Paine and Rousseau: An Unlikely Duo
In regards to who Thomas Paine would appoint to his board of directors in his new international organization for the advancement of women’s rights, this essay will be broken down as follows. First, I will discuss Thomas Paine’s thoughts on both the treatment of women and the advancement of their rights. Then, I shall argue for why Paine would choose Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Finally, I shall compare and contrast Paine and Rousseau’s ideologies against those of the rejected candidates: Mary Wollstonecraft and Immanuel Kant. In “An Occasional Letter on the Female Sex”, Paine presents two general thoughts: the tyranny of men over women and the need to appreciate and praise women in their domestic roles. Paine first claims that “man with regard to [woman]…has been either an insensible husband or an oppressor”. He supports this claim by discussing the unequal treatment of women in various nations such as Nations of the East, Greece, and South America. In Eastern-Asian countries, Paine states that “[women’s] education tends only to debase them; their virtues are forced; their pleasures are involuntary and joyless; and after a few years…their period of neglect commences”. Similarly, he quotes the Greeks in saying that “the most virtuous woman…is she who is least talked of”. Here, Paine argues against the injustices in the treatment of women—the essence of which stems from a lack of respect for the responsibilities and duties that women hold. Paine speculates that in order to overcome these injustices, women should “have an equal right to praise”. However, Paine does not extend this idea of equality beyond praise of a woman in her limited domestic role. He states that “[women’s] duties are different from [those of men]…[Women] are wives and mothers. ‘Tis [they] who form the union and cordiality of families”. In arguing for women’s equality, Paine explicitly states that men and women should not have equal roles. Woman should be confined in a familial role and only in these domestic roles should women be praised and respected. Paine concludes his letter by saying that men should “be not [women’s] tyrants in all: Permit [women’s] names to be sometimes pronounced beyond the narrow circle in which [they] live”. Though this may seem as though Paine advocates against the tyranny of men, it is anything but. Paine states that women’s equality and praise should only “sometimes” be permitted, implying that women should not always have equality. Additionally, he makes no statement against the “narrow circle” in which their roles are confined to. Thus, Paine argues for women’s limited rights, for he sees equality only in terms of praise for women who fulfill the domestic roles given to them by society. After understanding Paine’s core beliefs about women’s equality, it is obvious that Paine would choose Jean-Jacques Rousseau to be on his board of directors. At first, it may seem as though Paine and Rousseau advocate different thoughts about women. Paine gives off a pro-female rights tone in “An Occasional Letter on the Female Sex”, whereas Rousseau appears overall sexist in his novel Emile. However at the foundation of both writings, Thomas Paine and Jean-Jacques Rousseau share the common beliefs of separate roles for both genders and praise for a woman fulfilling her familial duties. Rousseau states that “woman is worth more as a woman and less as a man; whenever she makes her rights valued, she has the advantage; whenever she wishes to usurp ours, she remains inferior to us”. Similar to Paine, Rousseau believes that a women are most valuable when they are confined to their natural roles. He claims that “she needs a quiet and sedentary life while she nurses her children; she needs patience and gentleness in order to raise them…she serves as liaison between the children and their father…How much tenderness and care is required to maintain the entire family in unity”.