Education for Women


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The revolution in France went through many phases. Some phases more violent than others, some more progressive than others. New constitutions were written and disregarded, declarations of equality drafted but never followed, a king beheaded and a monarchy abolished. The end of the nineteenth century saw France in great turmoil. New governments sprang up everywhere with new rules to follow and new leaders to praise. Napoleon was the last to rule France during this time of chaos, since the revolution finally came to an end after Napoleon’s reign when a monarchy was once again established. Around the same time all of Europe began to see another type of change, the Industrial Revolution, dating from about 1750 until 1850. This brought many changes to France, Great Britain, and all the major countries in Europe. Slowly people began leaving the farms to work in the cities. At the beginning of this period, about seventy percent of all people lived and worked on farms, by the early 1800’s sixty percent of the population was working in cities, while only forty percent remained on farms. Subsistence farming became the agricultural market. New techniques for farming, bigger lands, and the invention of fertilizer all contributed to the era known as the Agricultural Revolution. Another great aspect of the Industrial Revolution was the invention of the steam engine by James Watt. This invention brought about many new machines that made production and transportation easier and faster. Some examples include the Spinning Jenny and the first railroad car.
     Stendall wrote a book called Love which offers much information about the era and about the differences between men and women. He wrote about every aspect of love and in his opinion described the different types of love and what each meant to him. Stendall knew and understood the many differences between men and women but did not think these differences made men any better than women. He deeply believed in equality, especially in education. In the days of Stendall, women were not even taught how to read. They were only instructed how to run a household and raise children. Anything else they learned was through personal experience.
     Women were considered very inferior to men during this epoch in France and throughout Europe. However, some countries like Italy and Spain considered their women more equal and gave them many rights that French women could only dream of.

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Stendall even compared women in France to the slaves in the United States. Slaves were not allowed to become educated, for their masters feared the slaves would revolt or try to escape. Some husbands thought the same about their illiterate wives. The author agrees with this statement by giving the example of an armed man who is oppressed, he too will turn against his master (181). Nevertheless, if despots, as Stendall calls them, would treat their wives with respect and with love, instead of as slaves, then educated women could live in harmony with their educated husbands.
     Stendall goes on to offer several conditions under which women must take control and would therefore benefit from an education. The first case is that of a husbands death. All of a sudden the wife is left with many new responsibilities. She must continue her “job” as a mother and housewife and additionally must find a new source of income to support the family. She must also learn to handle any financial situations that may arise in the absence of her husband. An educated woman could take on these responsibilities with less trouble than one who cannot add or subtract.
     A second case, which is much more common than the first, is that of raising male children. Mothers are the first teachers of these future tyrants, as Stendall refers to them (182). They inculcate among their sons basic principles which will shape the child’s character and future. Educated mothers would be able to teach their sons more than table manners or how to behave properly. Female children present a different case all together. Females need not be taught these for they will one day be just like their mothers, illiterate housewives. Girls are taught to knit, cook, and other perform other household chores.
     A third case presented in the book, is that of “easily-led husbands,” Stendall believes men are weak and therefore will follow their wives wishes. There is also the case of insistence, some wives are very pushy and will not give up until they get their way. An uneducated woman might follow the advice of her uneducated friends or may just choose the more appealing choice even though it may not be the more beneficial. An educated woman could steer her man in a much better direction because she is more knowledgeable of the options available and of the pros and cons for each.
     A final case suggested by the author is that a mans happiness lies in the hands of the woman he loves (182). Men would rather be accompanied by an educated woman for the whole of his life, rather than someone who cannot hold an interesting conversation. She will feel and be superior to the women around her, making her husband proud and content.
     Stendall believes, and I must agree, that boys are stronger physically than girls, however at age ten, they are equal in cleverness. He poses the question, why then only ten years later, the girl has not progressed intellectually yet the boy is now an intelligent man? Women are taught from early age that they will be housewives and therefore they disregard the ambition to learn and progress.
     Madame d’Epinay was against education for women for several reasons. Firstly, she claimed Women must feed and care for their children. And secondly, she declared They must also keep control of their cook’s accounts. Obviously, these are two ridiculous and childish arguments with no basis. As if an education would hinder in any respect these two aspects of a woman’s life. No woman would stop caring or feeding her children simply because of an education.
     People all over Europe had objections to women being educated. Once again, we see the argument that women would stop looking after their children in order to read, and again Stendall considers this an outrageous comment. During this postrevolutionary period in France, things were slowly changing. Women were allowed to work but only in “womanly jobs” such as tending flowers, making a herbarium, or breeding canaries (185). Although Stendall believed women are capable of so much more than these menial labors, he agrees that any occupation, however asinine, is better than idleness.
     Some men were afraid of women becoming their rivals rather than companions and therefore objected to the education of women (186). Stendall explains how this would widen the basis for crystallization. What the author means with this term is ‘a mental process which draws from everything that happens new proofs of the perfection of the loved one’(45). He provides an excellent example by painting a mental picture of a bare twig thrown deep into a mine. Sometime later, when the twig is retrieved it is covered in crystals and the original twig is unrecognizable. A once bare twig has become a beautiful collection of diamonds, so it is with a loved one, as you learn more about them, you continue to add crystals to their inner beauty.
     Finally, Stendall concludes that education for women is the most ‘ludicrous nonsense in Modern Europe’ (190). With this final statement I must agree one hundred percent. Education is such an important part of our lives as human beings, to be deprived of that is truly insane. Luckily, things changed as times progressed and women slowly gained independence, equality, and most importantly respect. Today we take our right to be educated, as well as all the other rights given to us, for granted. For our generations it is difficult to understand how something so important could have been denied simply on the basis of gender.


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