M(other)

In her book, Wollstonecraft asserts many progressive ideas about women, arguing that they are not merely dumb, emotional and sexual “pleasure-makers” but full-fledged persons who have the same God-given rights as men do. So in other words, there’s a lot of things I like about her. But then there’s a few things that I don’t.

But first, a throwback to a couple of weeks ago.

Fanon in¬†Black Skins, White Mask discusses among other things how an oppressed group of people who, since they are denied value by being “themselves”, are forced to pursue this concept of the “other”. In particular, the black man is forced into two roles, and you can call it what you like–two others, two imagoes, or two “descriptions” (as Hacking would assert) and so on, which are: the savage Negro or the black-turned-white man, which can otherwise be referred to as the white-washed black man in contemporary colloquial speech.

Essentially, Fanon just wants black people, among other things, to be comfortable in being themselves, without the pressure of conforming to some ideal placed upon them by an externality (I know this is oversimplifying it immensely, but bare with me). In the same way, Wollstonecraft tries to break some imagoes of women in writing The Vindications of the Rights of Woman.

However, in breaking all of these stereotypes, she has created another one in their place, and this is what I think does not make her a full feminist. For Wollstonecraft, the ideal woman is the Mother (with a capital M). A better education means better Motherhood, and a better Motherhood entails better-educated children.

Yet in projecting this ideal of Motherhood, I feel that not only is she still in a way boxing women in, but she is contradicting her arguments as well. If women have equal rights as men, shouldn’t they also have the right to refuse to be a mother? Couldn’t society better profit from educated women in some other way, rather than relegating them to this motherly ideal? This is where I’m not quite sure how to feel about Wollstonecraft. I know she mentions that women shouldn’t be confined to the house (and maybe even dabble in politics and other male-dominated professions), but how can she, after all that she has argued for women, insist that the goal of all women are to be good mothers?

One Comment

  1. I like the title of this post–nice! And I do agree with your points here. That’s why I was so surprised when I read that passage discussed in class today that suggests she wants to have all sexual distinctions in society “confounded” except where we might want to have them for love. That sounds like perhaps we shouldn’t think that only women should raise children, because that would be saying that raising children is a task designated only for one sex.

    But your point goes further than this, too, because she also suggests that that is what most women should do. It’s certainly the only kind of “profession” she focuses on in the text. Which is surprising not only for the reasons you note here, but also because she complains that women are educated just to want to be pleasing to men and find a husband. Okay, she doesn’t suggest the former, but does suggest the latter, it seems.

    On another note, could you re-active the plugin that allows those who comment to check a box to say they want to get an email if there are replies? Go to “plugins,” then activate “subscribe to comments.” Thanks!

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