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Quotes from Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835 and 1840

“There are Europeans who confuse the various characteristics of the sexes and would make men and women beings not only equal but alike. To both, they attribute the same functions equally, impose on them the same duties and grant them the same rights. They would involve them both in everything – work, pleasure, business. It is easy to see that, in this ambition to make the one sex equal to the other, both are demeaned and that, from the crude mixing of nature’s works, will emerge weak men and immodest women.” 

“That is far from being the American view of the type of democratic equality which can be brought about between men and women.” …

“America is the one country where the most consistent care has been taken to trace clearly distinct spheres for the two sexes and where both are required to walk at an equal pace but along paths that are never the same. You do not see American women directing concerns outside the range of the family, or handling business dealings, or entering politics. Neither do you see any women forced to face the rough work of plowing fields, nor any of those heavy tasks which demand the exertion of physical strength. No family is so poor that it forms the exception to this rule.” …

“If the American woman is not allowed to escape the tranquil sphere of her domestic duties, neither is she forced to leave it.”…

“Consequently, American women who display a quite manly intelligence and energy generally maintain very delicate features and always remain feminine in their ways even though they sometimes show they have the hearts and minds of men.”…

“Nor have Americans ever imagined that the result of democratic principle would be to overturn a husband’s authority or to introduce any ambiguity about who is in charge in the family.” …

“Americans constantly display their complete confidence in the understanding of their wives and have a deep respect for their freedom. They esteem that her mind is as capable as a man’s of discovering the plain truth and that her heart is just as resolute in following it.” …

“In America a girl can set out on a long journey alone and without fear.”

“American legislators, who have softened almost all the articles of the penal code, still punish rape by death. And no other crime is prosecuted with the same relentless severity by public opinion. The explanation is this: since Americans have nothing they value or respect more than a woman’s honor and independence, they consider no punishment too harsh for those who deprive her of both against her will.” …

“Thus Americans do not believe that men and women have the duty or the right to perform the same things but they show the same regard for the role played by both and they consider them as equal in worth although their lot in life is different. They do not give to a woman’s courage the same character or role as a man’s but they never question its strength; and, while they do not think that a man and his partner should always use their intelligence and understanding in the same way, at least they consider that the one has as sound an understanding and as clear a mind as the other.”

“For my part, I say this without hesitation: although the American woman rarely leaves her domestic sphere and in certain respects is very dependent within it, nowhere does she enjoy a higher status. And now, as I come near to the end of this book in which I have recorded so many considerable achievements of the Americans, if I am asked how we should account for the unusual prosperity and growing strength of this nation, I would reply that they must be attributed to the superiority of their women.”

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