Sophie- Woman’s Education According To Rousseau An Essay, Research Paper
Woman’s Education According to Rousseau and WollstonecraftGive, without scruples, a woman’s education to women, see to it thatthey love the cares of their sex, that they possess modesty, that theyknow how to grow old in their m nage and keep busy in their house. Jean Jacques Rousseau, EmileThe neglected education of my fellow-creatures is the grand source ofthe misery I deplore. Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights ofwomenThe salons of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s day greatly admired his theories,including his advocation of breast-feeding and his concept of naturaleducation. Today he has enormous influence on accepted educationaldoctrines. Rousseau describes his methods in Emile, the story of aboy’s upbringing in natural state. Admiring his sentiment, MaryWollstonecraft applauded Rousseau’s scheme for Emile but deplored theneglect of Emile’s perfect wife, Sophie. Her disappointment inRousseau was a main influence on Wollstonecraft’s best-known work, AVindication of the Rights of Woman. Rousseau outlines his theories forthe ideal education for women in Chapter V of Emile written between1757 and 1761. These so contradict his plan for Emile that it becomesnecessary to place them in the framework of his time and the particularprejudices of Rousseau. Certainly he broke no ground regarding thetopic of women. Nearly a hundred years before Emile, Mrs. Makinpublished An Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewomen. Inher Serious Proposal to Ladies of 1694, Mary Astell advocated aconvent where serious-minded women might retire for study andcontemplation. In his Essay on Projects , Daniel Defoe suggests anacademy for women where they might study whatever they chose. Heobserves as early as 1697, “We reproach the sex every day with follyand impertinence, while I am confident, had they the advantages ofeducation equal to us, they would be guilty of less than ourselves.”1As women and their education were very popular topics among thefrequenters of the salons, Rousseau was often drawn into theirdiscussions as a consultant. After publication Rousseau realized somerecognition as a spokesman for the rights of people, although there wasa decided rise in the intensity of demands for recognition of women’sstate.2Rousseau describes his passionate feelings for several women in hislife in his Confessions, the first of which was the strange feelings hehad as a boy when Mademoiselle Lambercier punished him. “Who wouldhave believed that the chastisement I received at eight from athirty-year-old girl would have determined my tastes, desires, andpassions for the rest of my life?”3 Having left Protestant Switzerlandfor Catholic France, Rousseau began to meet the women who would supportand influence his work for the rest of his life. One of his firstencounters was with Madame de Warens, whom he referred to as maman,also a convert to Catholicism and an escapee from Geneva. Because ofher support he was able to take part in knowledgeable conversations,philosophical discussions, and intellectual pursuits. From herprivileged position he was able to observe with fraternal pity thepeople whose fate he might have shared. At the age of thirty, Rousseau left Madame de Warens’ residence. Hewished to be accepted in the intellectual circles of the salons, and togain entrance to the Academie des Sciences. He succeeded at theAcademie but failed to be accepted socially at the salons. One of hissponsors, P re Castel, advised, “Since musicians and servants will notsing together with you, change your tactics, and try the women.”4 Hetook this advice and made the acquaintance of several intelligent andinfluential women. According to Claude Fervel in Jean Jacques Rousseau et les femmes,Rousseau’s feelings of inferiority among these women induced hisunnatural attachment to a twenty-three year old servant girl, Th r seLevasseur. “She is so limited,” says Hume, “that she knows neither theyear, the month, nor the day of the week; she is unaware of the valueof money and in spite of all that, she has on Jean Jacques the empireof a nurse over her charge.”5 Certainly Levasseur had some influencein Rousseau’s concept of the ideal woman. Rousseau primarily claimed that “[n]ature has created man happy andgood, but society depraves him and makes him miserable.”6 In theeighteenth century, morality took on a new meaning founded on thenatural goodness of man. Happiness became a right supplanting the ideaof duty. Sensual delights were natural and therefore rational. All ofRousseau’s educational theories derive from his attempt to preservenature’s pure state. His concept of negative education allowed a childto discover for himself and to be punished by the nature he sought todefy. The tutor must not try to reason with the child or showauthority. Books would not be forced on the child; at twelve Emilewould hardly know what to do with a book. Positive education, ordirect instruction, would only begin at approximately the age ofadulthood, and then the studies would be based on the student’s naturalcuriosity. Rousseau stressed utility, the need for teaching thingswith practical applications. This concept of negative education as applicable to women was totallyinconceivable to Rousseau. He viewed women’s options as entirelylimited to the roles of wife and mother. What need would there be toallow her to determine for herself when nature had alreadyphysiologically dictated her destiny? His scheme for Emile wasradical; his scheme for Sophie was not radical enough. Rousseaudemanded a reversion to primitivism in the education of women, offeringminimal vocational training while insisting on her inability to reasonand her inferiority to man. “A woman’s education must be planned inrelation to man”.[S]he will always be in subjection to a man”and shewill never be free to set her own opinion above his.”7 He stressesfreedom of movement and physical exertion for Emile, asserting thatweak bodies contain weak minds. At the same time he discourages Sophiefrom too much physical activity and uses her weakness as another proofof her inferiority. “The object of that cultivation is different. Inthe one sex it is the development of corporeal powers; in the other,that of personal charms,” Rousseau asserts.8Emile is not instructed in religious matters until he reachesadulthood. He has a natural sense of morality “from reason tempered bythe heart.”9 Presumably woman cannot reason, so she cannot maintain astate of morality, and must be guarded by men throughout her life. Rousseau proposes that Sophie must be made to love virtue, although shewill never understand theological rationale for living uprightly. Shemust be made to feel subject to society’s opinions of her. In fact,Sophie fails at this. In the fragmentary sequel to Emile, LesSolitaires, Rousseau tells of the infidelity of Sophie who had been”educated” to be Emile’s ideal wife. Mary Wollstonecraft makes nomention of this book and probably never read it, but she would make theright assumptions about the likelihood of Sophie’s fidelity. Helen Misenheimer points out in Rousseau on the Education of Women thatRousseau leaves off the sexual education of Emile in describingSophie. In fact, she is his sexual identity. Rousseau considers aman’s union with a woman a debasement of his nature. While insistingon the importance of motherhood, he stumbles on women’s role asmothers. In addressing mothers in Book I of Emile, he acknowledgestheir primacy in the education of youth. By denying women the abilityto reason he denies them the ability to raise children, which MaryWollstonecraft later attempts to prove. Francis Gribble proposes, “Contemporary critics contended that JeanJacques did not mean a word that he said; the difficulty of the moderncritic is to discover that he ever said anything at all which he didnot immediately afterwards contradict.”10 When accosted by a fatherwho informed him he was using the Emile method to raise his son,Rousseau replied that he was sorry for him but even sorrier for hisson.11 Certainly he contradicts himself in Chapter V of Emile. Onemust ask if woman is as “natural” as man, and nature is essentiallygood, then why should the same principles of “negative education” notapply to women? Misenheimer discusses the dichotomy of women inRousseau’s writings. She claims that Rousseau makes woman totallysubservient to man, making her into a mere plaything for the superiorsex. Yet by inserting Sophie in her place in his educational theories,he encourages others to give the question further thought at a momentin history when social revolution uniquely supports her. This isexactly the cause which Mary Wollstonecraft takes up. Furthermore, byspeaking of all society and not just the elite, he becomes one of thefirst writers even to recognize the ordinary woman, giving her afoothold to independence. Rousseau certainly did not intend toliberate women; he advocated the freedom of man. Mary Wollstonecraft reputedly tried to rear one of her charges, Ann Fuseli, as a child of nature. The experiment proved disappointing when she caught her stealing and lying.14 She considered herself a rationalist, but she greatly admired Rousseau’s “pure sentiment.” She did not, however, share Rousseau’s admiration for primitive society, and took great exception to his views of women. In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman she asserts, “Rousseau exerts himself to prove that all was right originally: a crowd of authors that all is now right: and I, that all will be right [sic].”12Her most famous and controversial work, Rights of Woman, was not the
first work to advocate better education for women. AmongWollstonecraft’s contemporaries, there were several in France who hadwritten in behalf of women. Olympe de Gouges spoke boldly in defenseof her sex in several publications, one titled A Declaration of theRights of Woman. Condorcet advocated better education for women inMemoirs on Public Instruction. Wollstonecraft had reviewed CatherineMacaulay’s Letters on Education for the Analytical, and acknowledgedher debt to the work in Rights of Woman. Letters denies anyfundamental difference in character between the sexes, attributingwomen’s weaknesses to faulty education and social position. Wollstonecraft repeats and develops almost every point of her work. Like many English intellectuals, Wollstonecraft watched the FrenchRevolution with interest, anticipating that the great social experimentwould one day reach her shore. The Revolution “must have seemed like ahappy fusion of all she had been taught to respect by her sage Londonfriends, and all that she cherished by nature”.And so she, like many ofher countrymen, looked hopefully to France as the greatproving-ground.”13 She espouses the cause of freedom in herVindication of the Rights of Men, written in reply to Edmund Burke’sReflections on the Revolution in France. She digresses occasionally inthis work, criticizing the effects of wealth and rank and chiding Burkefor his fondness for waifishness and weakness in women. In her previous work, Wollstonecraft had shown an interest in women’sstatus without directly addressing the matter. According to herhusband William Godwin, she spent only six weeks in actual composition,but she had been developing the ideas for Rights of Woman all herlife. She found that most writers showed either outright disdain orcondescending praise of women’s weakness. The immediate cause ofRights of Woman was Talleyrand’s Report on Public Institution, anoutline of the projected plan of national education under a new Frenchconstitution. Talleyrand declared that girls should be educated withboys only until the age of eight. Wollstonecraft prefaces her bookwith a letter to Talleyrand which urges him and his compatriots notto deny women their rights.13Wollstonecraft seeks to find a rational explanation for the state ofher sex. She questions whether women are really created for thepleasure of men:[T]hough the cry of irreligion, or even atheism, be raised against, Iwill simply declare, that were an angel from heaven to tell me thatMoses’s beautiful, poetical cosmogony, and the account of the fall ofman, were literally true, I could not believe what my reason told mewas derogatory to the character of the Supreme Being.14She discovers the only reason for women’s state is their lack ofeducation. In Chapter V she attacks several writers, especiallyRousseau, who had written poor accounts of women. Wollstonecraft citesand comments on long passages from Emile. She is not unaware ofRousseau’s relationships with women. In her chapter “On NationalEducation,” she states:Who ever drew a more exalted female character than Rousseau? Though inthe lump he constantly endeavoured to degrade the sex. And why was hethus anxious? Truly to justify to himself the affection which weaknessand virtue had made him cherish for that fool Theresa. He could notraise her to the common level of her sex; and therefore he labored tobring woman down to hers. He found her a convenient humble companion,and pride made him determine to find some superiour virtues in thebeing whom he chose to live with; but did not her conduct during hislife, and after his death, clearly show how grossly he was mistaken whocalled her a celestial innocent.15She treats his description of Sophie with smug indignation, as whenRousseau describes Sophie’s garb, “simple as it seems, was only put inits proper order to be taken to pieces by the imagination.” To thisshe retorts, “Is this modesty? Is this a preparation forimmortality?”16 She correctly accuses Rousseau of depicting not a wifeand sensible mother, but a pleasing mistress. Getting to the heart of Rousseau’s error, she determines:Men have superior strength of body, but were it not for mistakennotions of beauty, women would acquire sufficient to enable them toearn their own subsistence, the true definition of independence”. Letus then, by being allowed to take the same exercise as boys, not onlyduring infancy, but youth, arrive at perfection of boys, that we mayknow how far the natural superiority of man extends.17She cautions that she has no desire to breed a generation ofindependent and unattached women like herself, but that she seeks todevelop wiser and more virtuous mothers. She believes that children’scharacters are formed before the age of seven, shuddering to think ofthe damage done by addle-headed mothers. Without stressingindependence she believes that once women gain intellectual equality,they should be given political and economic equality as well. In Chapter XII, “On National Education,” Wollstonecraft develops herproposal. She feels that private education is confined to the lite,and that school-children need the company of other children. She hasan aversion to boarding schools because of the interruptions ofvacations. She suggests day schools where children may spend time withother children. These need to be national establishments, so thatschool-matters are not left to the “caprice of the parents.”18 LikeRousseau, she emphasizes that children must be allowed to play freely. What is so radical about Wollstonecraft’s idea is that girls are noteducated relative to boys, but with them. She states:If marriage be the cement of society, mankind should all be educatedafter the same model, or the intercourse of the sexes will neverdeserve the name of fellowship, nor will women ever fulfill thepeculiar duties of their sex”. Nay, marriage will never be held sacredtill women, by being brought up with men, are prepared to be theircompanions rather than their mistresses.19After the age of nine, girls and boys intended for domestic employmentsor mechanical trades will be removed to other schools. The two sexeswill still study together in the mornings, and in the afternoons girlswill learn millinery, mantua-making, and other fitting pursuits. Girls and boys still together? I hear some readers ask: yes. And Ishould not fear any other consequence than that some early attachmentmight take place”. Besides, this would be a sure way to promote earlymarriages, and from early marriages the most salutary physical andmoral effects naturally flow.20Women should be taught anatomy and medicine to make them rationalnurses of their infants, parents, and husbands. At the time of its publication in 1792, A Vindication of the Rights ofWomen was considered radical and revolutionary. By the end of the yearJoseph Johnson published a second edition. An American editionappeared in Boston and Philadelphia, and a French translation appearedin Paris and Lyons. Aaron Burr admired it and attempted to raise hisown daughter according to its principles, although he complained in1793 that he had “not yet met a single person who had discovered orwould allow the merit of this book.”21 Contemporary reactions rangedfrom shock to amusement to enthusiasm. Despite a number ofmean-spirited parodies, including A Sketch of the Rights of Boys andGirls and A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes, there is no doubt herbook had a tremendous impact on British and American feminism. Herargument that one must educate mothers so they may better raise theirchildren would be echoed by the advocates of “Republican Motherhood” inthe first years of the new American republic.22Mary Wollstonecraft’s ideas were savagely attacked after her death,when the horrors of the French Revolution had convinced most Englishmenthat all revolutionary theories were dangerous. However, there islittle doubt that her ideas live on, and like Rousseau’s, still have animpact on education. Public education, teaching by the exploitation ofnatural curiosity, practical applications, are all ideas descended fromRousseau and Wollstonecraft. Most distinctive of these isWollstonecraft’s radical notion that women and men be educatedtogether. 1As cited in Ralph M. Wardle, Mary Wollstonecraft: A CriticalBiography (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1951), p. 143. 2Helen Evans Misenheimer, Rousseau on the Education of Women(Washington, DC: University Press of America, Inc., 1981), p. 64. 3Confessions, I as cited by Misenheimer, p. 21. 4Ibid., p. 24. 5Claude Fervel, Jean-Jacques Rousseau et les femmes, as cited byMisenheimer, p. 26. 6Misenheimer, p. 19. 7Rousseau, pp. 322, 325. 8Rousseau, as cited by Wollstonecraft, p. 176. 9Rousseau, as cited by Misenheimer, p. 39. 10Francis Gribble, Rousseau and the Women he Loved, as cited byMisenheimer, p. 4. 11William Boyd, The Minor Educational Writings of Jean JacquesRousseau, as cited by Misenheimer, p. 8. 12Wardle, p. 178. 13Wollstonecraft, p. 22. 14Wollstonecraft, pp. 173-174. 15Ibid., pp. 403-404. 16Ibid., p.195. 17Ibid., p. 189. 18Ibid., p. 379. 19Ibid., pp. 380, 381. 20Ibid., p. 389. 21Matthew L. Davis, Memoirs of Aaron Burr, as cited by Wardle, p.158. 22Linda K. Kerber, “The Republican Mother,” Women’s America (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 87-95. .