Mother Knows Best: Pearl and Rosseau, a Confrontation

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Mother Knows Best: Pearl and Rosseau, a Confrontation

Steph Herold

Pearl Prynne
18 Scarlet St
Bristol, BN2 1TS
United Kingdom

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
18bis Rue d'Mysogynie
75008 Paris, France

Cher M. Rousseau,

A mist of fog and humidity descended upon Bristol last week as I sat on my terrace and took the company of your latest work, The Social Contract. The haze thickened as I sunk further and further into the core of your intellectual ponderings, and I must say, M. Rousseau, the forecast remained obscure. Your ideas regarding the nature of the relationship between citizens and the state are intriguing, perhaps even worthy of implementation in several European governments. My concern, however, lies in your treatment of women. You claim that we cannot function as citizens in such a sovereign community, as our nature commits us to serving only in a "private" domestic sphere as mothers (Helm 1). Have you forgotten our conversations regarding my own unique childhood? Does not the story of my mother's dedication to my upbringing reveal the occupational nature of motherhood? I implore you to consider that motherhood is in and of itself a profession, and as employed individuals in a community, women deserve status as citizens.

Let us explore the nature of motherhood. Recent scholarly work has established that motherhood imposes three basic demands on women: preservation of the child's well-being, nurturing the child, and "training" the child to be socially acceptable (Ruddick 17). This preservation does not require enthusiasm or love, per se, but it maintains a need to recognize a child's inability to fend for herself (Ruddick 19). Nurturance involves accepting the idea that children are complex creatures, and have emotional as well as physical needs that must be met (Ruddick 19). In speaking of social acceptability, complex issues involving the social group a mother associates herself with are at stake. Mothers must assure that their children fit the "requirements" designated by that specific social group to enable her child to blossom in that designated social system (Ruddick 21). Women who choose to have children do not have the luxury of deciding whether or not to follow these guidelines of parenting. No matter how separated a mother may feel from the inner workings of a society, she still recognizes the command to "train" her children as a command placed on her alone (Ruddick 22).

Keeping these ideas in mind, I would like you to first consider the following assertion: motherhood involves active thinking, that is to say being a mother requires constant intellectual evaluation of a child's character. In her letters to me in recent years, my mother revealed her anxieties about my disposition while raising me, claiming to have said such things as, "'O Father in Heaven,...what is this being which I have brought into the world!'" (Hawthorne 88). Hester is clearly participating in a motherly sort of assessment of her child's character, and while this is not necessarily a positive assessment, it displays a commitment to understanding a child's nature in order to shape it so the child can be an affective member of the community. While my mother perhaps felt that my particular temperament was "elf-like" or "impish" in some manner, she still engaged in the logical act of thinking about the repercussions of such a temperament. Thus, being a mother involves more than simply a devotion to "family life," as you call it, but a commitment to engaging in rational debate regarding the societal implications of your child's personality. Women who become mothers are not cut off from logic and reason, then, but are constantly using these two methods to foster the growth of their children.

Because being a mother requires a lifelong commitment to serving others, I propose to you that motherhood is an occupation just like any other. Let us again turn to the example of Hester, who disclosed to me her thoughts regarding the relationship between her "sin" and my upbringing. She exclaimed in one memory, "'I can teach my little Pearl what I have learned from this!'" (Hawthorne 101). As a mother, Hester was bound to instruct me of the ways of the world, including such personal anecdotes as the ramifications of sinful behavior. Instilling an ultimate sense of wickedness and virtue in children is unarguably the most important role any person can play in a society, as it determines the future of ethics in that community. Motherhood, then, is more than an occupation; it is the very act of preserving and upholding a society's moral fiber.

Considering that through motherhood, women shape a community's future, should they not be considered the most prized and respected of citizens? How can it be that you propose to ignore the simple fact that without the diligent work of mothers, society as we know it would cease to exist? Women have clearly earned and more than deserve status as citizens. Many women, my mother included, often exceed the societal expectation placed upon them as women, not only rearing their children but establishing an additional role for themselves in society, occupying, as it were, two full time jobs. In addition to committing herself to raising a daughter without the help of a husband, Hester participated in good works in the community. She thus benefited our community both by molding me to be a decent member of it and by aiding those in need. Indeed, she "was a self-ordained Sister of Mercy;" my mother even mentioned comments she heard of herself in passing, such as, "'...our Hester...who is so kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comfortable to the afflicted!'" (Hawthorne 148-149). If women go so far as to raise respectable future members of the community AND uplift current downtrodden members of the community to a status where they can better serve that society, how is it sensible, M. Rousseau, that you deem these women unfit for public service when the very nature of their status as a mother requires them to serve the public?

Clearly, motherhood is an infinitely more complex than the simple "private sphere" to which you confine women. Motherhood requires complicated considerations of a child's intellectual character and has the demands of any type of paying occupation. Most importantly, however, mothers set the standard for the future of the community in which they raise their children. Women's work as mothers, therefore, is an invaluable asset to a community, and without their vital craftsmanship of children into law-abiding, moral citizens, your sovereign nation, monsieur, would not exist. If the very architects of a community are not deemed "fit enough" to be its citizens, certainly their offspring are not "fit enough" to govern it.

With great respect,

Pearl Prynne

Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Bantam Classic Books, New York, NY, 1986.

Helm, C. Rousseau and Women: Modern Political Theory. 17 Dec 2002. 29 Mar 2006.

Ruddick, Sara. Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace. Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1990.

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