Hegelian poetics: Hegel's philosophy of women and the family

Sara Jane MacDonald, Fordham University


Hegel asserts that the culmination of human life occurs when all human beings are free. Freedom is achieved when we are no longer unduly restrained by political and social forces, and when we achieve a sense of our fulfillment in the political world. For this to occur, the political world must incorporate the interests of its citizens, and citizens must broaden their interests to include those of the political sphere. Hegel, however, has been heavily criticized because of his apparent patriarchal treatment of women. In particular, these scholars focus on Hegel's presentation of women as confined to the family, and men as active in political life. This bifurcation, it is argued, shows Hegel's thought to be inconsistent. Women are never free. Alternatively, I believe that Hegel acknowledges the limitation of this view and, further, indicates that the full realization of his philosophy requires women to move beyond the family into civil and political life. This becomes evident through his use of Sophocles' play Antigone. In Antigone, Creon represents pure objectivity, believing that Thebes should be the only concern of his subjects while Antigone represents the realm of pure subjectivity, focusing solely on herself and those she equates with herself. In the Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel depicts ethical life in ancient Greece. In so doing, he transforms the conflict in Antigone, making Antigone and the realm of subjectivity more compliant to the objective world. In the Philosophy of Right the modern world has supposedly progressed beyond the ancient Greek ethical world, particularly by incorporating the subjectivity interests of citizens. Hegel, however, continues to use Antigone as exemplifying the tension between individuality and the state, indicating that this conflict has not been fully resolved. Moreover, he highlights that the cause of this tension is the continued confinement of women to the family. Through his suggestive presentation of women in this work, Hegel indicates that he perceives a broader role for women in future states. To the extent that this progression has begun, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream may be a more apt poetic depiction of the community depicted in the Philosophy of Right.

Subject Area

Political science|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

MacDonald, Sara Jane, "Hegelian poetics: Hegel's philosophy of women and the family" (2001). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9999829.