Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Freed women make for better men

At the end of the Eighteenth century Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman to discuss the rights of women in the public political sphere, via natural and reasonable justice in the private domestic sphere. She supplemented her arguments for women's rights with appeals for social utility; that freed women make for better men. The dichotomies of reason and feeling, of nature and culture, and of private and public were the chains of female servitude to the pleasing of men in her time.

Wollstonecraft questioned why equality is equated naturally with women displaying masculine qualities and not men displaying feminine qualities or equating masculine and feminine as the two equal parts of the same indivisible whole. If the reasoning mind is sexless, and humans only divided into differing parts for reproductive purposes and not to divide the power of reason and feeling between the sexes, why must the victim become the abuser or one sex emulate the other to obtain equality?

Wollstonecraft knew that it is only with a stable and just private sphere that the public sphere will acknowledge the existence of and encourage the development of women's rights. Throughout liberal political discussions the private sphere was acknowledged as the foundation of the public, but it was never considered as the source of political change as it fell outside the liberal parameters of governmental power and therefore of political thought.

Wollstonecraft knew that to free women in the public sphere justice had to enter the fundamental political institution, the private family, and women's work in the family domestic sphere must be accepted as viable in social exchange. The raising of her children and her household duties is regarded simply as natural for a woman and is therefore unacknowledged. Following the logic that it is woman's nature to nurture and clean as a feeling creature, would not men's accomplishments in the public sphere be similarly natural for a reasoning being and therefore not worthy of exceptional praise, payment or prestige?

Wollstonecraft argues that the differences between the sexes and their assigned societal roles in the family are results of gender and not sex. She argues that the supposed differences between the sexes is due entirely to education; girls do not like dolls and therefore stay inside, they are kept inside thus dolls are their only amusement. The 'feminine weaknesses' are caused by their education; not their ability to be educated affected by their feminine nature. She notes that girls left to run 'wild' show the true nature of the woman, that of being able to show vigour of intellect as equally as men.

The culture in the Eighteenth century was that of men educating women to serve and please them in marriage. Wollstonecraft believed that such social conditioning created coquettes who make dangerous mothers and disloyal and unappreciative wives. Thus the misconceptions of women are perpetuated, for women must please their masters, and their masters are vindicated in their subjugation for their subjects pander to misconceptions. She maintains that educating women to exercise their reason will result in a equal partnership that is mutually beneficial in that it produces a useful and natural mother and wife and a fulfilled and contented father and husband.

Wollstonecraft's arguments are not so much an appeal to women's reason, which she believes is merely obscured by inadequate education, as it is an appeal to men's reason. The subjugation of women is supported by the hypocrisy of accolades for man's natural reason and punishment for women's natural nurturing, and the attitudes which encourage dismissal of women's essential role in the private sphere by the public sphere, which directly profits from the support of the private.

This is an excerpt from a never-published essay I wrote to avoid writing my Marxism essay in Historiography 2007. I am finally publishing this piece to acknowledge just how long ago I first started really understanding my own natural inclination towards feminism.

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