Wollstonecraft zeroes in on education as both the root of and the solution to the problem of supposedly naturally occurring female inferiority. There are a few passages of her work that really struck me:
- "Women are told from their infancy, and taught by the example of their mothers, that a little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience, and a scrupulous attention to a puerile kind of property, will obtain for them the protection of a man...( excerpt from Kolmar and Bartowski 64). My grandmother used to say to me "The man may be the head of the family, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head whichever way she wants." I thought it was funny as a kid (and in a different way later after she passed away, when I heard it repeated in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding), but coming to feminism made me consider how the ways women are taught to gain power in relationships can actually keep them subordinate by playing into gender stereotypes. I love that Wollstonecraft goes straight to social construction in 1792. There is nothing new under the sun, indeed.
- "The most perfect education [will]... enable the individual to attain such habits of virtue as will render it independent. In fact, it is a farce to call any being virtuous whose virtues do not result from the exercise of its own reason. Cf. EM conduct books, the phenomenon of greensickness (or later, hysteria, or even later, anorexia/bullemia). Elizabeth I was only able to learn "unfeminine" virtues because of her class position. Sadly, the view of feminine education Wollstonecraft decries is gaining ground again in conservative religious communities through the Stay-at-Home Daughters movement.
- "In the education of women, the cultivation of understanding is always subordinate to the acquirement of some corporeal accomplishment" (65). In EME, this is true for most all women except some lucky high-class ones (Elizabeth, Lady Mary Wroth, etc.)