Late 2016, the Washington Post published a rather disturbing tape recording of the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, openly bragging how his fame and masculinity gave him the right to sexually assault women and objectify them. Additionally, he has been recorded, not once, arrogantly claiming that he likes beautiful women and has married three of them and further gone ahead to even sexualizing his own daughter's body and appearance. This is just one case among millions of how men consider women as subordinate beings meant to please them and who should only focus on being attractive, meek and elegant. This is the same ideology that was held by some writers such as Dr. Gregory and Jean Rousseau in the 18th century when Mary Wollstonecraft published "A Vindication of the Rights of Women" treatise on ways of overcoming this oppression. Based on Wollstonecraft's arguments, this essay will show that it is only by a change in education that it is possible to avert the menace of the women-degrading patriarchy ideologies.
In the first chapter of "A Vindication of the Rights of Women," Wollstonecraft presents a rather compelling truth, one that both the feminists and subscribers of patriarchy ideologies concur upon. The truth is that, unlike the brute age when the strongest and the biggest were the custodians of absolute power, we live in an age of reason where people can only be able to co-exist with each other through rational arguments. To establish the basis of her arguments on the importance of education in liberating the oppressed woman in the society, Wollstonecraft suggests that the ability to reason is what sets human beings above any living thing in the world. In a world of reasoning beings, unlike the patriarchy supporters who believe that physical strength should be the criterion for exalting one above the other, she postulates that virtue and moral goodness should be the primary criteria of exalting one's reasoning being above the other. Additionally, she brings forward a rather important view, that will be used to support the primary stance of this essay, that the reason why a human being has temptations and passions to consequently gain knowledge while struggling against them (Wollstonecraft 14).
However, instead of using the gift of reason bestowed to the human being to overcome prejudices, men use this ability to justify these prejudices. This unfortunate practice did not end in Wollstonecraft era but continues till present times where intellectually abled men with exceptional ability to reason, justify their oppressive actions rather than using it to stop the demeaning practice. Women, who since time immemorial have been the victims of prejudice reasoning, still live with erroneous character perception that was forcibly by the early men using weakening education that emphasized on sensuality rather than understanding and reasoning. The impeding ancient patriarchal ideologies are still in play in the 21st century where a woman's education is yet to fully liberate her from uneconomical inequalities and consequently, many women including the alleged sexual assault victims of Trump fall to the temptation of subscribing to social contracts that allow rich men to demand absolute obedience from economically vulnerable women and in return offer their protection (Brace 434).
According to Wollstonecraft's argument, even the most extreme misogynists of the world cannot stand up against the fact that women have souls (p.20). Therefore, the men's old claim that a woman does not possess the intellectual strength to choose a good moral standing on their own is a fallacy that men have established to create a need for the reliance of guidance on them. She asserts that provided a woman has a soul, which she undeniably possesses, then she can be able to attain any level of rational ability that a man can achieve. The liberation of a woman's rational ability oppression provides a fundamental building block of education that frees her from virtual slavery hence presenting a solution against the suppressive patriarchal practices that present-day woman experiences.
In "Not Empire but Equality," the author, Brace (p.436), deeply dissects the issue of self-ownership as a critical aspect of education that liberates a woman from claws of the demeaning masculine ideologies. Self-ownership essentially means the widely-addressed independence by Wollstonecraft in her Vindication book. The concept is arrived combining self-government, labour and reflection to resist arbitrary government and oppression from a patriarchy system. According to Brace's analysis, when a woman is excluded, by a man, forcefully from participating in the political and civic world, the scenario created makes the man a tyrant of the denomination who attempts to crush reasoning by imposing a despotic rule. This domination diminishes respect for women further creating an environment where a man dismisses a woman's reason to render her as just an amusement who can only live in the present. In other words, when a woman is denied self-ownership which is cultivated by mind empowerment, the access to reason is inhibited. Without this self-ownership, women's characters, which dictate their end and purpose, and the entire future becomes hopeless with no plan for their lives and this is what leads to falling into submission to virtual slavery to misogynists (Brace 437). By, therefore, intellectually empowering a woman, their dignity is preserved in addition to granting them an independence tool that helps them overcome the suppression and oppression of the Rousseau and the like-minded individuals' beliefs.
One of the premises that infuriates Wollstonecraft throughout the book is the assertion by Milton that a woman, just like a child should be kept innocent and be taught no other skill rather than pleasing their men. Though she admits that indeed children's innocence should be kept intact, the proposition that a woman was solely created for sweet attractive grace and softness, as well as docile blind obedience, is an unfathomable disrespect which insinuates permission to deprive a woman of her soul. Even worse, when the premise is specifically meant to gratify a man, this she says, is nothing but an intentional move to weaken her and prevent her from acquiring human virtues and excising their understandings which help them to attain stability of their character and consequently build a firm foundation for their future endeavours.
But what is the main effect Milton's proposal to keep women as docile beings in the present society? According to Wollstonecraft, when the society fails to teach or allow children to grow and develop a skill of thinking for themselves, the adults resulting from such practices are individuals with a limited independence of thinking, that is, non-independent thinkers who are vulnerable to exploitation and victimization because of their ignorance (Wollstonecraft 20). In the present society, inhibiting development of independent thinking skill, certainly, contributes to oppression and abusive cases because rather than a parent teaching her daughter intellectual independence, she teaches her that little knowledge regarding the human weakness, softness, outward obedience and submission, and giving attention to childish proprietary to man will guarantee protection from him. This, according to Hayes (p.1), cause the percentage of women reported having been involved in abusive relationships with their partners to exceed 90%. Overreliance on men that majorly stems from discouraged independent thinking for women leads to controlling behaviours that are not limited to isolation, threats, manipulation and intimidation that often escalate to physical abuse.
According to Wollstonecraft, the suppression arising from Milton's dogma can certainly be averted using the right parenting and education approaches. to slowly sharpen the sense of a child, shape the temper, create a set of understanding to work before maturity as well as regulate the passions as soon as they blossom, she proposes that an individualized education as the best approach. With the such a foundation, when the man comes, he will only have to continue developing independent thinking instead of starting from a scratch where he is given the leeway to manipulate a woman. A crucial leaf to borrow from Wollstonecraft's argument is that, when an education program is implemented with a chief aim of exercising understanding, a child is able to achieve the highest levels of body and heart strengthening. The enabling of an individual to attain habits of virtue works a long way in rendering them independent regarding their thought process.
The issues of physical attributes and economic wealth differences between a man and a woman are of immense importance because since time immemorial, subscribers of male supremacist ideologies have often cited nature to justify their oppressive actions towards women. In chapter two of her book, Wollstonecraft is quick to state that although naturally men are physically stronger than women, this is the only basis the sex superiority contention can be built. This is as far as this gender superiority contest can go. She insists that "...not only the virtue, but the knowledge of the two sexes should be the same in nature, if not in degree, and that women, considered not only as moral, but rational creatures ought to endeavour to acquire human virtues (or perfections) by the same means as men, instead of being educated like a fanciful kind of half being one of Rousseau's wild chimeras..." (p.35) .This quote essentially shows her confidence in gender equality regarding the intelligence and reason. However, the society, both during Wollstonecraft and present times, has created an environment where physical attributes have become more important than reason and intellectual ability. This type of thinking has continued to stifle the efforts of liberation for women hence increased cases of oppression and objectification of women.
In the present times, just like Rousseau's era, the society is still pressuring women to preserve personal beauty terming it as a woman's glory. Very often, a girl, as opposed to a boy, will spend hours attending to her life dolls, imitate her aunts or mother and naturally endeavour to join their conversation while the boys frolic in the air and relax their muscles. What these seemingly trivial pattern does, is that it equips men with sufficient strength to overcome challenges in their surroundings while women are made to remain weak knowing that their beauty will win them some protection from the same men who facilitated their weak being. On an argument to counter Rousseau's premise that women naturally are gentle and all they care about are fancy dresses, Wollstonecraft, backed with her own observation of girls, affirms that the character of a girl has nothing to do with nature but rather the society that brings her up. In her own words, she claims that "...a girl, whose spirits have not been damped by inactivity, or innocence tainted by false shame, will always be a romp, and the doll will never excite attention unless confinement allows her no alternative..." (Wollstonecraft 38). This means that a boy and a girl would play together with harm if the separation of genders had not long taken place before nature made the difference.
The solution to oppression against women, basing on the mentioned physical attributes, can only be derived from education that emphasizes intelligence and reason among women rather than accepting their physical strength inferiority compared to men. Just like Wollstonecraft labels education as the only tool that can free men from their slavery, an excellent education will not only liberate their minds but also, it will give them an economic freedom that allevia...
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