Dear Habermas Logo A Jeanne Site



Subservience of Women Reasoning



California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: December 17, 1999
E-Mail Faculty on the Site.

Black Letter Definition of "Subservience of Women" Reasoning
Conceptual Links of "Subservience of Women" to Women and Crime
Rousseau's Argument on "Subservience of Women"



Black Letter Definition

The "subservience of women" describes the perspective that women are meant by some recognized authority, be it political, spiritual, or "natural," to serve men.



Conceptual Links of "Subservience of Women" to Women and Crime

Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
Part of "Teaching Series"
Copyright December 1999. "Fair use" encouraged.

Karlene Faith (Unruly Women, Press Gang Publishers, Vancouver, 1993.) discusses Jean Jacques Rousseau's flawed explanation for the subservience of women on pp. 42 ff. Most theories of crime throughout history have assumed that women commit less crime than men because they are more effectively controlled by their families and the men in charge of those families. Faith's title, Unruly Women, refers to the refusal of some women to accept the subservient role, and their consequent labeling as deviant and evil. This was the source of the Lilith stories. (Lilith was the first wife of Adam, before Eve, in Jewish lore. Refusing subservience, she consorted with devils and defied man. In the seventies many of those in the Feminist Movement in the U.S. adopted Lilith as a model.)



Rousseau's Argument on Subservience of Women

See Faith, ibid., at p. 41 ff. Rousseau considered women naturally subservient: "The whole education of women ought to relate to men. To please men, to be useful to them . . ." (From Rousseau's Emile, on education. Recall that he was one of the great philosophers of the Engligtenment in 18th Century France. Faith then illustrates the contradiction in Rousseau's reasoning when he suggests that those naturally born to serve men must be trained in providing that service. If it comes naturally, why would they need to be trained?

This enforced subservience of women was supported by laws that permitted the man absolute control, including abusive behavior within the private sphere. This provides an interesting contrast with the ideals of the Enlightenment, which included "justice, rationality, free will, equality . . ." Faith says these values "were intended only for men of privilege." (Ibid., at p. 42)

Notice the steps in the argument:

  1. Women are naturally subservient.
  2. They should be trained to serve well.
    • First contradiction: Why have to train them if it comes naturally?
  3. Dominance requires the transformation of "strength into right" and "obedience into duty."
  4. Men had to "conquer women," much as they had to "conquer nature."
    • Second contradiction: If they must be conquered, then how are they naturally subservient?
  5. The Enlightenment sought universal answers to equality and justice through democracy and the free will of men.
    • Third contradiction: What happened to justice, free will, equality when women were defined as subservient?