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You brashly and publicly not merely wonder but indeed lament that I am said to posses as fine a mind as nature ever bestowed upon the most learned man. You seem to think that so learned a woman has scarcely before been seen in the world.
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The above are fierce words in a letter by young Laura Cereta dedicated to a critic who had expressed surprise at her writing finesse. But why did he have to be astounded by Cereta’s ingenuity? Because in accordance with the then prevailing notion, women were physically and intellectually subordinate to men (Platt and Mathews 296).
Since the inception of modern-styled civilization as in during the Greco-Roman epochs, usurpation of women’s status has ceaselessly been perpetrated on the superfluous justification of the physical strength coupled with a deceptive ground that men are also intellectually superior. As far as the former goes studies such as Charles Darwin’s ‘The Descent of Man and Selection to Sex (1871)’ have ascertained it to be undisputable. At least in the so-called primitive societies this physiological factor was insignificant in so far as assigning roles within the family circles and the community is concerned.
Indeed this prerogative bestowed upon man has been over stretched so that it encompasses intellectual dominance as well. Suffice to say that this misconception geared toward unfair exploitation and inactivation of the other half of human population marked the onset of women’s social, political and economic misery. During this period ‘poverty took the face of a woman’ as one politician put it.
Therefore, as a result of the above falsehood, women have far so long been curtailed from participating in vital social, economic and political processes. Humanity has existed for hundreds upon hundred of years with a vital democratic process as electioneering in conduction. Yet it was not until nineteenth century that suffrage rights were extended to women. Quality education has also taken long to percolate through to women and even today both in industrialized and agricultural economies the trend has barely changed. A girl child is still predisposed to school drop out earlier than her boy counterpart.
The conviction that women were of low intellect was strongly entrenched in the Roman Empire’s legal framework. Thus women, considered as “imbeciles” were forbidden by law to act as witnesses, sign a contract or will, inherit or own land(Encyclopedia Britannica 910).The seriousness of this degradation can best be gauged by benchmarking the above stipulations to their today’s equivalents: today those restrictions in whole apply only to those who are mentally sick!
Fortunately certain eruptions somehow shook this misconception. Generally, the occurrence over time of revolutions, warfare, and uprisings has enabled substantial gains of women emancipation to be realized. In relation to dilution of male egoism, French and scientific revolution played a significant role. The French revolution with its agitation for equality and human rights would be unsustainable but for an extension of these universal ideas to all man kind, irrespective of sexes (Enc.910). Scientific revolution which subsequently gave birth to higher criticism metamorphosed the engrossment with physical strength as the baseline criteria for occupational assignment, shifting it rather to intellectual brilliance or at times moral chaste.
Higher criticism at least paved way for an emboldened contradiction of Pauline concept of woman, on the grounds that it did not reflect the situation on the ground, that it was discriminatory.
A notable contribution of the French Revolution was the emergence of such moving voices as Mary Wallcroft of English descent with her “ A vindication of women” and John Stuart Mills “Subjection of Women” which was later to be acclaimed as feminine manifesto. Though the former didn’t get the reception intended, its pertinence emanates from the fact that she captured the subject as a victim not as a mere observer or sympathizer.
Wollcraft believed that “civilization which had hitherto taken place in the world had been very partial,” observing that women’s mind were not healthy not as a result of their own making, but because “strength and usefulness had been sacrificed” by men. Thus she somehow differed with Cereto who stated that most women have “chosen lesser goals” only to later on concur with her by asserting that “women of the present century are only anxious to inspire love.”
Wollcraft at some point observed that women, who could as well be masculine in the sense that they should “seek to attain those talents and virtue” that for long have been embodied as ‘‘manly virtues” have fall prey to “susceptibility of heart, delicacy of sentiment and refined of taste.” These “famine phrases” which she clustered as elegance, is “inferior to virtue.”
Indeed during Wollcraft’s era, a lot changed in respect to women with the sparkling of industrial revolution, women’s involvement in the labor markets was boosted. World wars 1 and 2 staged amiable condition for yet again another stride in women’s emancipation efforts. For example, the Us’ women egalitarianism was taken a notch higher by the advent of world War I , while that of Japan was immensely catalyzed by world war 2 (Enc.9 2). In retrospect one is obliged to content that women’s status has tremendously been improved women, virtually all over the world women can, and are constantly being encouraged to participate in social, economic and political activities of their respective countries in particular and generally at the global front. However there are still grave misgivings.
Though the dawn of scientific and technological advancements has provided women with ample platforms to assert their comparative vitality on the basis of intellectual auspices and not only the physical strength, women’s status is still far from being at par with that of men. Certain aspects have been responsible for this.
Today, just like the Greco-Roman days societies still harbor and enforce certain “religious and cultural constraints “ that advocate for among other conservative values a return to the old family arrangement1. These values apparently assign roles to women both at a societal and family level in respect to their physiological composition. In professional fraternities Ware notes that “what were regarded once as hard male areas with good prospects rapidly decline in prestige as women move into them in significant numbers” she notes the diminishing value of medicine in former USSR and law in Australia (99).
Wollcraft warns “that if she (a women) be not prepared by education to become the companion of man she will stop the progress of knowledge and virtue”. It is at least fair and logical for our men folk to realize that women are as indispensable as they (men)are in shaping the global course.Indeed as Laura states “Nature has generously lavished its gift upon all people opening to all doors of choice through which reason sends envoys to the will from which they learn and convey its ideas” women are the equals of men, if only for the attitudes and perception such as those of Laura’s critic!
Certain religious outfits still believe that a woman’s place should be at home, and specifically in the kitchen .Jehovah witnesses for example in accordance with Pauline doctrine still disallow women from standing before the congregation. Cultural practices especially in Africa still hamper women from owning land.
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