PHI 2604 MDC How According to Wollstonecraft Have Women Been Educated Questions

Does our notion of gender perpetuate oppression?

Review “Gender Equality” (Mary Wollstonecraft, Simone De Beauvoir, Audre Lorde, Judith Butler, Lori Girshick) RMP pp. 208-252

Each student should pick one of the above articles in our book and outline the main arguments and thought experiments (3-5 minutes per student). Then at the end, the group should enter a short (3-5 mins) dialogue comparing and contrasting the arguments and standpoints of the authors. Use the "compare and contrast" questions to guide you through this. (((((HERE I LET YOU ALL THE INFO ABOUT MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT , I CHOSE HER, SO I JUST NEED OUTLINE THE MAIN ARGUMENTS AND THOUGHT EXPERIMENTS THAT WILL HELP ME DISCUSS FOR 5 MIN PRESENTATION.


Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) was an English political philosopher, author of A

Vindication of the Rights of Man, shortly followed by A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,

a highly influential early feminist work. She was the mother of Mary Shelley, author of


After considering the historic page, and viewing the living world with anxious solicitude,

the most melancholy emotions of sorrowful indignation have depressed my spirits, and I

have sighed when obliged to confess, that either nature has made a great difference between

man and man, or that the civilization which has hitherto taken place in the world has been

very partial. I have turned over various books written on the subject of education, and

patiently observed the conduct of parents and the management of schools; but what has

been the result?-a profound conviction that the neglected education of my fellow-creatures

is the grand source of the misery I deplore; and that women, in particular, are rendered

weak and wretched by a variety of concurring causes, originating from one hasty

conclusion. The conduct and manners of women, in fact, evidently prove that their minds

are not in a healthy state; for, like the flowers which are planted in too rich a soil, strength

and usefulness are sacrificed to beauty; and the flaunting leaves, after having pleased a

fastidious eye, fade, disregarded on the stalk, long before the season when they ought to

have arrived at maturity.-_One cause of this barren blooming I attribute to a false system of

education, gathered from the books written on this subject by men who, considering

females rather as women than human creatures, havy been more anxious to make them

alluring mistresses than affectionate wives and rational mothers; and the understanding of

the sex has been so bubbled by this specious homage, that the civilized women of the

present century, with a few exceptions, are only anxious to inspire love, when they ought to

cherish a nobler ambition, and by their abilities and virtues exact respect.***

* In the government of the physical world it is observable that the female in point of

strength is. in general, inferior to the male. This is the law of nature; and it does not appear

to be suspended or abrogated in favour of woman. A degree of physical superiority cannot,

therefore, be denied--and it is a noble prerogative! But not content with this natural pre-

eminence, men endeavour to sink us still lower, merely to render us alluring objects for a

moment; and women. intoxicated by the adoration which men. under the influence of their

senses, pay them, do not seek to obtain a durable interest in their hearts, or to become the

friends of the fellow creatures who find amusement in their society.

I am aware of an obvious inference:- from every quarter have I heard exclamations

against masculine women; but where are they to be found? If by this appellation men mean

to inveigh against their ardour in hunting, shooting, and gaming, I shall most cordially join

in the cry; but if it be against the imitation of manly virtues, or, more properly speaking, the

attainment of those talents and virtues, the exercise of which ennobles the human character,

and which raise females in the scale of animal being, when they are comprehensively

termed mankind;-all those who view them with a philosophic eye must, I should think,

wish with me, that they may every day grow more and more masculine. ***

My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of

flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual

childhood, unable to stand alone. I earnestly wish to point out in what true dignity and

human happiness consists--I wish to persuade women to endeavour to acquire strength,

both of mind and body, and to convince them that the soft phrases, susceptibility of heart,

delicacy of sentiment, and refinement of taste, are almost synonymous with epithets of

weakness, and that those beings who are only the objects of pity and that kind of love,

which has been termed its sister, will soon become objects of contempt.

Dismissing then those pretty feminine phrases, which the men condescendingly use to

soften our slavish dependence, and despising that weak elegancy of mind, exquisite

sensibility, and sweet docility of manners, supposed to be the sexual characteristics of the

weaker vessel, I wish to shew that elegance is inferior to virtue, that the first object of

laudable ambition is to obtain a character as a human being, regardless of the distinction of

sex; and that secondary views should be brought to this simple touchstone. *=*

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 endeavour by satire

or instruction to improve them. It is acknowledged that they spend many of the first years

of their lives in acquiring a smattering of accomplishments; meanwhile strength of body and

mind are sacrificed to libertine notions of beauty, to the desire of establishing themselves,

-the only way women can rise in the world,-by marriage. -the only way women can rise in the world, -by marriage. And this desire making mere

animals of them, when they marry they act as such children may be expected to act:-they

dress; they paint, and nickname God's creatures.-Surely these weak beings are only fit for a

seraglio!-Can they be expected to govern a family with judgment, or take care of the poor

babes whom they bring into the world?

If then it can be fairly deduced from the present conduct of the sex, from the prevalent

fondness for pleasure which takes place of ambition and those nobler passions that open and

enlarge the soul; that the instruction which women have hitherto received has only tended,

with the constitution of civil society, to render them insignificant objects of desire-mere

propagators of fools!-if it can be proved that in aiming to accomplish them, without

cultivating their understandings, they. are taken out of their sphere of duties, and made

ridiculous and useless when the short-lived bloom of beauty is over, I presume that rational

men will excuse me for endeavouring to persuade them to become more masculine and

respectable. ***

Women are, in fact, so much degraded by mistaken notions of female excellence, that I

do not mean to add a paradox when I assert, that this artificial weakness produces a

propensity to tyrannize, and gives birth to cunning, the fatural opponent of strength, which

leads them to play off those contemptible infantine airs that undermine esteem even whilst

they excite desire. Let men become more chaste and modest, and if women do not grow

wiser in the same ratio, it will be clear that they have weaker understandings. It seems

scarcely necessary to say, that I now speak of the sex in general. Many individuals have

more sense than their male relatives; and, as nothing preponderates where there is a

constant struggle for an equilibrium, without it has naturally more gravity, some women

govern their husbands without degrading themselves, because intellect will always govern.

The Prevailing Opinion of a Sexual Character Discussed

To account for, and excuse the tyranny of man, many ingenious arguments have been

brought forward to prove, that the two sexes, in the acquirement of virtue, ought to aim at

attaining a very different character: or, to speak explicitly, women are not allowed to have

sufficient strength of mind to acquire what really deserves the name of virtue. Yet it should

seem, allowing them to have souls, that there is but one way appointed by Providence to

lead mankind to either virtue or happiness.

If then women are not a swarm of ephemeron triflers, why should they be kept in

ignorance under the specious name of innocence? Men complain, and with reason, of the

follies and caprices of our sex, when they do not keenly satirize our headstrong passions and

groveling vices.-Behold, I should answer, the natural effect of ignorance! The mind will

ever be unstable that has only prejudices to rest on, and the current will run with

destructive fury when there are no barriers to break its force. Women are told from their-

infancy, and taught by the example of their mothers, that a little knowledge of human

weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience, and a scrupulous

attention to a puerile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of man; and

should they be beautiful, every thing else is needless, for, at least, twenty years of their lives.


How grossly do they insult us who thus advise us only to render ourselves gentle,

domestic brutes! ** * Men, indeed, appear to me to act in a very unphilosophical manner

when they try to secure the good conduct of women by attempting to keep them always in a

state of childhood. *

Consequently, the most perfect education, in my opinion, is such an exercise of the

understanding as is best calculated to strengthen the body and form the heart. Or, in other

words, to enable the individual to attain such habits of virtue as will render it independent.

In fact, it is a farce to call any being virtuous whose virtues do not result from the exercise

of its own reason. #**

In the education of women, the cultivation of the understanding is always

subordinate to the acquirement of some corporeal accomplishment; even while enervated

by confinement and false notions of modesty, the body is prevented from attaining that

grace and beauty which relaxed half-formed limbs never exhibit. Besides, in youth their

faculties are not brought forward by emulation; and having no serious scientific study, if

they have natural sagacity it is turned too soon on life and manners. They dwell on effects,

and modifications, without tracing them back to causes; and complicated rules to adjust

behavior are a weak substitute for simple principles. ***

*** Riches and hereditary honours have made cyphers of women to give consequence to

the numerical figure; and idleness has produced a mixture of gallantry and despotism into

society, which leads the very men who are the slaves of their mistresses to tyrannize over

their sisters, wives, and daughters. This is only keeping them in rank and file, it is true.

Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience; but,

as blind obedience is ever sought for by power, tyrants and sensualists are in the right when

they endeavour to keep women in the dark, because the former only want slaves, and the

latter a play-thing.***

* * * Rousseau declares that a woman should never, for a moment, feel herself

independent, that she should be governed by fear to exercise her natural cunning, and made

a coquetish slave in order to render her a more alluring object of desire, a sweeter

companion to man, whenever he chooses to relax himself. He carries the arguments, which

he pretends to draw from the indications of nature, still further, and insinuates that truth

and fortitude, the corner stones of all human virtue, should be cultivated with certain

restrictions. because, with respect to the female character, obedience is the grand lesson

which ought to be impressed with unrelenting rigour.

What nonsense! when will a great man arise with sufficient strength of mind to puff

away the fumes which pride and sensuality have thus spread over the subject! If women are

by nature inferior in men, their virtues must be the same in quality, if not in degree, or

virtue is a relative idea; consequently, their conduct should be founded on the same

principles, and have the same aim.

Besides, the woman who strengthens her body and exercises her mind will, by managing

her family and practising various virtues, become the friend, and not the humble dependent

of her husband; and if she, by possessing such substantial qualities, merit his regard, she will

not find it necessary to conceal her affection, nor to pretend to an unnatural coldness of

constitution to excite her husband's passions. In fact, if we revert to history, we shall find

that the women who have distinguished themselves have neither been the most beautiful

nor the most gentle of their sex. ***

*** Gentleness, docility, and a spaniel-like affection are, on this ground, consistently

recommended as the cardinal virtues of the sex; and, disregarding the arbitrary economy of

nature, one writer has declared that it is masculine for a woman to be melancholy. She was

created to be the toy of man, his rattle, and it must jingle in his ears whenever, dismissing

reason. he chooses to be amused. ***

*** Do passive indolent women make the best wives? Confining our discussion to the

present moment of existence, let us see how such weak creatures perform their part? Do the

women who, by the attainment of a few superficial accomplishments, have strengthened the

prevailing prejudice, merely contribute to the happiness of their husbands? Do they display

their charms merely to amuse them? And have women, who have early imbibed notions of

passive obedience, sufficient character to manage a family or educate children? So far from

it, that, after surveying the history of woman, I cannot help, agreeing with the severest

satirist, considering the sex as the weakest as well as the most oppressed half of the species.

What does history disclose but marks of inferiority, and how few women have emancipated

themselves from the galling yoke of sovereign man?-So few, that the exceptions remind me

of an ingenious conjecture respecting Newton: that he was probably a being of a superior

order, accidentally caged in a human body. Following the same train of thinking, I have been

led to imagine that the few extraordinary women who have rushed in eccentrical directions

out of the orbit prescribed to their sex, were male spirits, confined by mistake in female

frames. But if it be not philosophical to think of sex when the soul is mentioned, the

inferiority must depend on the organs: or the heavenly fire. which is to ferment the clav. is

not given in equal portions.

But avoiding, as I have hitherto done, any direct comparison of the two sexes

collectively, or frankly acknowledging the inferiority of woman, according to the present

appearance of things, I shall only insist that men have increased that inferiority till women

are almost sunk below the standard of rational creatures. Let their faculties have room to

unfold, and their virtues to gain strength, and then determine where the whole sex must

stand in the intellectual scale. Yet let it be remembered, that for a small number of

distinguished women I do not ask a place.

It is difficult for us purblind mortals to say to what height human discoveres and

improvements may arrive when the gloom of despotism subsides, which makes us stumble

at every step; but, when morality shall be settled on a more solid basis, then, without being

gifted with a prophetic spirit, I will venture to predict that woman will be either the friend

or slave of man. We shall not, as at present, doubt whether she is a moral agent, or the link

which unites man with brutes. But, should it then appear, that like the brutes they were

principally created for the use of man, he will let them patiently bite the bridle, and not

mock them with empty praise; or, should their rationality be proved, he will not impede

their improvement merely to gratify his sensual appetites. He will not, with all the graces of

rhetoric, advise them to submit implicitly their understanding to the guidance of man. He

will not, when he treats of the education of women, assert that they ought never to have the

free use of reason, nor would he recommend cunning and dissimulation to beings who are

acquiring, in like manner as himself, the virtues of humanity.

Surely there can be but one rule of right, if morality has an eternal foundation, and

whoever sacrifices virtue, strictly so called, to present convenience, or whose duty it is to act

in such a manner, lives only for the passing day, and cannot be an accountable creature. ***

These may be termed Utopian dreams. -Thanks to that Being who impressed them on

my soul, and gave me sufficient strength of mind to dare to exert my own reason, till,

becoming dependent only on him for the support of my virtue. I view, with indignation, the

mistaken notions that enslave my sex.

Brutal force has hitherto governed the world, and that the science of politics is in its

infancy, is evident from philosophers scrupling to give the knowledge most useful to man

that determinate distinction.

I shall not pursue this argument any further than to establish an obvious inference, that

as sound politics diffuse liberty, mankind, including woman, will become more wise and



1. How, according to Wollstonecraft, have women been educated?

2. What differences does Wollstonecraft acknowledge between the sexes? How have these

differences been treated, and how, does she argue, should they be treated?

3. What are the advantages of educating women with the virtues needed for independence?