Intro to Political Theory
Political Science 200A
But it Feels Natural
In the words of Rousseau there are two types of rules that we live by. Rules from nature we have learned to accept because we can’t change them and the rules from man that make humans feel oppressed and angered. Sophie our female lead in Emile appears to be stuck in the ruling of man. She has to care about how others view her especially when looking at her virtue. However, I argue that Sophie does not experience this as a bad rule. For her it will simply feel natural. It will feel so natural because nature made men and women differently. They naturally have different responsibilities about chastity.
In the discourse Rousseau states, “Dependence on things, since it has no morality, is in no way detrimental to freedom and engenders no vices. Dependence on men, since it is without order, engenders all the vices and by it, master and slave are mutually corrupted.” (Emile Pg. 85) By dependence on things Rousseau means that it is the rules that are put in place by nature its self that humans have no say or ability to change. The rule of gravity is one very common idea that we have all learned to accept and it doesn’t make us mad that we can’t fly. With the dependence on man it creates these rules that make humans feel enslaved. They feel like they have to push against “the man” that gave them these rules.
Sophie is one of the characters that we see having to put up with theses rules. Nature is really the only time that we follow those rules because we have no other option. The Noble Savage is a character that is an example of living in the respect with the rules of nature. Rousseau writes, “Since the savage man’s body is the only instrument he knows, he employs it for a variety of purposes that, for lack of practice, ours are incapable of serving.” (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality Pg. 40) Rousseau means that the Noble Savage is so simple that he only knows the rules of nature. For example Kai the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker only lived the simple life. The rules of man didn’t affect him in his way of life because he lived in the mind set that if someone were hurting he would help them.
Another moment that we see the rule of man controlling the way that people live is when we take a look at the modern man mentioned in the discourse. These rules that are set in place make people feel angry and it makes them believe they don’t have the freedom that they should. The Modern Man, “Such, in fact, is the true cause of all these differences; the savage lives in himself; the man accustomed to the ways of society is always outside himself and knows how to live only in the opinion of others.”(Discourse on the Origin of Inequality Pg. 80-81) Modern man lives by the rule that everyone’s opinion of them is all that really matters. Sophie experiences this because people’s opinion on her virtue is a direct correlation to their view on Emile.
Due to the fact that Emile’s image is all based on what people think of Sophie’s virtue. We really see this when Rousseau says, “opinion is the thrown of women’s virtue”(Pg. 364-365). They say this because of how everything rides on this notion that women need to have a very strong virtue. The hut phase could also be huge contributor because it was the time where people started care more about the opinions of others and less about themselves as a whole. This showing that Sophie is stuck being under the rule of man: “It is important that she be modest, attentive, reserved, and that she give evidence of her virtue to the eyes of others as well as to her own conscience.” (Emile Pg. 361) This entire line that Rousseau writes completely explains all the demands that are placed on the woman of the house and what she has to do to keep the family happy.
Even in the world today we see that the image of women’s virtue is still very prominent. In many cultures the women have to wear certain clothes that cover their bodies. We really see this with the interactions between Sophie and Emile. Sophie is the key to Emile. She is the firewall to others opinions. She not only has to protect Emile from others opinions she has to protect her own virtue from their opinions. Again we see a moment where women seem to be held by the rule of man: “When woman complains on this score about unjust man-made inequality, she is wrong.” (Emile Pg. 361) This should anger her because it is a rule that as a female she has to deal with because man put that in her way.
In Emile we see, “There is no parity between the two sexes in regard to the consequences of sex.” (Emile Pg. 361) Rousseau is saying that women are made to be the ones that get pregnant. What that entails is that women have to protect their virtue and not cheat because that could lead to her getting pregnant, then the man won’t know if it is his child or the random guy that she slept with: “But the unfaithful woman does more; she dissolves the family and breaks all the bonds of nature.” (Emile Pg. 361) Which is why women have to uphold the image of virtue that they have because they are the glue of the family. Sophie has to portray that she is even too virtuous to have sex with Emile. She does this to prove to him that she wouldn’t ever cheat on him because it’s so appalling to be having sex in the first place. Where as men can go and cheat on their wives and not really have very many consequences. It’s because of the way that women are made that they have to deal with all these rules that seem like they are being forced to not have freedom.
In fact, all of these rules that seem to be oppressing Sophie don’t affect her because to her it all feels natural. Nature made her the one to bear children it knew Sophie could handle it. Rousseau writes, “Women possess their empire not because men wanted it that way, but because nature wants it that way. It belonged to women before they appeared to have it.”(Emile Pg. 360) What is being said in this is that nature made women to sit on this throne because they have been charged with the task of childbirth. It mentions how, “The male is male only at certain moments. The female is female her whole life or at least during her whole youth.” (Emile Pg. 361) Women their whole life have to be the care takers but don’t think anything of it because its this rule that nature gave them, and they can’t change anything about it.
Sophie never really gets all that angered at these rules because they are so natural. When Rousseau writes, “It is up to the sex that nature has charged with the bearing of children to be responsible from them to the other sex.” (Emile Pg. 361) Women are the ones responsible for the child bearing. They were given the task without really having an option. As stated earlier the task belonged to women long before they even appeared to have it. This is evident when he writes: “Women, you say, do not always produce children? No, but their proper purpose is to produce them.” Nature comes in again giving women rules that they can’t do anything about.
When I first started reading Emile I completely thought that Sophie was this underdog that had to uphold the image of being the perfect wife. Where in fact she was the one wearing the pants and running the show. It can be very clear at some points how the rule of man should have made her angry. When in fact there was nothing she could about it because nature was the one behind it all.