by Jonathan Swift
Gulliver's Travels Gender Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Part.Chapter.Paragraph)
Thus the young ladies are as much ashamed of being cowards and fools as the men, and despise all personal ornaments, beyond decency and cleanliness: neither did I perceive any difference in their education made by their difference of sex, only that the exercises of the females were not altogether so robust; and that some rules were given them relating to domestic life, and a smaller compass of learning was enjoined them: for their maxim is, that among peoples of quality, a wife should be always a reasonable and agreeable companion, because she cannot always be young. (1.6.15)
We have to admit, we were kind of surprised to read about this fairly equitable system of education in Lilliput, of all places – Lilliput, where in all other ways, the education kind of sucks, because it focuses on control rather than on real learning. And this isn't just an object of satire, because the Houyhnhnms also do their best to educate their boys and girls equally.
The nurse, to quiet her babe, made use of a rattle which was a kind of hollow vessel filled with great stones, and fastened by a cable to the child's waist: but all in vain; so that she was forced to apply the last remedy by giving it suck. I must confess no object ever disgusted me so much as the sight of her monstrous breast, which I cannot tell what to compare with, so as to give the curious reader an idea of its bulk, shape, and colour. It stood prominent six feet, and could not be less than sixteen in circumference. The nipple was about half the bigness of my head, and the hue both of that and the dug, so varied with spots, pimples, and freckles, that nothing could appear more nauseous. (2.1.11)
In Brobdingnag, Gulliver sees a sight that he imagines might be kind of exciting: a giant breast. But in reality, it horrifies him with its size, shape, and spottiness. Seeing things too close = bad. But we do find it interesting that Gulliver's first confrontation with the horrors of the human flesh should be with a woman's body. After all, Gulliver strongly associates flesh and sex with a woman's nature – check out our "Character Analysis" the Laputians for more on this point.
That which gave me most uneasiness among these maids of honour (when my nurse carried me to visit then) was, to see them use me without any manner of ceremony, like a creature who had no sort of consequence: for they would strip themselves to the skin, and put on their smocks in my presence, while I was placed on their toilet, directly before their naked bodies, which I am sure to me was very far from being a tempting sight, or from giving me any other emotions than those of horror and disgust: their skins appeared so coarse and uneven. (2.5.7)
Again, Gulliver is revolted by these giant female bodies. But he's also unnerved, because the Queen's servants don't regard him as a man. They undress and even pee in front of him as though he's a pet and not a person. We can compare Gulliver's anxiety about being a man in the Brobdingnag chapter with his joke about his penis size in Lilliput (about which, see our detailed summary of Part 1, Chapter 3) – when he's hugely, hugely manly relative to tiny residents of the island.