July 31: Women, quibbles, etc.

Quibbles concerning Daniel Defoe's short op-ed The Education of Women (note -- he is for it):

• We could get all self-congratulatory that we're on the right side of history like Defoe, but this essay was written 289 years ago, so it's more like, Jesus, we ought to be. In fact in some ways we're not much past Defoe. Consider this sentence:

For I cannot think that GOD Almighty ever made them so delicate, so glorious creatures; and furnished them with such charms, so agreeable and so delightful to mankind; with souls capable of the same accomplishments with men: and all, to be only Stewards of our Houses, Cooks, and Slaves.
They're not only Stewards of the House, fellas! But they're not not Stewards of the House, either. Nearly three hundred years later, and we're still struggling over an equitable division of the house-stewarding.

• The "Sewards, Cooks, and Slaves" issue, I think, points us to why women were screwed out of education in the first place. It seems kind of un-obvious to me why you would do that, but as tedious and time-consuming as housework is now, it was many times more time-consuming back in the day. So you don't want the class of people assigned to that incredible amount of work reading Seneca; then they'll be uppity in a different language.

• There's also a kind of class thing that's in here, in that Defoe uses "education" and "breeding" (sometimes also "Breeding") interchangeably. In fact, here's his equity argument right at the start:
And I would but ask any who slight the sex for their understanding, what is a man (a gentleman, I mean) good for, that is taught no more?
So while gentlewomen should be as educated as gentlemen, yobs need not apply. Because there's still a hell of a lot of backbreaking labor to do.

• Defoe's argument for the utility of education is as follows:
The soul is placed in the body like a rough diamond; and must be polished, or the lustre of it will never appear. And ’tis manifest, that as the rational soul distinguishes us from brutes; so education carries on the distinction, and makes some less brutish than others.
I note that there's nothing about making sure people are prepared for the demands of the 18th-century workforce. I find it irritating, and a little creepy, when Education is discussed solely as a means to manufacture employees, as if the kids going into those public (which, frequently, means Other) schools were not also supposed to be citizens, as if we did not lay waste our powers in getting and spending.

• Finally, sorry there's no illustration. I had found a cartoon of a woman with a rolling pin, because I find cartoon women with rolling pins hilarious, but in a laughing-at-retro-stereotypes way that also makes me feel guilty for feeling superior. And it didn't quite fit with the reading, anyway. So I didn't put it up. Now, if I'd been able to find a good Andy Capp in time...

0 comments: