Monday, July 25, 2011

Education of Woman


Wollstonecraft assumes that the “daughters” in her book will one day become mothers and teachers. She does not propose that women abandon these traditional roles, because she believes that women can most effectively improve society as pedagogues. Wollstonecraft and other writers as diverse as the evangelical moralist Hannah More, the historian Catherine Macaulay, and the feminist novelist Mary Hays, argue that since women are the primary caregivers of the family and educators of children, they should be given a sound education. Thoughts is insistent, following Locke and associationist psychology, that a poor education and an early marriage will ruin a woman. Wollstonecraft argues that if no attention is paid to girls as they are growing, they will turn out poorly and marry while still intellectual and emotional children. Such wives, she contends, perform no useful role in society and, indeed, contribute to its immorality. She expanded upon this argument five years later in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
Domestic scene of a mother teaching four children, surrounded by four servants. The mother and children are at the center of the painting while the servants are in a circle around them. The mother looks away from the audience towards her children, and the children look towards her and out towards the audience. One of the children is elegantly dressed in a red coat and appears to be a teenager; the other three appear to be under the age of 10, one an infant, and all wearing white.
Joseph Highmore's illustration of Pamela teaching her children (1743–45); in volume four of Samuel Richardson's novel, Pamela, Pamela endorses much of Locke's educational program, while at the same time claiming a valuable new role for mothers: educator.

Wollstonecraft and others criticized the traditional "accomplishment"-based education traditionally offered women; they argued that this kind of education, which emphasized the acquisition of skills such as drawing and dancing, was useless and decadent. The ideal woman in Thoughts is, as Wollstonecraft scholar Gary Kelly writes, “rational, provident, realistic, self-disciplined, self-conscious and critical", an image that resembles that of the professional man. Wollstonecraft argues that women should have all of the intellectual and moral training given to men, though she does not provide women with a place to use these new skills beyond the home.

Wollstonecraft's feminist critics charged that the masculine role for women that she envisioned — one designed for the public sphere but which women could not perform in the public sphere — left women without a specific social position. They saw it as ultimately confining and limiting—as offering women more in the way of education without a real way to use it.

Wollstonecraft's most passionate writing in Thoughts focuses on the lack of career opportunities for women, a theme that would dominate her later novel Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman (1798). In the chapter entitled "Unfortunate Situation of Females, Fashionably Educated, and Left without a Fortune" she writes, perhaps describing her own experiences:

To be an humble companion to some rich old cousin … It is impossible to enumerate the many hours of anguish such a person must spend. Above the servants, yet considered by them as a spy, and ever reminded of her inferiority when in conversation with the superiors. … A teacher at a school is only a kind of upper servant, who has more work than the menial ones. A governess to young ladies is equally disagreeable. … life glides away, and the spirits with it; 'and when youth and genial years are flown,' they have nothing to subsist on; or, perhaps, on some extraordinary occasion, some small allowance may be made for them, which is thought a great charity. … It is hard for a person who has a relish for polished society, to herd with the vulgar, or to condescend to mix with her formal equals when she is considered in a different light. … How cutting is the contempt she meets with!—A young mind looks round for love and friendship; but love and friendship fly from poverty: expect them not if you are poor!

Although Wollstonecraft's comments on female education hint at some of her more radical arguments in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, the religious tone of the text—also found in her first novel, Mary: A Fiction—is generally viewed by scholars as conservative. The religion presented in Thoughts is one that celebrates the “pleasures of resignation”, the belief that the afterlife is awaiting and that the world is ordered by God for the best.

Wollstonecraft said:

He who is training us up for immortal bliss, knows best what trials will contribute to make us; and our resignation and improvement will render us respectable to ourselves, and to that Being, whose approbation is of more value than life itself.

Although she drifted away from these beliefs and later adopted a more permissive theology, Thoughts is “steeped in orthodox attitudes, advocating 'fixed principles of religion' and warning of the dangers of rationalist speculation and deism". Wollstonecraft even agrees with Rousseau that women should be taught religious dogma rather than theology; clear rules, she maintains, will restrain their passions.

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