Women are Rational, Autonomous and Equal



What exactly does it mean to be a human being? This subject encompasses anything from whether or not a culture or society views women as completely human to whether or not women are thought to be logical. 


Although these concerns may appear silly, it was not long ago in our collective history that women were not considered completely human or rational, and in many parts of the world, women are still seen as inferior creatures in comparison to males. 

There is ample evidence that women are viewed as less than fully human even when a society purports to value equality. We may examine the educational options available to women once we have established that women are actually human and that they are and should be regarded complete moral beings (with all the rights that come with that status). 

For a long time, feminists have been concerned about the right to an equitable education. 

Some early feminists believed that females should be educated in the same way that males are, rather than at 'finishing schools,' which primarily taught females the skills they would need as bourgeois housewives. 

Furthermore, women have just lately gained access to higher education institutions. More recent feminist interpretations of equal intellectual and educational rights address issues like as classroom behavior, course content, and the predominance of positive role models. 


We may start with the most basic of questions: who is a human? 
Women are still battling to be accepted as fully human in various parts of the world and at various times in our own communities. 


There are clear statements to the opposite in the Western philosophical tradition. The philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BCE), whose philosophy pervades much of Western dogma, notably stated that the female is a malformed male. 

Despite the fact that his message was far more complex and subtle (and should not be divorced from his philosophical theory of reproduction), this single remark continues to carry disproportionate weight in many situations. 


Aristotle inspired Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274 CE), who understands this passage to signify that females are misbegotten in their particular nature rather than in their universal human nature. 

One interpretation is that women are essential to the species, but that as individual representations of the species, they are at best inadequate. Because he supplies semen in the process of reproduction, Aristotle and Aquinas believed that the male is the more perfect of the two. 

The ovum was not identified until the late nineteenth century, and it was assumed to be the catalyst and maybe the location of the soul. 


Aquinas could not have realized the degree of the female involvement to conception when he wrote over 700 years ago (though he did know about the female role to gestation). 

Throughout history, moral and political thinkers have neglected to incorporate women in their views of society. This was despite Plato's Republic (428/27–347 BCE) setting the tone. Plato maintained that women should train alongside males and that everyone should discover their position in society based on their own particular natures rather than preconceived notions about the nature of the sexes. Plato, on the other hand, makes a completely different assertion in a later book. 


Women are produced from the souls of the most vile and illogical males, according to the Timaeus. Regrettably, this later feeling fared better in political theory than the Republic's gender equality. Augustine of Hippo (354–430 CE) was a Christian theologian who tried to combine Platonic philosophy with Christian religion. Augustine's opinions on women are a little hazy. 


On the one hand, he supports women's complete humanity, claiming that both men and women have the image of God (which separates humans from other creatures). 

The picture of God can only be found in the portion of the mind that is dedicated to God's contemplation, and both men and women have this potential. However, both women and men have temporal or worldly responsibilities that are prescribed, at least in part, by their God-given natures. 


Women appear to have greater temporal responsibilities (think of childbirth and nursing tasks), and hence are unable to dedicate as much time or intelligence to God contemplation. As a result, women are both equal and unequal. 


Each of these works explores the subject of whether or not women are human in their own unique way. Saying "yes" or "no" is a little too easy, but some early thinkers plainly did not believe that women are human in the same sense that males are. 

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), a more contemporary character, believed that women were human, but that they possessed a unique set of intrinsic virtues that required them to be trained and treated differently than males. This poses a comparable concern about women's moral personhood rather than their humanity. 

The focus of Rousseau's discussion of a woman's moral behavior is on her responsibility to be a decent wife and mother. He distinguishes between male and female virtues. Instead of being bold and intelligent, women were expected to be meek and lovely. Rousseau thinks that a woman has no responsibilities outside of the house, ignoring the experience of women who are forced to labor outside the house. 


To put it another way, Rousseau's virtuous woman is a lady from the middle to upper classes who has the time to give her entire attention to her husband and children. Rousseau isn't the only classical moral and political theorist who thinks this way. 


The notion of the person as a participant to a social contract is central to classical liberalism. Individuals who adhere to classical liberalism, on the other hand, are thought to be free of domestic responsibilities. 

Furthermore, the individual rights that governments are supposed to defend are nearly invariably mainly or largely the rights of male property owners. 

Women are supposed to be a part of the man's 'person,' who represents the family in all public and political concerns. 

Women of the working class were clearly considered as wage earners in socialist traditions, but the socialists of the nineteenth century had little interest in any contribution from women. 


To call someone a moral person, one must first recognize that they are a human being with particular abilities. These abilities usually involve the ability to create and act on independent judgments. 


In some political and legal circumstances, the condition of moral persons is extremely crucial. Children, for example, are frequently dismissed as moral beings because they are seen incapable of independently determining what is good and wrong and then acting on that determination. 

Whereas ‘human' is the metaphysical category (i.e., the category of creatures to which someone belongs), ‘moral person' is the normative category to which rights, privileges, and duties are often assigned. 

Women as sensible and self-reliant Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) was an eighteenth-century feminist who contended for women's moral individuality as well as their entire humanity. 

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), her magnum opus, pushed for gender equality and reacted to many who argued differently. Wollstonecraft was a passionate advocate for social justice and human rights, and she wrote a number of publications before her tragic death (and is also known for her famous daughter, Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein). 


In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Wollstonecraft argues for women's rational humanity. Of course, she also advocated for women's civic and economic rights. 


Human beings, according to Wollstonecraft, are defined by reason, virtue, and knowledge. Humans are distinguished from other animals by their ability to reason. 

This was and still is a popular perception of humans: that we are rational animals, and that it is our ability to reason that makes us superior or more heavenly (think of Augustine and how the rational mind might be directed toward God). 

What separates one human being from another is virtue, moral goodness, or character. 

Wollstonecraft is obviously allowing for the idea of degrees of perfection — distinctions that distinguish some beings from others. Her argument, though, is that being born female does not define one's goodness in and of itself. 

Finally, knowledge is obtained by experience, but if one's experience is limited by societal mores, one's nature will never be perfected. 

Nature's completeness is required for happiness. As you can see, Wollstonecraft laid the ground for demonstrating that societal norms that prevent women from obtaining experience and knowledge also prevent them from being happy. 

Furthermore, she maintained that the so-called "feminine qualities" extolled by Rousseau and others at the time were just standards of decorum. 


Women were educated to be lovely rather than moral, and as a result, they were doomed to be second-class citizens. 

Women were prevented from acquiring reasoning abilities, and as a result, they lacked the virtue that society required for full citizenship involvement. 


Women were being regarded as less than human, Wollstonecraft reasoned, by excluding them from the formation and practice of logic. Her principal answer was to give women with actual education. She maintained that in order to be completely human, women must be able to act independently. 

She did, however, contend that wifely and motherly obligations were among the mandates of reason and should be properly carried out.


An equal education that provided women with abundant opportunities for intellectual and moral growth would result in marriages marked by camaraderie between equals.


Friendship, not social standing, would be the yardstick for marital success, since a woman might be a friend to her husband rather than merely a pretty decoration in his home. 


Nonetheless, despite the fact that men and women have similar intellectual skills, Wollstonecraft claims that they have certain disparities, the most obvious of which is in their domestic duties. 

One of the convincing points in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman compares women's existence under social propriety limits to soldiers' lives: "Like fair sex, the business of their lives is gallantry." They were raised to please others, and they only live to please others. They do not, however, lose their place in the gender hierarchy.' 

Some feminists eventually found fault with Wollstonecraft's seeming exaltation of reason. They claim Wollstonecraft was embracing a male personality model. Suggestions that women can match that paradigm and should be provided with the social and educational opportunities to do so appear to elevate males by making women more like them. At the very least, emotion appears to be pushed aside in favor of logic.

 But perhaps it is an oversimplification. Perhaps we shouldn't accept the idea that rationality and passion are mutually incompatible. Some recent feminist ethics and epistemology work attempts to reclaim the relevance of include emotion in personhood conceptions. 


Virginia Woolf (1882–1941), another important twentieth-century woman, championed first-wave ideas. A Room of One's Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf explores the obstacles a woman might encounter in pursuing an education at a famous institution on par with a man. 


Woolf urges her reader/listener to envision what it would be like to walk across the huge lawns and dine in the big halls of Oxford or Cambridge, originally offered as a series of lectures on women and fiction (referred to as Oxbridge). She asks us to imagine a female Shakespeare – his imaginary sister – and consider the obstacles that might have stopped her from realizing her writing potential. 

A woman in Shakespeare's day was excluded from lectures and libraries, publishers would reject her work, and societal expectations would prevent her from writing for lengthy periods of time. 


Woolf expresses his curiosity on what it would take for a woman to make a piece of art. 


In response, she sends her character to the British Museum, where she seeks to discover the truth about women. She is astounded at the large quantity of novels in every genre published about women, the majority of which are written by males. 


Men of all stripes have solutions to the question, "Why are women poor?" 


These texts claimed to explain why women lacked morality, knowledge, and physical strength. Woolf's amusing portrayal of this journey into women's literature emphasizes a lack of information – but not a lack of opinion – on the problem of women's lower social standing. 

Of course, they all failed because they started with the notion that women are inferior, and their works were full of rage. 


The fight to preserve supremacy is at least partly to blame for the rage. 


According to Woolf, males have exploited women as a kind of mirror in which to reflect themselves in greater terms. 

That is, guys believed they were better than they actually were because of women's adulation. 

Woolf foresees a period when women will no longer be the protected sex, even forecasting that within a century of her work, women will be soldiers and laborers alongside men. 

Her idea was that gender roles vary depending on societal ideals, and that gender stereotypes would shift or vanish if traditionally male social roles were offered to women. Woolf anticipated that women will participate in a wide range of activities, and that the "truth" regarding women's inferiority would crumble. 


The ‘protected sex' is effectively barred from exercising its rights. 


Woolf famously asserted that a woman needed a "place of her own" and enough money to sustain herself in order to write fiction – and indeed to engage in social life as men do. 

As we've seen, Mary Wollstonecraft believed that in order for women to develop their reasoning and moral virtue, they required freedom. Virginia Woolf, in a similar vein, emphasized the numerous barriers that women face in their intellectual pursuits. 

Both believed that humans were independent, and that women were viewed as less than human when they were prevented from acting freely by tradition or societal mores. 


To be self-legislating is to be independent. 


In a broad sense, this indicates that you set your own rules, but it's more usually understood to mean that you determine what you should do in all situations, big and small. 

Women's liberation theorists such as Wollstonecraft and Woolf show how societal expectations, regulations, and economic systems prevent women from exercising their liberty.

So, while Wollstonecraft, Woolf, and others argue that women should have the same education as men in order to prepare them for full involvement in social life, they also realize the need to modify other systems.

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

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