Monday, November 15, 2010

Voltaire on Women

I found this great article online that describes Voltaire's various critiques on society, including his views on women.

http://www.articlemyriad.com/71.htm

The author states that although it may seem progresive that Voltaire portrays women as subject to violent male desire through stories of rape, enslavement, and submission, it is more likely that Voltaire believes women are weak and incompetent. Cunegonde and the Old Woman are repressed by men and are strangely represented in the novel; Voltaire depicts them as helpless victims which also show strength in the facing adversity. The author of this article write, "It seems however, that the 'strength' that these women show might not be a statement on the internal powers of women, but rather that they have no choice than to adapt to a gruesome and misogynistic situation." What do you all think? Was Voltaire portraying women as strong figures or as weak creatures who adapted to their environment?

7 comments:

Katherine said...

Julia, I think you ask a very interesting question. I really don't know if Voltaire was trying to portray women as strong figures or as weak figures that adapt to their enviornment. But if I had to guess, I think he was portraying them as strong figures. The way the Old Woman talks about rape is so unique and new that to me it is a sign of strength. Also, when you are reading the story you get a very confident vibe from the women, rather than weak.

Samantha said...

I guess I'll play the devil's advocate. Although Voltaire attempts to demonstrate a progressive viewpoint, I believe that he inevitably portrays women as weak figures. His two main female characters, Cunegonde and the Old Woman, both suffer countless rapes. This represents the oppression that females suffer because of males and the complacency of this heinous act of violence. In addition, the women of Candide are time after time depicted as the property of men. Although Voltaire does believe that women happen to be weaker than males in society, I think he satirizes this issue in hopes of promoting change for the future.

chrissy said...

I think Voltaire views that women should be seen as equal. In Eldorado, both men and women were in the highest position of power. If Eldorado is Voltaire's own Utopia, then he views women as equals. But the rest of Europe viewed them as inferior, weak beings. I think Voltaire really does think they should be equal; he was a progressive thinker. However, the rest of Europe was behind his thinking.

Blaine said...

I believe woman are portrayed as both strong and weak figures. Voltaire incorporated both good and bad elements in the women in the story. Although the Old Woman is raped (a sign of oppression), she also displays extreme intelligence and insight. In Eldorado, men and woman are depicted as equals. I consider this a demonstration of Votaire's belief in equality, although at other points in the book he shows how women are still considered the property of men.

Steven said...

I think Blaine's got the right idea. Voltaire is a product of his time because Cunegonde talks about being raped casually and says she's become more virtuous because of the first time, which certainly seems like it promotes a such an awful act. But then the women of Eldorado are given equality, and it's clear that Eldorado is very Utopian too. So his view of women is fairly ambiguous. It appears, to me at least, that he would like to believe in equality but is reluctant to do so because of the societal values during his lifetime.

efabio said...

I think Voltaire shows both the actual place of women in that society and the place he thinks that they deserve. His female characters are mostly weak and ridiculously complacent, as they would have been viewed. But in his perfect world, men and women are equal. I personally can't think of a better way for an author to express his opinion than to create a theoretically perfect society and inject his beliefs into it. I think Voltaire includes the negative aspect of the womens' lives not to show his own views, but to illustrate the difference between what is and what ought to be.

C-Sted said...

Clearly, there are good arguments to be made for both side of this issue. Take Cunegonde's story, for instance. I don't know if I prefer the interpretation given by Julia's source or by Katherine. I do wonder, however, if Voltaire really sees rape and rape prevention as the responsibility of the woman. Regardless of whether or not Voltaire saw women as weak, it seems likely to me that he is being sarcastic when Cunegonde says, "I held [the Jew] off better than I had done with the Bulgar soldier... virtue is only strengthened by the experience." I think Voltaire may be trying to draw attention to the fact that women had been left to fend for themselves in society, and I believe that this interpretation may be supported by the fact that a soldier, someone who ought to be keeping order, is the perpetrator of the rape.