Equal Education for Women in A Vindication of the Rights of Women

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In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft manufactured A Vindication of the Rights of Woman to enforce the idea of equal education for women within the minds of males and other intellectuals of her time period. She stressed the variances between men and women are solely caused by the drastic differences in education. During the eighteenth century, women were ineffectively taught because their education is only sought out to create ideal wives and mothers. Anything beyond that was seen as unnecessary since they were said to have few other purposes. Considering the unequal notions of education in England, Wollstonecraft, in A Vindication of the Rights of Women, persistently advocated for the potential women can reach in society if they were educated to the same extent as their male counterparts.

From the eyes of Wollstonecraft, the women’s education system lacked the means necessary to aid in the development of young females. Females were not being challenged in their educational settings, so they were not able to think critically on virtually any topic. In women’s schools, upper powers attempted to keep them innocent in order for girls to not know the proper way they should be educated. When the girls were young, sewing kits and dolls were put in front of them instead of challenging, difficult material which maintained women at a lower intellectual level than men. A women’s education was created so they are prepared for marriage. It was only to train them to be good wives and mothers.

Majority of the blame for this unideal educational system can be put on the “hereditary honors, riches, and monarchy.”1 Wollstonecraft exclaimed the opinions on education will never change because the same people with the same beliefs will always be in power. When there is poor leadership in the monarchy, how is beneficial change going to be enforced? This was also a time where Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s philosophies were gaining popularity. He stated that humans are naturally good to themselves and others, but Wollstonecraft disagrees strongly with this assumption because society is not in its “state of nature” because of the lack of interest towards women’s education. She is advocating for a “true state of civilization”2 with gender equality. She also criticized male professions that have strong power because their egos grew to large and “the character of every man is formed by his profession.”3 This mindset carried towards how men view women because they cannot have jobs with significance, which makes women less significant in their eyes.

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Wollstonecraft found that women and even society were jeopardized from the lack of education directed towards women. She believed that the typical stereotypes regarding women, during this time, were caused by this lack of teachings. Women were expected to think with their emotions and feelings, like the views of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, rather than logic or reasoning, like the views of Denis Diderot. Women could not develop the skills of rational thinking fully because husbands and fathers shelter and overprotect them. In result of being “protected” from the world, they often act and think like children. They are not exposed to new ideas and only stay concerned with their own beauty and receiving the attention from men that they are told to strive for. Entire generations of both men and women would be in jeopardy if a widowed mother had to partake in both roles of mother and father because she had no way of teaching the children applicable skills due to her inadequate education.

In attempts to fix the problem, Wollstonecraft presented many solutions that would benefit all females in education. She argued that education should be shaped to each person individually, but it should reflect “the opinions and manners of the society they live in.”4 Unfortunately, the society in the eighteenth century does not put the education of women as a priority. One of her biggest arguments was that men should not be made responsible for women’s moral and intellectual growth. If men did not know how women should be rightfully taught, how were women supposed to benefit from men telling them how they were supposed to learn. She stated that co-educational public schools are the most ideal form of education for both genders by gaining an education with others and having the comfort of their homes at night. Wollstonecraft also mentions that young boys and girls could develop inappropriate behaviors by only being with their same gender all day. Ideally, she would like school to be free with boys and girls dressing alike “to prevent any of the distinctions of vanity”5 and “not be confined to any sedentary employment more than an hour at a time”6 for more allotted time for daily exercise and socialization. She desired a curriculum that included multiple sciences, history, reading, writing, math, and more. The addition of sciences was especially important for women because science advances one’s ability to reason, so, in result, girls as a group could reason. She also wanted “humanity to animals”7 to become a priority in school because the mistreatment of animals at a young age can cause the implementation of cruelty on future wives and children. After nine years old, she proposed students to be separated to their desired plans for the future after spending the morning undergoing basic classes with both genders. She strongly enforced the idea of keeping men and females together throughout this entire process.

The main purpose for the publication of A Vindication of the Rights of Women was to spread awareness of the problem of unequal education. If education improved, society as a whole will be positively impacted. Wollstonecraft published this manuscript to be a catalyst for change where change was necessary. Drastic changes needed to be made or the idea of women’s pride and worth would remain insignificant. Wollstonecraft’s writings accelerated the conversation within England and fought for the idea that rightful education is a right all women deserve.

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