How is it that when I studied Rousseau at Harvard I was taught to view him solely as a champion of freedom? You know, “Man is free, but is everywhere in chains,” Society is bad. Nature is good. etc. I knew he was complicated, dumping all five of his children off at an orphanage, for example, but I never realized that in his mind liberty stops when it comes to women. Here he is:
“For this reason the education of the women should be always relative to the men. To please, to be useful to us, to make us love and esteem them, to educate us when young, and take care of us when grown up, to advise, to console us, to render our lives easy and agreeable: these are the duties of women at all times, and what they should be taught in their infancy.”
Of course Harvard in the 1980s would not have thought it was important to have us read these passages of Emile. They didn’t think we needed women professors or a women’s studies department, either. The only women in my course of study were: Jane Austen, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf and Emily Dickinson.