How do the ideas espoused by Mary Wollstonecraft and other feminist writers of her time relate to women today? Essay
In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft presented and developed ideas that were groundbreaking and new for her time. She believed the only way women could view their social roles objectively and differently was through education. Her ideas were “unambiguously feminist, although by modern standards, they may seem outdated” (“History of feminism”). But I believe her ideas and theories have relevance for women today inasmuch as today’s woman is not as well educated as she might be and therefore open to being taken advantage of, and that many of the same problems of the past still plague us today.
In her book, Wollstonecraft justifies women’s rights and speaks out against the wrongs inflicted on women. She claims that “women’s manners have been corrupted by a culture that exalts feminine inferiority” (Gilbert and Gubar 370). Our culture today is much the same. Many women today don’t realize they are allowing society to subjugate them because they have “bought into” the male-dominated thinking of the popular culture. Movies, music and pop culture reinforce the idea that women can empower themselves (and make a lot of money) if they objectify themselves and present themselves to men as mere sex objects.
But what these women do not realize is they are allowing themselves to be exploited. The cost of such exploitation is their personal dignity, and self esteem. I believe if women were properly educated, they would not sell themselves short and allow society to belittle and demean them. Margaret Fuller stated that, Women must leave off asking [men] and being influenced by them, but retire within themselves, and explore the ground-work of life till they find their peculiar secret.
Then, when they come forth again, renovated and babtized, [sic] they will know how to turn all dross to gold, and will be rich and free though they live in a hut, tranquil within a crowd. (Gilbert and Gubar 561) Mary Wollstonecraft had many ideas concerning women and education: “The education of women has, of late, been more attended to than formerly; yet they are still reckoned a frivolous sex, and ridiculed or pitied by the writers who endeavor by satire or instruction to improve them” (Gilbert and Gubar 370).
What Wollstonecraft is saying here is although women were allowed to go to school (though not schools with men) and were taught reading, writing and arithmetic, they were still not taught to think, because rational deductive logical thinking was thought to be beyond what they could comprehend due to their inferior, female minds. This was further illustrated by the laws of the time, in which women were forced to be financially dependent on a man and almost completely subjugated to his will. On the subject of women’s supposed mental inferiority to men, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B.
Anthony said, It would be ridiculous to talk of male and female atmospheres, male and female springs or rains, male and female sunshine . . . . how much more ridiculous is it in relation to mind, to soul, to thought, where there is as undeniably no such thing as sex, to talk of male and female education and of male and female schools. ” (About. com -Women’s History) Jane Austen echoed the beliefs of Wollstonecraft when she said, “Give a girl an education, and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without further expense to anybody” (Brainyquote. com).
Of course in Jane Austen’s day, women were not allowed to enroll in institutionalized education. Women were mostly educated at home and received a predominantly religious education. In fact, religious training was considered essential because it trained and shaped the female mind allowing women to better accept the inevitable path of their lives which were marriage, children and domestic life. Judith Sargent Murray termed a lack of education “mis-education” nearly a decade before Mary Wollstonecraft published her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Judith Sargent Murray drafted an essay titled, “On the Equality of the Sexes. In her treatise, she argues that education, not nature, renders men and women unequal (“History of feminism”). In Murray’s “The Story of Margaretta”, Murray shares views common to Wollstonecraft, specifically that “sentimentality or emotionalism—the product of female miseducation—will disappear when women are given the opportunity to exercise their rational faculties” (Gilbert and Gubar 336). It is true that today women are allowed and even encouraged to get higher education, by teachers and educators. But, as I said earlier, the sad truth is most young women are swayed by the false image the media presents of women.
Young women today are sold a bill of goods through the medium of movies, music, and television. They grow up thinking that Lindsey Lohan is cool and that Snookie on The Jersey Shore is a role model because they are rich and famous. I believe reality shows such as 16 and Pregnant show the results of our young girls being practically brainwashed by the culture. Yes, they are getting an education via the media, but it is the wrong kind of education. The result is that many young women don’t go on to get a formal education or graduate with degrees.
Men too, must be educated in our modern world for the thought still prevails that there is something wrong with a “career woman”, that she is either a hard nose or a lesbian. Mary Wollstonecraft echoed this sentiment when she said, “I believe women and, for that matter, men, must be educated to think beyond their environmental and social upbringing” (“History of feminism”). Wollstonecraft too believed that both genders contributed to inequality. She took it for granted that women had considerable power over men, but that both would require education to ensure the necessary changes in social attitudes. “History of feminism”) I believe, like Margaret Fuller, that all people must believe in the equality of the sexes in so much that they are treated by all as human beings and not as “man” or “woman”, Yet then and only then will mankind be ripe for this, when inward and outward freedom for women as much as for man shall be acknowledged as a right, not yielded as a concession. As the friend of the Negro assumes that one man cannot by right hold another in bondage, so should the friend of women assume that man cannot by right lay even well-meant restrictions on women. ” (Gilbert and Gubar 561-562)
In summary, I believe that just as with women of the past, women of today must be educated properly (by parents and teachers) so that they realize they can be empowered, but not at the cost of their personal dignity and self esteem. Conversely, young men must be educated so that they realize the disservice they do to themselves and women when they also buy into society’s idea of how a woman should look and behave. I leave you with a quote by Mary Wollstonecraft; “I do not wish them [women] to have power over men, but over themselves” (feministezine. com).
List Austen, Jane “Jane Austen Quotes. Brainyquote. com. BookRags Media Network, n. d. Web. 16 Nov. 2012. Gilbert, Sandra M. , and Gubar, Susan. “The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Traditions in English” Third Edition. NY: W. W. Norton & Company. 2007. Print. Stanton, Elizabeth C. “Elizabeth Cady Stanton Quotes. ” Womens History. About. com. Jone Johnson Lewis. n. d. Web. 17 Nov. 2012. Wikipedia contributors. “History of feminism. ” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 12 Nov. 2012. Web. 16 Nov. 2012. Wollstonecraft, Mary “1001 Feminist Quotes. ” Feministezine. com. N. p. n. d. Web. 17 Nov. 2012.