My advanced Placement European history classes are examining the age of reason and the processes of political change during the Enlightenment. Though paradoxical, it is safe to say that the term Enlightenment is not for all. For all of their talk of liberation from conservatism and oppression, many philosophers such as Rousseau and Spinoza do not extend such change to women. This is said of the enlightened founding fathers of the United States, who did not extend Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence to blacks. During the Enlightenment, articles found in the Encyclopedia placed limits on women. Essentially, women were pictured as the ideal looker to please the sexual desires of men, as well as a great domestic housewife. However, there were such folks as Montesquieu and Hume that believed in the equality of the sexes.
In class today, we read a primary document entitled The Natural Inferiority of Women, in which Spinoza contended that: “For there has never been a case of men and women reigning together, but wherever on the earth men are found, there we see that men rule, and women are ruled.” Beyond the political perspective, there is a sexual perspective, too. That is, women use sex to control men; it is here beauty and physical features that empower them to a point that men fear. Thus, in order to tame and balance the sexual prowess of women, men instituted norms and customs — such as accusing women of being witches. In The Hammer of Witches, two Dominican monks address this type of misogyny:
All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable. See Proverbs xxx: There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, a fourth thing which says not, It is enough; that is, the mouth of the womb. Wherefore for the sake of fulfilling their lusts they consort even with devils. More such reasons could be brought forward, but to the understanding it is sufficiently clear that it is no matter for wonder that there are more women than men found infected with the heresy of witchcraft. And in consequence of this, it is better called the heresy of witches than of wizards, since the name is taken from the more powerful party. And blessed be the Highest Who has so far preserved the male sex from so great a crime: for since He was willing to be born and to suffer for us, therefore He has granted to men the privilege.
Furthermore, the document states that God created women to be submissive and inferior to men, as noted again by the early teachings of the catholic Church:
But the natural reason is that she is more carnal than a man, as is clear from her many carnal abominations. And it should be noted that there was a defect in the formation of the first woman, since she was formed from a bent rib, that is, a rib of the breast, which is bent as it were in a contrary direction to a man. And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives . . .