Throughout the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries, women have been placed at a disadvantage involving the issue of their education. The issues of what subject’s women should and shouldn’t be taught are often involved in heated debates present in today’s time. Mary Wollstonecraft (1983), a woman’s theorist during the turn of the 19th century was one of the major advocates in the battle for gender equity within the educational system.
The construction and institutionalization of her theories of educating the young female mind in regards to intellect, physical activity, and preparedness for life in society after completion of formal education; have proved as a stepping stone in the fight to receive an equal education when compared to their male counterparts. Wollstonecraft’s theory (1983) surrounding the benefits of segregated schooling amongst the sexes, became the basis and backbone of the construction of her theoretical concepts.
Wollstonecraft believed that after nine years of age, young women should be put in “female only” schools, to further their skills and prepare themselves for life outside of the academic structure. “I wish them to be taught to think- thinking indeed, is a severe exercise, and exercise of either mind or body will not at first be entered on, but with a view to pleasure (Wollstonecraft, 1983, p. 34)”. The courses that would be taught in these schools would reflect the particular role women would aspire to within the society.
Social status deemed which stream of curriculum would best suit the female learner. Generalized academic studies such as anatomy and politics were reserved for the daughters of the upper-class, whereas manual crafts such as needle work, and other domestic courses would prepare them for the “working world” that waited ahead. Regardless of the field chosen, Wollestonecraft (1983) believed that the education of a women would help her in life long decisions such as choosing a mate, and living successfully within the society.
“When a woman’s mind has gained some strength, she will in all probability pay more attention to her actions than a girl can be expected to do; and if she thinks seriously, she will choose for a companion a man of principal; and this perhaps young people do not sufficiently attend to, or see the necessity of doing (p. 42). ” In the year 2000, many of these conventions surrounding a single sex school are sill present. At Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School in Toronto, the academic curriculum is separated into two very distinct and socially driven paths.
For women who wished to pursue a career directly following their secondary education, the school offered many female driven technical courses such as cosmetology, home economics, fashion studies, keyboarding, and families in Canadian society (Notre Dame, 2000, p. 25). Many of these courses, are a modern and politically correct reincarnation of the now defunct crafts such as needlework, which were present in Wollstonecraft’s time.
For students that wished to pursue a post secondary career, Notre Dame (2000) offered a limited amount of academic courses such as mathematics, science, and English, which would serve as a foundation to specialization within a university or college in the future. This is opposed to an male only secondary school such as Neil Mc Neil in Toronto, where the focus on the curriculum was based on math, science, and business studies. The male students were trained to be professionals in the working world, whereas women are still expected to take maternal roles within the home.
Wollestonecraft (1983) believed that all rights of men should be extended to women. In laymen’s terms, she believed that anything that a man could do, a women should also be free to explore. This belief is not reflected in the education that many young women are receiving today. Women within single sex schools are faced with a lack of facilities that hinder their progression into the male dominated subjects such as math, science, and physical education. At Notre Dame, the lack of physical education facilities, hinders student’s health and success within competition.
Physical education facilities include a non-regulation sized gymnasium not equipped with change rooms or showers. The athletic program in general is under funded and often ignored. This is opposed to the salon sized cosmetology rooms or the factory ready sewing rooms that take up much of the school’s space. When to compared to their male counterparts at Neil Mc Neil, whose athletic facilities are fit to host the next Olympics; the focus of the education ideals between genders are clearly illustrated.
Wollstonecraft (1983), acknowledged the society driven perceptions of females being of weaker body and mind: “Women are said to be the weaker vessel, and many are the miseries which this weakness brings on them. Men have in some respects very much the advantage (p. 43). ” With this lack of facilities, and lack of a means to improve them, one may wonder how women might progress in their battle to achieve gender equality in education amongst all. The long battle in gender equality has been a rough and bumpy road with many progression and improvements accomplished.
But there is still much more work needed to be completed in order for a status of equality to be achieved amongst both women and men. Wollstonecraft (1983) states: Whenever a child asks a question, it should always have a reasonable answer given it. It’s little passions should be engaged. They are mostly fond of stories, and proper ones would improve them even while they are amused. Instead of these, their heads are filled with improbable tales and superstitious accounts of invisible beings which breed strange prejudices and vain fears in their minds (p. 34). ”
It is our job as members of the society, to help further the drive for gender equality within education and all other aspects society. With this task, the myth and fear of gender equality may one day become non-existent.
Crawford, Trish (1992, Aug. 22). Back to all girl’s school. The Toronto Star. p. D2 Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School (Nov. 2000). Course Selections 2000. Toronto. Wollstonecraft, Mary. (1983). Excerpts from a Mary Wollstonecraft Reader. In B. H Solomon and P. s. Berggren (Ed. ), A Mary Wollstonecraft Reader (pp. 31-43) New American Library