The Common Link Between Wollstonecraft And Tocqueville

This essay discusses the common links between the ideas of these two authors in terms of women's appropriate role in democracy.

When Tocqueville and Wollstonecraft analyze the appropriate role of women in democratic society, they learned that women are expected to fulfill the role of being "social tools" expected to live with limited liberty in order to obey the

male-centered world in which they lived. The similarities in Tocqueville and

Wollstonecraft's methods of reaching this conclusion show another significant truth, that

in order to assess the appropriate role of women, appealing to status quo prejudices

is necessary to create political reform.

In both Wollstonecraft and Tocqueville's works, they adopt a male-centered point of view that in both European and American societies, power, understanding and all social authority rests with men. For example, Tocqueville concedes the patriachial claim that women's education can cause the harm of making women "chaste and cold

rather than tender and loving companions of men." (Tocqueville, 592) This claim is clearly a means of appeasement to the readers (who are most likely men) as it accepts their previous stereotype that women ought to be "tender" and "loving" above all else. Wollstonecraft uses this strategy as well when she uses the rhetorical device of appealing to analogy: she appeals to the analogy of mens' rights in order to equate how women ought to be given those same rights. Specifically, she says that for men

"character" is directly linked to a man's "profession." Weakness is being told your social role by someone else, which reveals a lack of independence. The argument then goes

that because it is bad to have weak men in democracy, it is also inappropriate to have

weak women as well. (Wollstonecraft 34)

This rhetorical strategy is a crucial similarity because it underscores the

historical point of view about appropriate behavior for women in democracy:

women are required, at all costs, to maintain feminine traits like beauty, chastity and

"tenderness." This claim is empirically true as society gives women the concept that

such abstract goods are the end goal of women's lives and that rejecting these goods

is a rejection of what it means to be a woman. In the status quo, women's appropriate role in democracy is not to engage in male-dominated activities like negotiation, ethical public service, or hard labor as doing such things "show[s] minds and heart of men." (Tocqueville, 601) Consistent with this belief many European women center their efforts and hopes upon meeting such limiting social expectations as they gain self-esteem from appearing "futile, weak and timid." (Tocqueville 602) Such expectations were so

powerful in the cause against women's rights that in Europe, these appeals to feminine

values acted as a disincentive for people to challenge or change this gender role.

(Tocqueville, 597). These expectations were also powerful enough to influence Wollstonecraft away from arguing how current gender roles were completely wrong. Instead, she claimed that current gender roles were misguided but true based on a limited amount of social experience. In other words, she does not reject current social roles, but she merely edits them to the context of preexisting European view of the appropriate role of women in democracy. (Wollstonecraft, 30) Because these traits are

assumed by society and the authors as inherently valuable, this situates both Wollstonecraft and Tocqueville as two authors who take considerable effort to make their own conclusions about the role of women in democracy within the context of preexisting limiting social expectations in order to persuade their audiences for reform.

Overall, both Tocqueville and Wollstonecraft share similar views of equality

within the societies in which they live. Both authors supported America's view of

gender equality: maximize the natural roles of each different sex. This similarity

has signifigance as it demonstrates the truth that to completely dispute the accuracy of natural roles is impossible. Consider the example of the rejection of women's suffrage in France. If gaining suffrage was not possible, trying to eliminate the prejudicial assumptions that were the backing for such a decision would be

impossible as well. Meanwhile, both authors openly criticize the European interpretation

of gender equality: to assign women some new responsibilities and rights, but only

a limited amount. (Tocqueville 601) The value of this similarity is that both authors can claim that gender distinctions as they exist can be questioned and modified (even though not eliminated). Wollstonecraft uses this exact strategy in her use of religion to refute common religious claims in the inferiority of women. Ironically, in a patriarchial system like Europe, there is an internal contradiction: as women are valued for feminine traits like innocence, Tocqueville points out that ther eis less, not more value placed on female will and labor. This is noticeable by Europe's apathy about rape. This

observation establishes that the appropriate role for women is to be objects and tools for

others' pleasure, specifically the self-interest of males.

However, one key difference between these two authors is that Tocqueville uniquely notices that America's treatment of women is similar but more leinient than that in Europe. This difference comes from the variation of intent between

Tocqueville and Wollstonecraft: Tocqueville desired to analyze the "equality of

conditions" in America while Wollstonecraft spends her effort criticizing European

society and its gender roles. In Tocqueville's view of the United States, women have

more independence than England and other European societies. In fact, the American woman can "already think for herself, speak freely and act on her own." (Tocqueville,590). In contrast, in Europe, women are continually criticized for their weaknesses. (Tocqueville, 595) In sum, the difference in historical environments gives

Tocqueville's arguments a slight positive bias toward American view of women's rights.

Nevertheless, he still criticizes the American system, although he argues for its

superiority over Europe's treatment of women.

Between these two interpretations of equality, there exists one similarity between

Tocqueville's America and Wollstonecraft's European historical background. The family

exists in both systems as a pervasive social force in terms of social structure and

women's rights. The family is a hierarchical social structure that is the backbone

of both American and European society as it is used to justify social roles between

men and women. Such familial hierarchy is paternalistic as the father is viewed as the

king and supreme leader while the females (wives and daughters) are viewed as subjects

to the will of the father. (Tocqueville, 586) The power of the family structure is so

great that its bias toward men exists permanently as there is a system of inheritance

from father to oldest son. (Tocqueville, 588) The fact that such inheritance never includes women offers proof that the family hierarchy was definitely a major force in both authors' interpretations of women's appropriate social role in democracies.

Indeed, the family was a large obstacle for women's' rights because the family defined male-dominated responsibilities and rights outside of the domain of women's appropriate social role. Tocqueville provides several examples of this exclusion as "You will never find American women in charge of the external relations of the family, managing a business or interfering in politics." (Tocqueville, 601)

In this manner, Tocqueville's claim includes all leadership responsibilities as well.

This treatment reflects in Wollstonecraft's analogy about the relationship between

women and the "father" in a family unit. Women are taught to willingly accept the paternalism in society that restricts their rights. One way society convinces women to such acceptance is to make women believe that accepting weaker

gender roles as their identity provides self-protection and security from men.

This relationship is analogous to the relationship between a strict parent and

child where like the child, the woman's rights would be violated for some perceived utilitarian purpose that would only be realized through obedience of the parent (in the case of women, this involves obedience to the "father of the family." (Wollstonecraft, 36) Therefore, the family structure defined women's appropriate role in democracy as a role of subservience and guardianship under men's control.

However, the long reaching impact of the family on women's social rights in democracy extends beyond the husband-wife relationship previously mentioned. The family also limits women's rights through the concept of marriage.

Marriage is a consensual, but sever limitation of women's rights. (Tocqueville 593) Within this family system, marriage is the initial barrier to women's total freedom as the "husband's [house] is a cloister (a term used to describe

severe entrapment in a confined space). (Tocqueville, 592) Tocqueville's point here makes sense because women and American and European societies already lives in subservience because of preexisting gender roles. Marriage

harms the rights stance of women in democracy by obligating women to less autonomy: in marriage women gain social responsibility while the sexist

society would deny them corollary rights and freedom (i.e. suffrage).

Tocqueville is right that women have the freedom to select the person they marry, that choice does not reform women's typical role in democracy because even the choice of a groom is tainted. The limitations of a narrow scope

of education and life experience makes the ability to make informed, literate

decisions about potential mates much more difficult than for men. (Tocqueville,

593). It is even ironic that this lack of education originates from the wife-

husband relationships where women are given substandard education. For example,

women are not taught higher-level thinking that men receive. Men receive focused study on one particular subject in depth, which develops their mental capacity and literacy. In contrast, women are limited to "learn[ing] by snatches" and

having to deprioritize education for "corporeal accomplishment" and societal desires of maintaining values of femininity and patriarchy. (Wollstonecraft, 39)

Finally, the poor education women receive represents society's intent to maintain

the argument that the appropriate role of women is subservience, or using women as a social tool. As Wollstonecraft elaborates that "tyrants and sensationalists are in the right when they endeavor to keep women in the dark because the former only want slaves and the latter a plaything." (Wollstonecrft, 41) With this argument, Wollstonecraft is establishing that limiting educational opportunities for women

is a method to limit women's role in participating in democracy. If women are not

able to gain education, consequently they would not be able to fully maximize their

potential for gaining equal rights with men. Further, this lack of sufficient education

for women is probably a result of the patriarchal system of the family. If the father is primarily responsible for economic and political affairs, then socially that would establish that for women, their sole role is not political involvement but merely actions that exist within their domestic sphere like cooking, rearing children, and providing emotional support by displaying feminine traits. In sum, the existence of the family in Wollstonecraft's world, establishes social conditions that severely limit women's potential to take active, substantial roles in democracy.

First, the existence of family gives women more responsibility with only a minimal (if any) increase in freedoms and rights exercise. Further, the family unit is a breeding ground for social discrimination: as men enjoy more familial authority over women and children's

freedom's, women become treated like subservient kids which devalues their worth and which devalues the possibility that women can have an equal opportunity to establish their own role in democracy.


Finally, consider the end goals that both Tocqueville and Wolstonecraft shared for women's role in democracy. First, they believed that women should maintain their current domestic duties, but those domestic duties are secondary

in value compared to goals of self-fulfillment and the maximization of virtue. Specifically, while men in society work toward self-fulfillment, women too need to be allowed this possibility, where as most of society teaches women that they are social tools that do not have special consideration, except for having to take care of a family. (Tocqueville, 603)

In sum, Tocqueville and Wollstonecraft shared many relevant similiarities in their ideas. They both used status quo concepts of women's rights to create their own position and they also each present arguments that show that women's rights were necessary for women to participate in society. Finally, both works expressed in detail justifications for improving women's rights with the necessity for education

being a crucial example. Overall, both authors expressed ideas which proved that

society, in the status quo, viewed women as not only inferior to men, but subservient

to them. In democracy, the appropriate role of women is so defined and narrow

that it affects both Tocqueville and Wollstonecraft's argumentation: neither can fully

reject all of the social norms concerning gender rights, since they must appeal to society

in order to spread their ideas. Both Tocqueville and Wollstonecraft agree that women

need more rights and their role in democracy ought to maximize their opportunities

in a male-centered world.

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