Mary Wollstonecraft and the Miseducation of Women

Published 21 Jun 2017

The supposed inferiority of women in relation to men is a myth fabricated by patriarchy and the male-dominated political sphere. This idea resonates in the influential writings of Mary Wollstonecraft. Such an idea brings to the fore that the assumed differences between men and women (i.e. physically, intellectually, morally, etc.) are unwarranted. Furthermore, the ascription of certain attributes that supposedly distinguishes men from women (i.e. being rational and logical to men, being emotional and illogical to women, etc.) is merely a projection of traditional male-bias. Even if one grants that to a certain extent such descriptions are correct, Wollstonecraft argues that women act as if they are inferior to men because the male-dominated system made them believe in an idea which is false; that women are in many ways inferior to men. This is to say that the male-dominated system, through its institutions, is responsible for the miseducation of women.

Women have been miseducated in many ways. In her critical analysis of the issue, Wollstonecraft takes as her starting point the idea that such miseducation may be rooted from the confinement of women to the domestic (i.e. household) sphere. Such confinement is imposed upon women; making them believe that the virtue and proper place of the woman is to be found in the household serving her husband and her family. Worse, women at a very young age are led to believe that “beauty is the woman’s scepter” (Wollstonecraft 44). Such confinement of women to the domestic sphere and the inculcation of false virtues limit women and their potentials. Furthermore, such confinement made women economically dependent upon men and thereby, rendered them powerless in terms of asserting her self.

The foregoing discussion brings to the fore the idea that it is not nature that is responsible for the supposed inferiority of women but education and the environment (Craciun 96). This is to say that the assumed differences between men and women are not innate. Had women been educated in the same way as men, had women been allowed to participate in the political sphere in the same way as men, there could not have been such misconceptions about the former’s inferiority to the latter. This is because the “nature of reason is the same for all” (Craciun 96). This constitutes the core of Wollstonecraft’s argument for the equality of men and women. If there is no substantial difference between men and women in as far as our rational capacity is concerned, then it is but correct to say that women deserve to enjoy the rights that are enjoyed by men (i.e. educational rights, political rights, economic rights, etc.).

One of the most compelling arguments presented by Wollstonecraft is her analysis of the economic aspect of women’s subordination to men. Lacking in many fundamental liberties enjoyed by men, their false education not only defined how women’s lives will be spent (that is, always within the confines of the household or a husband) but also, denied from them the possibility of escape. In a very real sense, women’s economic dependency upon men has denied them of their capacity to think for themselves and the capacity to assert themselves and what they want. Wollstonecraft’s argument for the economic independence of women proves to be a real solution for the aforementioned dilemma.

In the final analysis, it needs mentioning that Wollstonecraft’s arguments are persuasive and on many grounds correct. Human beings, regardless of sex or gender have the same natural capacity for reason. It is this capacity for reason within us which defines human beings from other animals. Such being the case, women should not in any way be treated as inferior to men.

Works Cited

  • Craciun, Adriana. A Routledge Literary Sourcebook on Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Great Britain: Routledge, 2002.
  • Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Great Britain: Courier Dover Publications, 1996.
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