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Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Essay Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1472

Essay

In Rosalind Barnett’s, “Women and Work: Where Are We, Where Did We Come From, and Where Are We Going?” and Mary Wollstonecraft’s “Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” both authors take a stern position on woman’s rights and their treatment throughout history. While Wollstonecraft takes a more in depth look at the psychological and ideological factors that promote prejudice against women in a male driven society, Barnett’s deductions complement this view through revelations concerning the place of women in the workforce. The main concept Barnett reveals is that many of the limitations on women within the workforce stem from some of these same views of prejudice mentioned by Wollstonecraft. Wollstonecraft argues that there are several simple questions, if asked, that can reveal truths, but these truths are usually contradicted by the words and conduct of people. The contradictions she argues arise in how reason is misguided or manipulated to reinforce prejudice. Barnett supports this argument by providing contemporary evidence to show this prejudice still exists and significantly impacts the experience of women in the workplace. The following research will show how Barnett supplements Wollstonecraft’s position on prejudice attitudes against women by showing how these ideals significantly impact the way women are perceived in the workplace and how they are dealt with in regards to hiring, firing, and acquiring higher levels of employment, while at the same time demonstrating a force for progress.

Wollstonecraft makes that argument that “perfection of our nature and capability of happiness, must be estimated by the degree of reason, virtue, and knowledge, that distinguish the individual, and direct the laws which bind society…”(Wollstonecraft, 11). This leaves the possibility of prejudice up to interpretation. However Barnette reveals certifiable data that verifies there is clear prejudice in the workplace. The most telling example of prejudice against women in the work place can be seen with the way women have notoriously been paid nearly 30% less than men for working the same positions. Barnett identifies these beliefs as being detrimental to all parties involved, both men and women as they harbor prejudice which impacts equality in the workplace and limits progress. Barnett is clear to point out that these skewed gender roles that have been imposed on men and women in Western Culture since the dawn of time, have significantly influenced family life in a negative way. Barnett provides statistics to support the view that these same ideal gender roles which Wollstonecraft argues are established early on in the lives of women, play a significant role in how women are employed within the workforce. Barnett notes that during the 1900’s, “40 percent of single women were employed versus only five percent of married women. This 35 percent gap persisted for many years” (Barnett, 667). The author further points out a study that found college graduates in the twentieth century, specifically those that graduated between 1900 and 1920 had to make a distinct decision between their family and their career. This was a cultural ideology that resulted in the men staying out of the home and the women being mostly confined to it.  Barnett attributes the fact that men stayed out of the home and distance themselves from their families through isolation in the workplace to the fact that it was widely thought that the inherent nature of the man was not fit for the domestic world. Women on the other hand were seen as being domestic communal individuals who could care for the family and handle household issues. This is a role that is set in opposition to the traditional workplace environment role of men which Barnett notes, “Men’s special talents matched the requirements of the workplace, where they were expected to devote their full energies. To fulfill the provider role, married men often worked inordinately long hours, forgoing any real relationship with their children and relegating their wives to full-time parenting” (Barnett, 667). Here Barnett reveals the flaw in the gender roles initially laid out by Wollstonecraft, actually creates a family environment that can’t thrive. This is why Barnett argues the gender roles have a negative impact on all parties involved.

Barnett provides support for Wollstonecraft’s claim, noting that historically, women were perceived as the “weaker sex,” implying that they needed protection from the outside world, while men are viewed as more capable to handle the workplace. The author breaks down a list of historical examples to validate this claim pointing out that many employers used such prejudice stereotypes to refuse single women employment who they perceived to be nearing the age for marriage, and employers would fire women who were just married on the grounds that their place was at the home taking care of their family.  These examples of how employers utilized severe prejudice to justify the hiring and firing techniques of women perfectly complements Wollstonecraft’s view that “Men, in general, seem to employ their reason to justify prejudices, which they have imbibed, they can scarcely trace how, rather than to root them out” (Wollstonecraft, 11). The mind must be strong that resolutely forms its own principles; for a kind of intellectual Here Wollstonecraft points out that men perceive women through a scope of reason that has been corrupted. She argues that this is a scared way of dealing with the injustice imposed on women by society. The author further states that, “cowardice prevails which makes many men shrink from the task, or only do it by halves” (Wollstonecraft, 11). Here Wollstonecraft suggests that the popularity and influence of the stereotype that men were stronger and much more equipped to handle the rigors of the outside world actually required a level of mental weakness on the part of the male patriarchy to overlook the flaws of society and continue going with the flow.

Barnett further supports the claim that beliefs that have been carried over throughout the centuries, establish the shared view within society that the sexes are inherently different and these differences correspond with and influence their respective values, needs and abilities. This is an inherent prejudice that needs to be weeded out of society and requires diligent opposition. This is the same argument that Wollstonecraft opens her article with, when she says, “in the present state of society it appears necessary to go back to first principles in search of the most simple truths, and to dispute with some prevailing prejudice every inch of ground.” (Wollstonecraft, 11). Wollstonecraft does an exceptional job of demonstrating how these prejudices are dated and over time have become a significant aspect of society.  Barnett takes it a step further by demonstrating that the impact has transferred itself into the workplace and influenced the culture of how women are perceived. For example, “women may feel guilty about working long hours or traveling for work because to do so violates the expectation that their families must come first” (Barnett, 667). Barnett further notes that even without harboring these feelings, ambitious women could have a tendency to avoid valued promotions or prized opportunities to excel in a company because they fear how their maternal virtue may be perceived by their colleagues. On the other hand, in the case of men Barnett notes that men might avoid taking family leave because it will hurt their perceived role of being a provider.

In sum, Barnett compliments Wollstonecraft’s argument concerning the rationale behind the prejudice against women by presenting substantial examples of how the patriarchal and misogynistic views of the male dominated labor market have negatively influenced the progress of women in the work force. One key example Barnett presents is the fact that leading up to the World War II, there was a substantial discrepancy in the number of single women who were employed verses the number of married women. Barnett also reveals how a force for progress has developed within the industry as well pointing out reverse prejudices that work in the favor of women in the labor market like family leave reportedly resulting in smaller pay gaps between leave and non-leave women than it does between leave and non-leave men. This signifies both a harboring for the ideology of perceiving the male as a provider, while at the same time demonstrating a progression in the understanding of female needs without jeopardizing the integrity of their work ethic and capabilities. Barnett does closes his article by pointing out that the environment for women in the workforce is improving and that with this progress new developments may occur in the future. Combined, the articles are successful at relating the understanding of prejudice to the actual impact within the economy, families, and communities as a whole throughout the past few decades.

Work Cited

Barnett, Rosalind Chait. “Preface: women and work: where are we, where did we come from, and where are we going?.” Journal of Social Issues 60.4 (2004): 667-674.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Yale University Press, 2014.

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