Wollstonecraft writes, “I do not wish the (women) to have power over men; but over themselves.” (p.10, Texts and Traditions Reader). Explain what you think Wollstonecraft means, and how can it (this power over themselves) be explained by reference to Kant’s essay on the question of “What is Enlightenment?” (pp. 3, 4 Reader).
Wollstonecraft’s view is that women ought not to always be worried about men or worry about having more power than men but rather their focus should be directed towards their life, bettering it, and making their decisions towards gaining autonomy. The position that has traditionally been preserved for women is subordinate to men with main responsibilities being cooking, cleaning, and bearing children. As such, women have had little autonomy in decision making, often relying on men to make all decisions even when such decisions have a direct impact on women. While Wollstonecraft is not advocating for women to be empowered to take the position of men, her view is that women should trend the path of independence and gain the confidence to have a voice in the issues affecting them. Kant argues that being enlightened is to emerge from immaturity that is self-imposed and is a lack of courage as well as the resolve to utilize an individual’s understanding without seeking guidance from third parties (p.1). Therefore, Wollstonecraft is calling upon women to shun away what Kant calls self-imposed immaturity and gain independence to act without approval from others. In my view, gaining independence for women can be achieved by educating women in such a way that they are not only able to make decisions but also make informed decisions. By providing women with opportunities to gain an education, it will be possible to bring blind obedience to an end as Wollstonecraft postulates. In this respect, women should aim at pursuing education without much regard for their matrimonial state to maximize moral, intellectual, and temperamental constitution, putting them in a position to rise in public and private life.
In the view of Wollstonecraft’s postulation, she desires to have women grow in equality to have similar rights as men. Wollstonecraft is fighting the long-held belief of men having more rights and being more equal human beings than women. Giving women equal rights with men is not meant to have more power than men neither will it replace men from their positions. As Kant points out, human beings can only gain enlightenment through gaining freedom where freedom can only be guaranteed through equality. Once freedom and equality for women are attained they will be able to step out of what has become their nature; nature which has been cultivated by no one allowing them to make attempts (Kant, p.2). Equality empowers women to be exposed to situations that need them to utilize their mental independence, thus putting their abilities and natural gifts to the task, consequently developing them further. Even though there is the possibility of women failing once or twice, the lessons learned are integral in making them stand and walk alone. As such, women having power over themselves is to make an attempt to stand alone in the face of patronizing male guardians who often show them that standing alone is dangerous. Women’s having equal rights as men is a recipe for them to follow in the virtues of men as they desire to grow in perfection and act rationally.
Women and society at large regard beauty, outward obedience, and softness of temper as the ultimate measures of strength. However, I would opine that Wollstonecraft’s view of women’s endeavor to have power over self is entrenched in the need for them to stop viewing beauty as strength. Wollstonecraft says that women are taught since childhood to emulate their mothers to hold beauty as a critical aspect for seeking protection from man citing everything else when there is beauty as needless (p.10). Further, the continued holding of these views are not strengths but rather a show of weakness which brews contempt. Continuously referring to women on the basis of their beauty is a ploy by men to maintain a culture of holding women in a childhood status. Emphasizing on the aspects of beauty and outward obedience is prerequisite to making women objects of convenience rather than giving them equal opportunities and platforms to grow and empower themselves so they are no longer viewed as weak and artificial human beings.
Wollstonecraft’s quote is in tandem with what Kant describes as enlightenment citing that is can be easy to be immature with cowardice acting as the basis of immaturity. It is as a result of such cowardice that women have over the time depended on men to direct their lives as Kant says “the physician determines my diet and the pastor serves as my conscience” (p.1). As such, unless women gain power over themselves they may remain under the shadows of men who act as “guardians” who turn them into “dumb domestic livestock” from the fear of what women would turn to should they be empowered. Women having power over themselves will drive them from the state that they have been fond of to cultivate their minds and surmount the restrictions that have over time been imposed on them.