The romantic period in history and literature was a time that we now see was uneasy and full of turmoil and distress all over England. We started to see a rise in a revolution that completely split different class levels right down the middle, as many working class people started to notice that they were being held back from even attempting to work towards a better life. Oppression was rising on the daily but that wasn’t just pertaining to those who were working class men. This also pertained to women. Mary Wollstonecraft, author of The Vindication of the Rights of Women, spent much time during this era arguing that women deserved to be treated as equals to men, especially when it came to education. She also felt that an educated woman was one of the secrets to a successful marriage, and not just your male-superior and female-submissive type of marriage. She believed in partnership rather than ownership and argued that educated women in a relationship led to happier, more genuine marriages.
In the United States alone, the divorce rate was very high during the middle of the 20th century, however in the turn of the 21st century, the divorce rate has actually dropped significantly. Now that we live in a time where the woman’s rights movements have progressed, it seems that women are learning how to behave in all of the ways that Wollstonecraft often spoke about, which coincides with Wollstonecraft’s ideas that marrying an educated woman truly does lead to a happier relationship.
There are many different attributes as to why marriages have not lasted. Some of these attributes include infidelity, lack of education prior to marriage, lack of communication and financial problems. Wollstonecraft spent much time arguing on behalf of women’s rights and points out the many reasons women are seen, and even over two hundred years later, still seen in the light that they are. Even many years later, women still fall into these traps of glass ceilings in the workplace, unfair work wages and overall double standards in society. Wollstonecraft attributes these flaws in society to the fact that women did not receive the same education as the men, however, she explains all the reasons a woman should have been educated just the same. The idea that women are equal to men is made clear from the beginning when Wollstonecraft states in her introduction that she “shall first consider women in the grand light of human creatures, who, in common, with men, are placed on this earth to unfold their faculties” (Norton 97). She also makes known the concept that women have not formerly been allowed to express themselves but that teaching women that they have the right to do so, would lead to better communication in a relationship as well. An expressive woman also allows partners to focus on their relationship as a friendship rather than an agreement or arrangement. When a woman is brought up this way, it doesn’t allow her to prepare for a life with her partner and instead it focuses on continuing to fall into the category of being submissive to the point of loss for one’s self identity.
In her writings, Wollstonecraft points out the many characteristics that women are taught to adopt, starting a very young age. One of the characteristics is that women assure that they are conforming to the ideal standards of being a “beautiful” woman while and should they be beautiful, everything else is needless, for, at least, twenty years of their lives” (Wollstonecraft 29). With an emphasis on being beautiful and almost nothing else, there is often a mother who is raising her daughter to believe this submissive behavior. This embeds shallow traits in a girl’s mind that eventually will turn women into the docile type of girl that men desire. These are the same women who do not question their place in society. Naturally, with these standards, beauty is held in such high regard, making it seem as if beautiful girls do not need to learn very much at all, but rather they should feel the need to focus on maintaining their beauty, as it will bring them the love and care of a husband that they seek. While these ideas are not completely foreign in this day and age, it goes without saying that many women have adopted the concept of being naturally beautiful with or without makeup, accepting their bodies whether they weigh 100 pounds or 100 more. Even more importantly, it is very likely that a lot of women are learning how to be beautiful for themselves, rather than using beauty to attract men. One could also say that men have done a fairly good job of learning how to accept a woman for exactly what they are because there truly is more than what meets the eye.
The problem with girls being raised to rely on their looks is that the beauty and charm will only last so long and once the beauty wears away, a man might feel the need to seek beauty elsewhere, which may result in infidelity. Wollstonecraft uses the changing seasons to compare these skills that women learn, stating that they are not necessarily life skills, but a form of charm which would eventually become ineffective. The diminishing effectiveness of charm is outlined when Wollstonecraft writes that “the woman who has only been taught to please will soon find that her charms are oblique sunbeams, and that they cannot have much effect on her husband’s heart when they are seen every day, when the summer is passed and gone,” (Wollstonecraft 37) indicating that the flattery alone would be ineffective in maintaining a relationship between husband and wife. Once charm is no longer able to impress the husband, women would carry no other skills or knowledge that would help to keep their husband’s loyalty, and the husband may become unfaithful.
Another factor that would lead to a failing marriage is the inability for a couple to communicate on a more intimate level by proving to be partners. According to Wollstonecraft, the way to combat this problem is also to properly educate women. She gives the advice, “Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience; but, as blind obedience is ever sought for by power, tyrants and sensualists are in the right when they endeavor to keep women in the dark, because the former only want slaves, and the latter a play-thing” (Wollstonecraft 34) which simultaneously advocates for the education of women as well as subtly (or not) addressing the misogyny present in society. In this passage, Wollstonecraft is drawing attention away from women, and takes a minute to focus on the patriarchal structure that leads to oppression. The use of the words tyrant and sensualist are extremely powerful because they indicate the sheer moral indecency in the way that the world upholds its patriarchal ideas.
During the romantic era, some might have said that educating women would have caused a reversal of roles, rather than a gaining of equality. However, fast forward 200 years, and this is clearly still not true. This ideology has the implication that rights are limited, and that granting one group of people more rights may result in fewer rights of another, however women are still working towards and wishing to become as educated and to be considered as the equal counterpart of men. While men still dominate in certain fields of work, we are seeing more women take on more of a working role in the house, rather than playing the part of the stay-at-home mom, or the housewife. As mentioned before, these concepts are not completely forgeign, however we are seeing a rise in the amount of women who have taken up working a full time job in order to contribute to the household which can often alleviate the financial burden or stresses of a single income household, also leading to a more balanced structure in a marriage. According to Wollstonecraft, we can see that the nature of women is not to be subjected. While these concepts may have seemed irrational in the 1700’s, we are now living in a time and place that would be deemed a lot more progressive. With the increase in women becoming more educated, we also see a decline of divorce rates in recent years, proving that Wollstonecraft’s arguments about a woman with an education leading to a happier marriage could easily be used as modern advice for almost any couple, especially those women who may have been raised by one of the “equally uneducated” mothers who still exist in society and would probably disagree with Wollstonecraft’s theories and ideas.