Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter 12 a: How the Americans Understand the Equality of Man and of Woman b - Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 4
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chapter 12 a: How the Americans Understand the Equality of Man and of Woman b - Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 4 
Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition of De la démocratie en Amérique, ed. Eduardo Nolla, translated from the French by James T. Schleifer. A Bilingual French-English editions, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2010). Vol. 4.
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This bilingual edition of Tocqueville’s work contains a new English translation of the French critical edition published in 1990. The copyright to the French version is held by J. Vrin and it is not available online. The copyright to the English translation, the translator’s note, and index is held by Liberty Fund.
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How the Americans Understand the Equality of Man and of Womanb
I showed how democracy destroyed or modified the various inequalities given birth by society; but is that all, and does democracy not succeed finally in acting on this great inequality of man and woman, which has seemed, until today, to have its eternal foundation in nature?
I think that the social movement that brings closer to the same level the son and the father, the servant and the master, and in general, the inferior and the superior, elevates the woman and must more and more make her the equal of the man.
But here, more than ever, I feel the need to be well understood; for there is no subject on which the coarse and disorderly imagination of our century has been given a freer rein.
There are men in Europe who, confusing the different attributes of the sexes, claim to make the man and the woman beings, not only equal, but similar.c They give to the one as to the other the same functions, impose the same duties on them, and grant them the same rights; they mix them in everything, work, pleasures, public affairs. It can easily be imagined that by trying hard in this way to make one sex equal to the other, both are degraded; and that from this crude mixture of the works of nature only weak men and dishonest women can ever emerge.
This is not how the Americans understood the type of democratic equality that can be established between the woman and the man.d They thought that, since nature had established such a great variation between the physical and moral constitution of the man and that of the woman, its clearly indicated goal was to give a different use to their different faculties; and they judged that progress did not consist of making almost the same things out of dissimilar beings, but of having each of them fulfill his task to the best possible degree. The Americans applied to the two sexes the great principle of political economy that dominates industry today. They carefully divided the functions of the man and the woman, in order that the great work of society was better accomplished.
America is the country in the world where the most constant care has been taken to draw clearly separated lines of action for the two sexes, and where the desire has been that both marched with an equal step, but always along different paths. You do not see American women lead matters outside of the family, conduct business, or finally enter into the political sphere; but you also do not find any who are forced to give themselves to the hard work of plowing or to any one of the difficult exercises that require the development of physical strength. There are no families so poor that they make an exception to this rule.e
If the American woman cannot escape the peaceful circle of domestic occupations, she is, on the other hand, never forced to leave it. [<She has been enclosed in her home, but there she rules.>]
The result is that American women, who often show a male reason and an entirely manly energy, conserve in general a very delicate appearance, and always remain women by manners, although they reveal themselves as men sometimes by mind and heart.
Nor have the Americans ever imagined that the consequence of democratic principles was to overturn marital authority and to introduce confusion of authority into the family.f They thought that every association, to be effective, must have a head, and that the natural head of the conjugal association was the man. So they do not deny to the latter the right to direct his companion; and they believe that, in the small society of husband and wife, as in the great political society, the goal of democracy is to regulate necessary powers and to make them legitimate, and not to destroy all power. [The Americans have, however, drawn the man and the woman closer than any other people, but it is only in the moral order.]
This opinion is not particular to one sex and contested by the other. I did not notice that American women considered conjugal authority as a happy usurpation of their rights, or that they believed that it was degrading to submit to it. I seemed to see, on the contrary, that they took a kind of glory in the voluntary surrender of their will, and that they located their grandeur in bending to the yoke themselves and not in escaping it. That, at least, was the sentiment expressed by the most virtuous; the others kept silent, and you do not hear in the United States the adulterous wife noisily claim the rights of woman, while trampling her most holy duties under foot.
It has often been remarked that in Europe a certain disdain is found even amid the flatteries that men lavish on women; although the European man often makes himself the slave of the woman, you see that he never sincerely believes her his equal.g
In the United States, women are scarcely praised; but it is seen every day that they are respected.
American men constantly exhibit a full confidence in the reason of their companion, and a profound respect for her liberty. They judge that her mind is as capable as that of man of discovering the naked truth, and her heart firm enough to follow the truth; and they have never sought to shelter the virtue of one more than that of the other from prejudices, ignorance or fear.h
It seems that in Europe, where you submit so easily to the despotic rule of women, you nonetheless refuse them some of the greatest attributes of the human species [added: while obeying them], and that you consider them as seductive [v: inferior] and incomplete beings; and, what you cannot find too astonishing, women themselves finish by seeing themselves in the same light, and they are not far from considering as a privilege the ability that is left to them to appear frivolous, weak and fearful. American women do not demand such rights.
You would say, on the other hand, that as regards morals, we have granted to the man a kind of singular immunity; so that there is as it were one virtue for him, and another one for his companion; and that, according to public opinion, the same act may be alternatively a crime or only a failing.
The Americans do not know this iniquitous division of duties and rights. Among them, [purity of morals in marriage and respect for conjugal faith are imposed equally on the man and on the woman and] the seducer is as dishonored as his victim.
It is true that American men rarely show to women these attentive considerations with which we enjoy surrounding them in Europe; but they always show, by their conduct, that they assume them to be virtuous and delicate; and they have such a great respect for their moral liberty that in their presence each man carefully watches his words, for fear that the women may be forced to hear language that wounds them. In America, a young girl undertakes a long journey, alone and without fear.j
The legislators of the United States, who have made nearly all the provisions of the penal code milder, punish rape with death; and there is no crime that public opinion pursues with a more inexorable ardor. This can be explained: since the Americans imagine nothing more precious than the honor of the woman, or nothing so respectable as her independence, they consider that there is no punishment too severe for those who take them away from her against her will.
In France, where the same crime is struck by much milder penalties, it is often difficult to find a jury that convicts. Would it be scorn for modesty or scorn for the woman? I cannot prevent myself from believing that it is both.
Thus, the Americans do not believe that man and woman have the duty or the right to do the same things, but they show the same respect for the role of each one of them, and they consider them as beings whose value is equal, although their destinies differ. They do not give the courage of the woman the same form or the same use as that of the man; but they never doubt her courage; and if they consider that the man and his companion should not always use their intelligence and their reason in the same way, they judge, as least, that the reason of the one is as certain as that of the other, and her intelligence as clear.k
So the Americans, who have allowed the [<natural>] inferiority of the woman to continue to exist in society, have with all their power elevated her, in the intellectual and moral world, to the level of the man; and in this they seem to me to have understood admirably the true notion of democratic progress. [They have not imagined for the woman a greatness similar to that of the man, but they have imagined her as great as the man, and they have made her their equal even when they have kept the necessary right to command her.]
As for me, I will not hesitate to say it: although in the United States the woman hardly leaves the domestic circle, and although she is, in certain respects, very dependent, nowhere has her position seemed higher to me; and if, now that I am approaching the end of this book, in which I have shown so many considerable things done by the Americans, you asked me to what I think the singular prosperity and growing strength of this people must be principally attributed, I would answer that it is to the superiority of their women.m
[a. ]“1. The man and the woman mingle less in America than anywhere else.
“2. Marital authority is strongly respected.
“3. The Americans have, however, tried much harder than we have done in Europe to raise the woman to the level of the man, but it is in the intellectual and moral world” (YTC, CVf, p. 44).
[b. ] In notebook CVk, 2 (pp. 14-25), a copy of the chapter contains this initial note: “Chapter such as I revised it, but without being able to be satisfied about it in this form any more than the other. The fact is that I no longer understand anything; my mind is exhausted. (October 1839).
“Have the two versions copied and submit them to my friends” (YTC, CVk, 2, p. 14).
On the jacket of the manuscript, in pencil:
It must be condensed more. Remark of Ampère andÉdouard./
The same thing is noted in England. Comes from the Germanic and Protestant notion, but stronger in America because of the democratic layer. Good to say according to Ampère./
The above ideas are original only from the perspective that they are due to aristocracy or to democracy. As for portraits, they are drawn in other authors, principally Madame de Staël./
Make more clearly felt and seen the systems called emancipation of the woman. Do not assume that the reader knows them. This will add something piquant much [sic ] to the chapter. Cite even, either in a note or in the text, the extravagant ideas of the Saint-Simonians and others on this point.
Tocqueville finished this chapter at the end of August 1837. The Beaumonts, who passed several days with the Tocquevilles in Normandy, approved this chapter that Tocqueville read to them.
[c. ] In the margin: “<In Europe women do not try to become perfect in their line, but to encroach upon ours.>”
[d. ] Variation in the manuscript: “. . . and man. <In America no one has ever imagined joining the sexes in the same careers or making them contribute in the same way to social well-being, and no one that I know has yet found that the final consequence of democratic institutions and principles was to make the woman independent of the man and to transform her into jurist, judge or warrior.>”
[e. ] “≠All that is equally true of England, although to a lesser degree. This separation of man and woman exists in several countries of Europe and above all in England, but no where is it as well-marked≠” (YTC, CVk, 2, p. 16). See note j of p. 1066.
[f. ] “Stand up somewhere against divorce and say what I heard repeated in the United States, that it gave rise to more evils than it cured” (Rubish, 2).
[g. ] In the margin: “This is shown—Education.”
[h. ] “Although the Americans do not make their daughter fight in the gymnasium as was formerly practiced in Sparta, you can no less say that they gave them a male education, since they teach them to use in a manly way reason, which is the greatest attribute of man. The exercises of Greece only tended to make the woman as strong as the man. They do not try to fortify their body, but to make their soul firm” (rubish of the chapters on the woman,Rubish, 2).
[j. ] In the margin: “All this, says Ampère, is Germanic and not democratic. It is found in Germany and in England, as well as in America.”
[k. ] “Piece of Pascal on the greatness of the different orders, p. 93 [98? (ed.)]” (With the notes of the chapter on mores, Rubish, 2). The edition used by Tocqueville has not been identified.
[m. ] “≠Say clearly somewhere that the women seem to me very superior to the men in America≠”(Rubish, 2).