Response to the coffee house philosophical society newsletter
Looking at Jean~Jacques Rosseau’s (1784) statements in the newsletter, he uses the scientific term observation and the phrase law of nature. He observes that the difference between man and woman is that a man is active and strong, while a woman is passive and weak. He also says that it the law of nature, rather than the law of love that dictates that the purpose of women is to please men. When he says “law of nature”, I think he means as a law or principle that has always been in place since the beginning. Rosseau even mentions that this is how the “Supreme Being” made it out to be. I don’t think that this is a fair conclusion even for 1784. I think that Rosseau is using very broad generalizations when thinking about the roles of men and women, because not all men and women are the same. Rosseau gives us an example that Greek women, once married, were no longer seen in public and had to devote themselves completely to the care of the household. Here, Rosseau could be talking about either ancient or modern Greece. To me, this is an instance of static history, where something is supposed to stay the same no matter what or is unchanging. Rosseau then tells us about a girl playing with her doll and that she, without knowing it, will eventually grow into the natural role that women are supposed to play. To me, this idea of unchanging gender roles that Rosseau and many others had during his time is what brought about the need to challenge natural stability in the 19th century. I think that there was a need for equality where anybody, regardless of gender and race, could perform any role. There was a need to break out of the norms that have been held in place for thousands of years, and evolutionary theory was a gateway to get to a new point where everyone was on equal levels.