The eighteenth-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau's reputation for writing in apparent inconsistencies and paradoxes is well deserved. He confronts the reader with ironies of all sorts. In this engaging new work, Penny A. Weiss wrestles with issues of gender in the works of Rousseau.
She addresses the apparent male/female role contradictions that run through many of his works and attempts to resolve them by placing them within the context of themes and principles that provide the framework for his political philosophy.
Rousseau advocated separate family roles for men and women as a way of encouraging them to become more effective social and political beings. His advocacy of sexual differentiation has often been criticized as antifeminist. In Emile, for example, Rousseau argues that women engaged in activities outside the home will become neglectful of their domestic duties. Penny A.
Weiss maintains that Rousseau's antifeminist convictions arise not out of any belief that biology determines different family roles for men and women or that the traditional nuclear family is naturally better than other types of families. Rather, he believes that sexual differentiation forces individuals to look beyond themselves for certain functions and to become more interdependent, social beings. Some have argued that rigidly defined roles for men and women have the effect of making both sexes incomplete.
Such incompleteness is, however, precisely what Rousseau seeks since it helps people to overcome a natural egoism and selfishness and prepares them to be effective participants in the political order.
It is tempting to attribute Rousseau's remarks on the sexes to the times in which he wrote or to his personal idiosyncratic preferences, so starkly do they seem to conflict with his principled commitments to freedom and equality. Weiss examines the debates about Rousseau's concepts of gender, justice, freedom, community, and equality, making a significant contribution to feminist theory.
In recovering the connection between Rousseau's sexual politics and his political theory, Weiss advances a new, more complete picture of Rousseau's work. She convinces us that Rousseau's political strategy is ultimately unworkable, undermining, as it does, the very community it is meant to establish. Addressing important contemporary questions regarding families, citizens, and communities, Gendered Community also reveals the variety and complexity of antifeminist writing.