The Status of Women in America: The View from Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.
The belief of Tocqueville that women plays a critical role in societal shaping cannot be separated from his emphasis on the importance for good values and mores to maintain and achieve social prosperity and stability, especially in a democracy. According to Tocqueville, the term mores referred to the various notions that are possessed by men, the different opinions that are current in them, and the total ideas that shape the mental habits. In the estimation of Tocqueville, mores forms one of the large general causes that are responsible for the democratic republic maintenance in the United States.
Mores according to Brooks et al (2000p.89), are especially influential and crucial in the democratic societies because of the freedom that are enjoyed by the people, the strong role of the opinion of the public and the general authority weakness. Women have an important responsibility precisely in societies that are democratic because of their ability to influence and shape its mores. As the remark of Tocqueville goes, “there has never existed any free society without the mores, and…it is women who always shape the mores. Hence, everything having a bearing on the women’s status, their thoughts and habits are, in my view, of a great importance politically” (Tocqueville and Mayer, 1969p.97)
Nimtz (2003p.46) pointed out that the principle way by which the women shape the mores is through their roles as mothers and as wives. Tocqueville argues that the accorded respect to the marriage institution in the society has an impact that is powerful on the wellbeing and the order of that society wholly. Schleifer and Liberty Fund (2000) asserted that, from Tocqueville’s observations, he found out that the country of United States was the nation where the marriage institution was most respected, and he further attributed this to the American society’s stability, in contrast to the general disorder prevalent in most societies in Europe especially in France. Similarly, he attributed it to the institutions strength.
Tocqueville and Reeve (2009 p.114) observed that, in Europe, almost all the societal disorders are borne around the hearth domestic and not very far away from the peoples nuptial bed. It is in this place that men come to have a feel of the scorn, favor legitimate pleasures and natural ties and finally develop a taste for restlessness of spirit, disorder and desires instability. In contrast, Brooks et al (2000p.154) pointed out that when the Americans returned from the political turmoil to their family’s bosom, he instantly finds a perfect order and peace picture. There all his earthly pleasures, are natural and simple, and his joys quite and natural. Moreover, as the life regularity brings him happiness, he forms the habit of controlling and regulating his tastes and opinions easily. The end results for the society is that when the European tries to make an escape from his sorrow at home by the society that is troubling, the American, on the other hand, derives love and order from his home which he carries over into the state affairs. Tocqueville saw the wife’s efforts to form a loving, orderly and pleasant environment at home, not as a matter that affects the individual wellbeing of the families, but also a big service to the society, with large political and social repercussions (Nimtz, 2003).
What in particular in the nineteenth century about the American society, which fostered the strong marriage strength and the exemplary character strength in the America women? The situation was attributed by, according to Tocqueville and Mayer (1969), partially to the girls’ education and upbringing style, combined with the strong religious values influence, and the provided discipline by the industrial habits. In United States, Tocqueville noted that instead of being shielded or sheltered from the reality, a young woman was allowed to familiarize with the dangers and the vices of the society. This was to make them clearly see them, to judge them without any illusion and face them bravely without any fear. Tocqueville asserted “her morals are pure and not her mind chaste” (Tocqueville and Reeve, 2009p. 135). This kind of approach leads to the creation of women who have the fortitude and prudence, and not naïve that are necessary to perform their duties and live the upright lives.
Schleifer and Liberty Fund (2000) pointed out that Tocqueville also provided some possible reasons and explanations for the respect accorded to the marriage institution in the American society. From his research, Brooks et al (2000) observed that Tocqueville found out that industrial nations and the religious people take a serious vie of the marriage. The religious people consider the woman’s life regularity the best guarantee of the best sign of her morals purity. During the days of Tocqueville, America combined all these attributes.
Nimtz (2003) pointed out that Putanism still had a great influence and the society in the north despite the high rate of industrialization. These forces shaped the women’s cultural expectations and formed a strong public opinion favoring the respect of marriage permanence and more particularly the domestic women’s role. Schleifer and Liberty Fund (2000) observed that the women themselves, being aware of the sacrifices of the demands in marriage and the situation, entered into the rite of marriage with full understanding and knowledge of the expectations and were even cautious before making a marriage commitment.
According to Tocqueville and Mayer (1969), another American society’s attribute that contributed to the marriage strength and the salutary strong role of women is the view by the Americans on the equality of the sexes. Tocqueville and Reeve (2009) pointed out that in a society that is aristocratic; the relations between women and men tend to be problematic. This is because of the limited choices of the marital partners, and the class barriers. However, affections and passions cannot be bound by the social barriers and these often results to clandestine and ephemeral connections. This is in contrast to the democratic societies, where conditions equality has washed down all the imaginary or real barriers that separate the woman and the man. Women are empowered here to evaluate the man’s true love level and commitment to her.
Similarly, another equality effect in America in the nineteenth century is that because there was choice freedom of one’s spouse, the opinion of the public condemned harshly divorce and infidelity, thereby strengthening the marriage institution (Brooks et al, 2000).
In general, Tocqueville follows the classical characterization of the societies that were liberal as un-warlike, because of their economic self interest and their ideology. There existed few anomalies, for instance a soldier who have a passion and interest in war, but in the real sense the problem does not have great potential to result into a great danger. Tocqueville argues that memorable and great revolutions will be rare because they are more or less a property threat and most democracy inhabitants have property. According to Nimtz (2003p.89), there is a more philosophic in addition to other reasons, quite elements that are disturbing of the democratic societies that make them not to incline to revolution, which is their individualism. Tocqueville asserted that when the social conditions are equal, every person tend to live apart, forgetful of the public and centered to himself. This tendency will eventually make more unlikely the revolution. However, Tocqueville warned that it should not be fostered because the self interest and apathy of the majority of citizens could be misused by the minority who has an interest I revolution (Tocqueville and Reeve, 2009p.115).
The tendencies to the majority omnipotence and public opinion overwhelming acceptance also work contrary to the revolution. The general government and life ideas are fixed by the majority’s opinion and almost never changes. Because of this, there exist few ideas that are widespread that is contrast to the opinion of the public that would eventually spur a revolution. This exchangeability of the ideas in general, of course, poses as a great danger to the democracies. Moreover, apart from the tyranny of the majority problem, Tocqueville feared that societies that are democratic will end up eventually, by being too fixed unalterably with the same prejudice, institutions and mores, so that mankind will halt their progress and will dig in itself (Tocqueville and Mayer, 1969).
A more influence on democracy that is general to the mores is as described by Tocqueville and Reeve (2009 p.66), to make them even more gentle. This implies that people do not have the terrible vices in general, but they also lack the extraordinary virtue. Tocqueville, himself an aristocrat, lamented the loss of great honor, heroism, virtue and intelligence. Yet he thought that equality growth is fated and that because great personalities do not simply tend to create democratic societies, something to be done does not exist, except make good use of the situation and be joyful that terrible vices are not there.
In conclusion, the particular view of the Americans of equality between both sexes strengthened the women’s position in the society. Tocqueville believed that women were best suited to work in the domestic areas while the men were better equipped for political affairs, business and management of the family’s external relations. Tocqueville further placed importance on the family’s paternal authority, praising the Americans for respecting this authority in spite of their personal democratic mentality. The American men, unlike the European men, treated women with esteem and respect displaying deep respect for the women’s freedom.
Brooks, J. F., C-SPAN (Television network), & Public Affairs Video Archives. (2000). Gender and democracy in America. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Public Affairs Video Archives.
Schleifer, J. T., & Liberty Fund. (2000). The making of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Indianapolis, Ind: Liberty Fund.
Tocqueville, A. ., & In Mayer, J. P. (1969). Democracy in America. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday.
Tocqueville, A. ., & Reeve, H. (2009). Democracy in America: Volumes I & II. Waiheke Island: Floating Press.