Rousseau defines inequality in two parts: natural and social. Natural inequalities are the differences of “age, health, bodily strength, and qualities of mind or soul” (Wootton 379). Social inequalities are “the different privileges enjoyed by some at the expense of others, such as being richer, more honored, more powerful than they, or even causing themselves to be obeyed by them” (Wootton 379). Furthermore, he believes that natural inequalities are the basis of social inequalities and that social inequalities are justified so long as they reflect natural inequalities.
Throughout part one of his discourse he logically explains the relevance of natural inequalities to social inequalities. Basically he argues that the smarter man will be more successful and powerful than the less intelligent, and that the more intelligent man will be more respected than a less intelligent man. Therefore, the more intelligent man will be socially unequal to the less intelligent man. Usually the more intelligent, or richer, etc. will be in a higher social class. This social class is created from the natural inequalities of man; his conception is quite clear.
Although his logic is clear, his view on natural inequalities is skewed when it comes to women. Rousseau has a rather poor view of women. Throughout his discourse he talks strictly about men. The only time he mentions something about women he says that they “are the sex that ought to obey” (Wootton 392). Basically he is calling women naturally insufficient. Following his theory which claims that natural inequalities are the root to social inequalities, one can determine that women are socially unequal. It can be agreed upon that women are socially unequal both in the sense of his theory and with all the issues of discrimination that women are currently exposed to. If we agree that Rousseau’s theory is correct then we arrive at the conclusion that women must be naturally disadvantaged. However, one can prove that women really are not as naturally insufficient and unequal to men as Rousseau seems to think, and I believe that he knows it too.
First of all, Rousseau’s claim that women are naturally less sufficient than men in the primitive state of nature is contradictory. By saying this, he is implying that women should not have survived the state of nature. That doesn’t make sense since women obviously did; if they didn’t then women would currently be extinct. Furthermore, a simple conversation of the birds and the bees proves that men could not exist without women. Rousseau clearly understands that men need women in order to survive by saying that humans have a “general desire to unite with each other” (Wootton 392). It can be assumed that Rousseau was smart enough to know that fundamental fact. Therefore we can conclude that Rousseau actually doesn’t believe what he wrote about women in his discourse. Upon closer examination of his own statements, I think he would see that he contradicts himself. If he can come to the conclusion that men need women to survive then he can conclude that women can’t be naturally less equivalent than men.
Even if we pretend that he was so dense that he didn’t understand the concept of the birds and the bees, and that he didn’t see his contradiction, one could still prove to him that women are not as naturally unequal to men as he says. One could prove this even if nature didn’t require both male and female to reproduce. Women do have some natural advantages over men that are usually overlooked. The fact that women are naturally smaller and weaker than men can be an advantage when looking for a place to hide from predators. A big man or animal could not fit into the same small nook or cranny that a woman could. Another advantage women would have in the state of nature is that they have more body fat than men do (“Women Fitness”). More body fat means that one has more insulation, so they can survive longer in cold temperatures. Men aren’t the only ones with physical advantages.
Since we can assume that Rousseau did actually understand the details of reproduction, and that women are not as naturally inept as he proposes, one thing remains unclear—why exactly did Rousseau say that women naturally “are the sex that ought to obey” (Wootton 392) if he knew it contradicted his own theory? It is obvious that Rousseau has some bias against women and that he has incorporated that bias into his discourse. He offered no logical explanation as to why women are naturally weaker than men; all he said was that they were. Rousseau may have been a smart and respected man, but he does not have the authority to justify a poor accusation without a legitimate explanation. If we can agree with Rousseau in that fact that social inequalities stem from natural inequalities, then we can conclude that either (a) women really are at a natural disadvantage or (b) that Rousseau is biased and therefore his theory on women being naturally unequal is wrong. Clearly I believe that the correct answer is the latter. What do you think?
“Body Fat and Women.” Women Fitness. 2009. Womenfitness.net, Web. 3 Nov 2009. .
Wootton, David. Modern Political Thought Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. 2nd. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2008. 371-426. Print.