If you’re new to Mary Wollstonecraft, start here.
Wollstonecraft believed society created “unnatural distinctions” based on sex and class; likewise, the family was so arranged that its various members could not fully benefit from the virtues of family life. The source of this disarrangement, of course, was women’s lack of educational opportunities and civil rights. Women were taught only to please men and be completely dependent on them; lacking the ability to provide for their material means and to represent themselves in the public sphere, they had to use underhanded means to achieve their own ends, including making allies of their own children against their husbands.
To be a good mother–a woman must have sense, and that independence of mind which few women possess who are taught to depend entirely on their husbands. Meek wives are, in general, foolish mothers; wanting their children to love them best, and take their part, in secret, against the father, who is held up as a scarecrow.
The parent-child relationship, according to Wollstonecraft, was completely deranged. Girls, especially, were required to be unthinkingly obedient, and consequently had no practice in decision-making as adults. Once again, I am reminded of present-day Christian Patriarchy and the idea that young women should stay at home until they marry, obediently serving their fathers as practice for obediently serving their husbands.
A slavish bondage to parents cramps every faculty of mind…The duty expected from them is, like all the duties arbitrarily imposed on women, more from a sense of propriety, more out of respect for decorum, than reason; and thus taught slavishly to submit to their parents, they are prepared for the slavery of marriage.
Clearly it would be better for everyone if boys and girls received the same sort of education, and weren’t segregated from each other, since that causes problems when they grow up and marry each other and try to raise families. Also, there would be a higher standard of sexual morals:
Were boys and girls permitted to pursue the same studies together, those graceful decencies might early be inculcated which produce modesty without those sexual distinctions that taint the mind.
Because really, opponents of women’s education, what are you afraid of? This can only make society more just and more rational:
An active mind embraces the whole circle of its duties, and finds time enough for all. It is not, I assert, a bold attempt to emulate masculine virtues; it is not the enchantment of literary pursuits, or the steady investigation of scientific subjects, that leads women astray from duty. No, it is indolence and vanity–the love of pleasure and the love of sway, that will reign paramount in an empty mind.
There are a ton of secondary resources in my Wollstonecraft edition, so I think I’ll write a post on them tomorrow.