Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Fascinating Vindication of Women

My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their FASCINATING graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone.
- Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication on the Rights of Women (emphasis hers)
In Vindication, Wollstonecraft does not argue for the independence of women. Indeed, according to her, men are physically superior to women by divine decree, so that they can provide for and protect women. She states,
In... the physical world, it is observable that the female, in general, is inferior to the male. The male pursues, the female yields - this is the law of nature, and it does not appear to be suspended or abrogated in favour of woman.
This physical superiority cannot be denied - and it is a noble prerogative!
What Wollstonecraft does argue is that this physical frailty in no way signifies a mental frailty, and that it is only the education of women that renders them mentally weak and preoccupied with frivolities. Indeed, the education of women is dictated by men who consider females as less than human, and "have been anxious to make them mistresses rather than rational wives". I was so struck by Wollstonecraft's use of the word "FASCINATING" (emphasis hers) to describe women.

The view that a woman's role in life is to allure and secure the adoration of men, rather than their respect reminds me so aptly of the goals espoused by Helen Andelin in her 1965 book Fascinating Womanhood. Considering woman as two halves, angelic and human, Andelin states that:
The Angelic side of woman arouses in man a feeling approaching worship. These qualities bring peace and happiness to man. The Human side of woman fascinates, amuses, captivates and enchants man. It arouses a desire to protect and shelter.
When we compare man's body build and his superior muscular strength with the fragile structure of woman, we cannot deny that man was created to be her protector.
Where Wollstonecraft and Andelin differ, however, is in their view of woman's mind and rationality. Andelin encourages women to "do things in a feminine (read as: incorrect) manner". For example, when your husband refuses to install a Dixie cup dispenser in the bathroom, rather than being annoyed at him, you should do it yourself - in a feminine manner. In other words, install the damn thing upside down, giggle "saucily" and girlishly at your oh-so-girlish mistake, and then the man's 'masculine superiority complex' will be tickled into chivalry.

In contrast, Wollstonecraft would argue that men are only superior to women in physicality, and any difference in rationality is undesirable and due to education rather than nature.

It is appalling that a book would be tremendously popular in 1965 that espoused ideas that were refuted vehemently as "anti-female" in 1792. Indeed, referencing the NYT article published by Nicole Hardy just last week, the sentiment that women should resist independence seems to be alive and well in 2011:
After overhearing a friend and me comparing our weekend horror-date stories, [a man] walked up to me and asked, "You know what your problem is?"
No, I did not know what my problem was. And I was dying to find out.

"Your problem," he said, "is you don't need a man."

I thought that was a good thing - to be able to take care of oneself.

He asked if I had a job.


"A car?"


"A house?"



"Of course."



"That's your problem."

"Excuse me?"

"Men in the church are raised to be providers. We are the breadwinners, the stewards of the household. If you have all the things we're supposed to provide, we have nothing to give you."

"What of love?" I asked. "What of intimacy and partnership and making a run at the world together?"

"Nope," he said. "We're providers."

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