes are not and cannot be equally rigid. When woman complains about
the unjust inequalities placed on her by man she is wrong; this inequality is by no means a human
institution or at least it is not the work of prejudice but of reason. She to whom nature has entrusted the
care of the children must hold herself accountable for them. No doubt every breach of faith is wrong and
every unfaithful husband who deprives his wife of the sole reward for the austere duties of her sex is an
unjust and barbarous man. But the unfaithful wife is worse. She dissolves the family and breaks all the
bonds of nature;. . . .
On the good constitution of mothers depends primarily that of the children; on the care of women
depends the early education of men; and on women, again, depend their morals, their passions, their
tastes, their pleasures, and even their happiness. Thus the whole education of women ought to be
relative to men. To please them, to be useful to them, to make themselves loved and honored by them, to
educate them when young, to care for them when grown, to council them, to console them, and to make
life agreeable and sweet to them—these are the duties of women at all times, and should be taught them
from their infancy....
Does this mean that she must be brought up in ignorance and kept to housework only? Is she to be man's
handmaid or his help-meet? Will he dispense with her greatest charm, her companionship? To keep her a
slave will he prevent her knowing and feeling? Will he make an automaton of her? No, indeed, that is not
the teaching of nature, who has given women such a pleasant easy wit. On the contrary, nature means
them to think, to will, to love, to cultivate their minds as well as their persons; she puts these weapons in
their hands to make up for their lack of strength and to enable them to direct the strength of men. They
should learn many things, but only such things as are suitable.
When I consider the special purpose of woman, when I observe her inclinations or reckon up her duties,
everything combines to indicate the mode of education she requires. Men and women are made for each
other, but their mutual dependence differs in degree; man is dependent on woman through his desires;
woman is dependent on man through her desires and also through her needs; he could do without her
better than she can do without him. She cannot fulfil her purpose in life without his aid, without his
goodwill, without his respect; she is dependent on our feelings, on the price we put upon her virtue, and
the opinion we have of her charms and her deserts. Nature herself has decreed that woman, both for
herself and her children, should be at the mercy of man's judgment.
Boys and girls have many games in common, and this is as it should be; do they not play together when
they are grown up? They have also special tastes of their own. Boys want movement and noise, drums,
tops, toy-carts; girls prefer things which appeal to the eye, and can be used for dressing-up—mirrors,
jewellery, finery, and specially dolls. The doll is the girl's special plaything; this shows her instinctive bent
towards her life's work. The art of pleasing finds its physical basis in personal adornment, and this
physical side of the art is the only one which the child can cultivate.
Here is a little girl busy all day with her doll; she is always changing its clothes, dressing and undressing
it, trying new combinations of trimmings well or ill matched; her fingers are clumsy, her taste is crude, but
there is no mistaking her bent; in this endless occupation time flies unheeded, the hours slip away
unnoticed, even meals are forgotten. She is more eager for adornment than for food. "But she is dressing
her doll, not herself," you will say. Just so; she sees. her doll, she cannot see herself; she cannot do
anything for herself, she has neither the training, nor the talent, nor the strength; as yet she herself is
nothing, she is engrossed in her doll and all her coquetry is devoted to it. This will not always be so; in
due time she will be her own doll. We have here a very early and clearly-marked bent; you have only to
follow it and train it. What the little girl most clearly desires is to dress her doll, to make its bows, its
tippets, its sashes, and its tuckers;...
Daughters must always be obedient, but mothers need not always be harsh. To make a girl docile you
need not make her miserable; to make her modest you need not terrify her; on the contrary, I should not
be sorry to see her allowed occasionally to exercise a little ingenuity, not to escape punishment for her
disobedience, but to evade the necessity for obedience. Her dependence need not be made unpleasant,
it is enough that she should realise that she is dependent. Cunning is a natural gift of woman, and so
convinced am I that all our natural inclinations are right, that I would cultivate this among others, only
guarding against its abuse.
The search for abstract and speculative truths, for principles and axioms in science, for all that tends to
wide generalisation, is beyond a woman's grasp; their studies should be thoroughly practical. It is their
business to apply the principles discovered by men, it is their place to make the observations which lead
men to discover those principles. A woman's thoughts, beyond the range of her immediate duties, should
be directed to the study of men, or the acquirement of that agreeable learning whose sole end is the
formation of taste; for the works of genius are beyond her reach, and she has neither the accuracy nor
the attention for success in the exact sciences; as for the physical sciences, to decide the relations
between living creatures and the laws of nature is the task of that sex which is more active and
enterprising, which sees more things, that sex which is possessed of greater strength and is more
accustomed to the exercise of that strength. Woman, weak as she is and limited in her range of
observation, perceives and judges the forces at her disposal to supplement her weakness.
Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Women
But what have women to do in society? I may be asked, but to loiter with easy grace; surely you would
not condemn them all to suckle fools and chronicle small beer! No. Women might certainly study the art of
healing, and be physicians as well as nurses. And midwifery, decency seems to allot to them, though I am
afraid the word midwife, in our dictionaries, will soon give place to accoucheur, and one proof of the
former delicacy of the sex be effaced from the language.
They might, also, study politics, and settle their benevolence on the broadest basis; for the reading of
history will scarcely be more useful than the perusal of romances, if read as mere biography; if the
character of the times, the political improvements, arts, &c. be not observed. In short, if it be not
considered as the history of man; and not of particular men, who filled a niche in the temple of fame, and
dropped into the black rolling stream of time, that silently sweeps all before it, into the shapeless void
called—eternity.—For shape, can it be called, 'that shape hath none?'
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 superiour education
enables them to take charge of the education of children as governesses, they are not treated like the
tutors of sons, though even clerical tutors are not always treated in a manner calculated to render them
respectable in the eyes of their pupils, to say nothing of the private comfort of the individual. But as
women educated like gentlewomen, are never designed for the humiliating situation which necessity
sometimes forces them to fill; these situations are considered in the light of a degradation; and they know
little of the human heart, who need to be told, that nothing so painfully sharpens the sensibility as such a
fall in life.
Some of these women might be restrained from marrying by a proper spirit of delicacy, and others may
not have had it in their power to escape in this pitiful way from servitude; is not that government then very
defective, and very unmindful of the happiness of one half of its members, that does not provide for
honest, independent women, by encouraging them to fill respectable stations? But in order to render their
private virtue a public benefit, they must have a civil existence in the state, married or single; else we
shall continually see some worthy woman, whose sensibility has been rendered painfully acute by
undeserved contempt, droop like 'the lily broken down by a plow-share.'
It is a melancholy truth; yet such is the blessed effect of civilization! the most respectable women are the
most oppressed; and, unless they have understandings far superiour to the common run of
understandings, taking in both sexes, they must, from being treated like contemptible beings, become
contemptible. How many women thus waste life away the prey of discontent, who might have practised as
physicians, regulated a farm, managed a shop, and stood erect, supported by their own industry, instead
of hanging their heads surcharged with the dew of sensibility, that consumes the beauty to which it at first
gave lustre; nay, I doubt whether pity and love are so near akin as poets feign, for I have seldom seen
much compassion excited by the helplessness of females, unless they were fair; then, perhaps, pity was
the soft handmaid of love, or the harbinger of lust.
How much more respectable is the woman who earns her own bread by fulfilling any duty, than the most
accomplished beauty!—beauty did I say!—so sensible am I of the beauty of moral loveliness, or the
harmonious propriety that attunes the passions of a well-regulated mind, that I blush at making the
comparison; yet I sigh to think how few women aim at attaining this respectability by withdrawing from the
giddy whirl of pleasure, or the indolent calm that stupefies the good sort of women it sucks in. 31
Proud of their weakness, however, they must always be protected, guarded from care, and all the rough
toils that dignify the mind.—If this be the fiat of fate, if they will make themselves insignificant and
contemptible, sweetly to waste 'life away' let them not expect to be valued when their beauty fades, for it
is the fate of the fairest flowers to be admired and pulled to pieces by the careless hand that plucked
them. In how many ways do I wish, from the purest benevolence, to impress this truth on my sex; yet I
fear that they will not listen to a truth that dear bought experience has brought home to many an agitated
bosom, nor willingly resign the privileges of rank and sex for the privileges of humanity, to which those
have no claim who do not discharge its duties.
Those writers are particularly useful, in my opinion, who make man feel for man, independent of the
station he fills, or the drapery of factitious sentiments. I then would fain convince reasonable men of the
importance of some of my remarks, and prevail on them to weigh dispassionately the whole tenor of my
observations.—I appeal to their understandings; and, as a fellow-creature, claim, in the name of my sex,
some interest in their hearts. I entreat them to assist to emancipate their companion, to make her a help
meet for them!
Would men but generously snap our chains, and be content with rational fellowship instead of slavish
obedience, they would find us more observant daughters, more affectionate sisters, more faithful wives,
more reasonable mothers—in a word, better citizens. We should then love them with true affection,
because we should learn to respect ourselves; and the peace of mind of a worthy man would not be
interrupted by the idle vanity of his wife.
Women in the Age of Enlightenment
The role of women in society is a controversial topic, but history dictates that society had historically confined the majority of women to the private sphere, the home. Inherent in the analysis of women’s’ history is the belief that more traditional recordings of events may have ignored or minimized their contribution to social progress As the problematic years of the Thirty Years’ War and Reformation elapsed, Western Europe ushered in the Age of Enlightenment. During this period, Enlightenment applied only for men, since the idea of enlightened reason excluded women as men used their innate female characteristics to prevent them from making any contribution to society.
Rousseau claims that in a marriage, each sex contributes to the common end, although in various ways. The woman is weak and passive, while the man is strong and active (Lindsay 488). The two beings, therefore, enter into a union to complement each other, where the man as the stronger and independent party had to provide for the family. Women, on the other hand, as the vulnerable gender has the specific role of pleasing, needing, and desiring the men. The mental and physical ability of women and men is the foundation of Rousseau’s perspective on the nature of their relationship.
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