2.3 DIFFERENT CONTEXTS:SAME TOPIC

 

EDUCATION TOLD IN DIFFERENT CONTEXTS

 

On the one hand, we have Mary Wollstonecraft with her work A Vindication of the Rights of Woman which insists on the importance of reason because the 18th century is characterized by it, by the Enlightenment, so the whole work talks about it. So first of all Wollstonecraft differs from the two others authors in this topic, although Woolf and Friedan also mention it but not giving so emphasis as Wollstonecraft. Each writer has lived differents periods of history and Wollstonecraft lived the “Age of Reason”, Virgina Woolf the World Wars and Friedan the effects of these wars. Nevertheless, all of them have a common point in their arguments: education.

If I would have to sum up A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, these would be the main points, among other things, because these are the basic ideas in the two other works although in a different context:

-Female education should not promote the norturing of emotion because women would grow subordinate to men.

-A RATIONAL EDUCATION must be a fundamental right because it means equality and it benefits men and women alike.

-A social change is possible if the intelligence is a woman’s right.

What distinguishes Wollstonecraft from the others is that her book is a response to Rousseau and to other Enlightenment thinkers who thought that women were not reasonable creatures although it also refers and encourages women to change; while Woolf and Friedan’s works are directed to women, to the victims of the oppression suffered by the patriarchal society at the same time that they reject all the institutions which compose this patriarchy (Church, mass media, etc. )

 

On the other hand, Virgina Woolf in Three Guineas covers the topic of education focusing on the relationship between public and private spheres; at the same time that she reminds us the fascism in Europe. Because of its publication, a year before that WWII started, it is obvious and comprehensible that Virginia Woolf wrote about war but from a feminist point of view. This book focus on how the English patriarchy encourages war and at the same time how war could be avoided. The structure is quite different from A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and The Feminine Mystique because the objective Woolf  pursued is to respond to a letter sent from an English male barrister with the question: ‘How in your opinion are we to prevent war?’. So Virginia Woolf tries to answer the question exposing the fascist roots which govern the English society such as the patriarchal system present in family, education, professions and affecting women terribly.

As we can see the topic is the same all the time but approached in a different way. The most important thing which I would highlight here is the connection between university and the values which encourage war.

In her letter Virginia gives symbolically three guineas (coins which take the form of words from my point of view) and they are distributed in the following way:

1st: ‘to rebuild your college…to produce the kind of society, the kind of people that will help to prevent war’

2nd: ‘to help women to enter the professions’

3rd: ‘to assert “the right of all-all men and women” to the respect in their persons of the great principles of Justice and Equality and Liberty’

 

So the first point is based on education, the second on women about entering in the public arena and the third it demands equality for women and men. These three points coincide with Mary Wollstonecraft and Friedan.

 

 

 

Another perspective is given by Betty Friedan arguing that since the Second World War American women had been manipulated to believe that their own fulfilment layed in domesticity, and that earlier feminist dreams of education and independence had been displaced by an all-pervasive ‘feminine mystique’. This mystique is reinforced by women’s magazines, the advertising industry and so on. This meant that the whole of a woman’s life was based on attracting and keeping a husband, and serving the needs of him and his children:

 

‘For over fifteen years there was no word of this yearning in the millions of words written about women, for women, in all the columns, books and articles by experts telling women their role was to seek fulfillment as wives and mothers…they learned that truly feminine women do not want careers, higher education, political rights-the independence and the opportunities that the old-fashioned feminists fought for.’

Friedan, Betty“The problem that has no name. ” The Feminine Mystique. New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1973:11.

 

So Betty Friedan sets out the fact that American women are kept from growing to their full human capacities and as we can see in the following extracts they are completely blind by the patriarchal system and the education that this imposes over women:

 

‘The proportin of women attending college in comparison with men dropping from 47 per cent in 1920 to 35 per cent in 1958. A century earlier, women had fought for higher education; NOW GIRLS WENT TO COLLEGE TO GET A HUSBAND. By the mid-fifities, 60 per cent dropped out of college to marry, or because THEY WERE AFRAID TOO MUCH EDUCATION WOULD BE A MARRIAGE BAR.’

Friedan, Betty“The problem that has no name. ” The Feminine Mystique. New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1973:12.

 

 

And I think that the consequences of this type of education were terrible, amazing, a horrifying situation :

 

‘…women dying of cancer refused a drug which research had proved might save their lives…its side EFFECTS WERE SAID TO BE UNFEMININE. “IF I HAVE ONLY ONE LIFE, LET ME LIVE IT AS A BLONDE”’

Friedan, Betty“The problem that has no name. ” The Feminine Mystique. New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1973:12.

 

I would say Betty Friedan, after WWII,  dismantled the ‘female version of the American dream’, which taught women to aspire to perfect domesticity, thus revealing the frustrations of women and the feeling of entrapment they experienced. She attacked the conditioning of women to accept passive roles and depend on male dominance:

 

‘In the fifteen years after World War II, this mystique of feminine fulfillment became the cherished and self-perpetuating core of contemporary American culture. Millions of women lived their lives in the image of those pretty pictures of the American suburban housewife, kissing their husbands goodbye in front of the picture window, depositing their station wagons full of children at school, and smiling as they ran the new electric waxer over the spotless kitchen floor…THEIR ONLY DREAM WAS TO BE PERFECT WIVES AND MOTHERS; THEIR HIGHEST AMBITION TO HAVE FIVE CHILDREN AND A BEAUTIFUL HOUSE, THEIR ONLY FIGHT TO GET AND KEEP THEIR HUSBANDS.’

Friedan, Betty“The problem that has no name. ” The Feminine Mystique. New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1973:14.

 

On the other hand, I think Betty Friedan’s book is also a reinterpretation of ‘lost works’ by women writers. I mean that she reminds the reader women who wrote before her to fight with their words against discrimination women were suffering in society. She decides to do it because the situation after WWII is the same that two centuries ago. So to state it, Friedan talks about Wollstonecraft, Beauvoir, Margaret Mead as the symbol of the woman thinker in America who appealed to the independent, educated, spirited American woman and to her counterparts in Western Europe and Russia, etc.:

 

‘The fact is that to women born after 1920, feminism was dead history. It ended as a vital movement in America with the winning of that final right: the vote. In the 1930’s and 40’s, the sort of woman who fought for woman’s rights was still concerned with human rights and freedom- for Negroes, for oppressed. Workers, for victims of Franco’s Spain and Hitler’s Germany. But no one was much concerned with rights for women: they had all been won. And yet the man-eating myth prevailed…Most of the girls who grew up during the years when the feminists were eliminating the causes of that denigrating “genteel nothingness” got their image of woman from mothers still trapped in it.’

Friedan, Betty“The passionate journey. ” The Feminine Mystique. New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1973:93.

 

‘When a French woman named Simone de Beauvoir wrote a book called The Second Sex, an American critic commented that she obviously “didn’t know what life was all about”, and besides, she was talking about French women. The “woman problem” in America no longer existed.’

Friedan, Betty.  “The problem that has no name. ” The Feminine Mystique. New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1973:14.

 

‘It is hardly a coincidence that the struggle to free women began in America on the heels of the Revolutionary War, and grew strong with the movement to free the slaves. Thomas Paine, the spokesman for the Revolution, was among the first to condemn in 1775 the position of women “even in countries as where they may be esteemed the most happy, constrained in their desires in the disposal of their goods, robbed of freedom and will be the lavors, the slaves of opinion…” During the Revolution, some ten years before Mary Wollstonecraft spearheaded the feminist movement in England, an American woman, Judith Sargent Murray, said woman needed knowledge to envision new goals and grow by reaching for them…Elizabeth Stanton, on her honeymoon, and Lucretia Mott, demure mother of five, decided that it was not only the slaves who needed to be liberated.’

Friedan, Betty“The passionate journey. ” The Feminine Mystique. New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1973:77-78.


Moreover, this “woman problem” was seen for many doctors as “the housewife’s syndrome” or even as a consequence of education:

‘…it was the old problem-education: more and more women had education, which naturally made them unhappy in their role as housewives.’

Friedan, Betty“The problem that has no name. ” The Feminine Mystique. New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1973:14.

 

What is more, the patriarchal system tried to convince women that having as profession ‘housewife’ it was the best because they were

‘…her own boss, no time cloth, no junior executive grinning for her job…’

Friedan, Betty.  “The problem that has no name. ” The Feminine Mystique. New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1973:19.

 

But in it resides Friedan’s achievement which was to point out and verify it through her interviews to different American women that the problem that had ‘no name’ was related to the domestic routine of the housewife and an education only based on marriage and home and she said ‘that’s enough nonsense’:

‘It is no longer possible today to blame the problem on loss of femininity: to say that education and independence and equality with men have made American women unfeminine.’

Friedan, Betty“The problem that has no name. ” The Feminine Mystique. New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1973:22.

 

One of the most outstanding features during Friedan’s time were the concentration camps in Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945 and this author uses them to compare the atrocities women are suffering; maybe not phisically but psychologically. It may seem surprising or exaggerated but I reckon is a good exemplification because in the concentration camps neutralized or eliminated persons and in this case women are neutralized, without being able to speak and think for themselves:

 

‘But is her house in reality a comfortable concentration camp?…American women are not, of course, being readied for man extermination, but they are SUFFERING A SLOW DEATH OF MIND AND SPIRIT. Just as with the prisoners in the concentration camps, there are American women who have resisted that death, who have managed to retain a core of self, who have not lost touch with the article world, who use their abilities to some creative purpose. They are women of spirit and intelligence who have refused to “adjust” as house-wives…The comfortable concentration camp that American women have walked into, or have been talked into by others, is just such a reality, a frame of reference that denies woman’s adult human identity. By adjusting reality, a frame of reference that denies woman’s adult human identity. By adjusting to it, a woman stunts her intelligence to become childlike, turns away from individual identity to become an anonymous biological robot in a docile man.’

Friedan, Betty“Progressive dehumanization: the comfortable concentration camp”. The Feminine Mystique. New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1973:296.


 

 

 

 

 



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