From Girls to Slaves: Rousseau, Gendered Education and the Prison of Vanity

Kathleen M. Gallagher


This article explores how Rousseau’s gendered rendering of education prepares women for a life of slavery, primarily by holding them captive to the power of vanity. An understanding of the process of enslavement begins with an appreciation of Rousseau’s conceptualization of freedom and the general will in The Social Contract, followed by a discursive analysis of his guidelines for the proper and desired education of men and women in E?mile, including the pivotal role played by vanity in the inculcation of young women. The paper concludes by underscoring how Rousseau’s description of the ideal education for women not only contradicts his definition of what it means to be fully human, it also replaces women’s liberty and morality with vanity, thereby framing a woman’s role and purpose in life in language the political philosopher usually reserved for slavery, a practice Rousseau purportedly found illegitimate and detrimental to society as a whole.

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Copyright (c) 2019 Kathleen M. Gallagher

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