Thursday, November 03, 2005

Mary Astell and Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Astell’s “Some Reflections Upon Marriage, Occasioned by the Duke and Dutchess of Mazarine’s Case; Which is Also Considered.,” is an interesting writing about her thoughts on marriage and education. It was encouraging that Astell did not simply condemn men but rather discussed what could be improved upon as they choose wives. Astell indicates that friendship is a key feature in building a positive marriage. She stressed that men should treat females with respect: “Let us then treat the Ladies as Civilly as may be…” (Astell, 6). Astell indicates the importance of the equality that should be reflected between both sexes: “…and one Person is not in reality better than another…” (Astell,10). This demonstrates her concern for women to be valued. Astell wrote about the importance of a good education for women: “…methinks it is strong enough to prove the [58] necessity of a good Education and that Men never mistake their true Interest more than when they endeavour to keep Women in Ignorance” (Astell, 12). Also, she states that this education will provide women with improved abilities. For example, “…the more Sense a Woman has, the more reason she will find to submit to it…” (Astell,12). This identifies her determination to make the wellbeing of women a priority and that like men, they should be given the opportunity to receive a good education.

Astell’s comments and discussion about the importance of women’s education can be compared to Mary Wollstonecraft’s views about equality for women and their right to be educated. Wollstonecraft writes: “There must be more equality established in society, or morality will never gain ground…” (A Vindication of the Rights of Women, 109). Wollstonecraft can also be compared to Astell in that she believes that if a woman is properly educated she can develop a meaningful friendship with her husband. “Besides, the woman who strengthens her body and exercises her mind will, by managing her family and practicing various virtues, become the friend, and not the humble dependent of her husband…” (A Vindication of the Rights of Women, 29). Astell spoke about the relationship between the strength of the mind and body when she said: “Strength of Mind goes along with Strength of Body, and ‘tis only for some odd Accidents which Philosophers have not yet thought worthwhile to enquire into, that the Sturdiest Porter is not the Wisest Man!” (Astell, 18) It indicates that simply because men may possess greater physical strength does not mean that this gives them wisdom. This is similar to what Wollstonecraft said about the“…bodily strength seems to give man a natural superiority over women…” (A Vindication of the Rights of Women, 36). Both Astell and Wollstonecraft believe that a woman’s mental abilities should not be based on their bodily strength.

It is interesting to see the similarities between Astell and Wollstonecraft’s writing. Both attempted to provide a rational examination of the relationship between men and women and identify the inequalities of the relationship. Each suggested changes that would lead to increased equality for women.


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