by Jonathan Swift
Gulliver's Travels Theme of Gender
Gulliver's attitude towards women seems somewhat contradictory, to say the least. He seems to associate women with gross sexuality. He talks about prostitutes as carriers of STDs that bring down noble houses. And we can't help but notice that, in Laputa, all the men get caught up in Deep Thoughts, so their ladies start sleeping around with foreigners. Under this system, guys get the brains and women get the sexual bodies – we don't see any Laputian women needing those flapper things to remind them of what they're doing. At the same time, while Gulliver does seem to have a fairly poor opinion of women and their morality, he does advocate that women should receive the same kinds of education men do. After all, he argues, why would you want the mother of your children to be an idiot? Both Brobdingnag and Houyhnhnm Land practice this policy of equal education for the sexes.
Questions About Gender
- Why do the Lilliputians (who are bad) and the Houyhnhnms (who are good, according to Gulliver) share educational philosophies about the equal education of girl children? Are their reasons the same? Why or why not?
- Given how many times Gulliver comments on human bodies and their many functions, why does he seem so prudish about his own sexual life?
- Why does Gulliver feel that sexual desire comes from women and not from men?
Chew on This
The Lilliputians educate girls to be better companions for their husbands, but the Houyhnhnms educate their girls to be better mothers to their children. This indicates a fundamental difference in perspective between the two cultures on what roles women should play in their families.
Gulliver views reason and sexual desire as incompatible; by associating women with the body and bodily desire, he implies that they have less capacity to reason than men do.