Inequality is an issue which has been analyzed by political thinkers for centuries. Some thinkers have long been supporting the subordination of one gender, race, or class over another with religious, moral, ethical, and scientific factors to support their claims; others, however, argue against any subordination of any decree. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), a famous philosopher of the eighteenth century, defined inequality in two parts: natural and social. Natural inequalities are the differences in bodily and mental strengths. Social inequalities, however, are the differences that exist between individuals in wealth, power and honor. For Rousseau, social inequalities are justified when they are able to reflect natural inequalities. In the case of women, Rousseau credits the inferiority of their sex to a woman’s own biological destiny. These ideas support a very patriarchal view of women, in which women are weaker and less rational than men. In the late eighteenth century however, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women which debated Rousseau’s sexist ideas of the sources of women’s subjection; she ridicules his “return to nature” philosophy and bases her argument on rationality and logic. Regarded as one of the most significant writers in the movement for women’s rights, Wollstonecraft analyzes the condition of women in modern society and the need for women to get educated. Wollstonecraft and Rousseau are similar in that they both use nature i.e. sex and gender roles in their arguments, except the former writer criticizes the arguments of the latter. The justifications of women’s subjection that both modern thinkers employ differ because Rousseau uses nature to explain and perpetuate the...
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...eves) it is, by contrast, because they have been educated by dependence that they are seen as the weaker sex. Rousseau’s view on the nature of man and woman is simple: men are independent and women dependent, therefore women must be educated according to her primary role—that of a wife! It is the classic nature versus nurse debate in action. The political significance of this discussion and comparison is critical to understanding the emergence of liberal feminism in the late eighteenth century. From Rousseau’s strictly regressive views which tied women to the domestic sphere to Wollstonecraft’s integration of reason and natural rights to her argument, the significance of comparing these two thinkers outlines the roots of modern feminism. It is politically important to make this comparison because it traces the beginnings of what sparked the liberal feminism movement.
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