Western Final Essay

Ideas about the Role and Education of Women

The purpose of this paper is to talking about the developing ideas concerning women’s role and education in society. The sources I will be drawing ideas from are Castiglione’s, Book of the Courtier (1528), Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), and Condorcet’s, Future Progress of the Mind (1882).

A woman’s role in the Courtier was one of the lady of the court. She was required of many things. There were no opportunities for women of other classes at this time. Two hundred years later Wollstonecraft calls upon society to bring forth gender equality and to provide educational opportunities for women of all classes. Another twenty years later, and along the same lines, Condorcet endorses that gender equality is important and necessary for society as well as equal educational opportunities for both men and women.

In the Book of the Courtier, following ‘How To Be A Man’ there is, ‘How To Be A Lady,’ and the following is what was expected of an aristocratic woman during the 16th century. The characteristics are not in order of importance, though it is important to remember that above all a lady of the court must be a wife and a mother;1 among being formally educated; among other things.

It is already assumed that a woman be a mother, and a wife. The main occupation for a lady of the court is that she be entertaining. This is her main function, as hostess and that entails that she needs to be good at ‘knowing the audience.’1 In other words, she needs to know who is talking to, what they should be talking about, and when. She must be, do, and know everything about what a man is, does, and knows; not so she can perform but so she can talk about these things.1 In accordance with this, she must be able to keep a conversation going, and in order to do so; she must be well educated in a broad range of subjects.1 The woman of the 16th century is defined by her femininity in a way that the man is not. “…so it is well for a woman to have a certain soft and delicate tenderness, with an air of feminine sweetness in her every movement, which, in her going and staying and whatsoever she does, always makes her appear a woman, without any resemblance to a man.”1 (Castiglione, 211)

In addition to these requirements a woman must be concerned about her appearance. She should be conscious which garments enhance her grace and wear them in accordance with to the occasion. She should also be skilled in music and dance.1 There were no opportunities for education at this time for peasant women.

In Condorcet’s Future Progress of the Mind, he tells us in which direction our thoughts will expand. Condorcet’s aim was to predict which faculties of the mind would in the future be explored. “Among the progress of the human mind…”2 Condorcet begins, and then goes on to suggest we destroy the prejudices between sexes. (He believes this is necessary for happiness.) It is relevant because it calls into question what is expected of a lady of the court. Condorcet is saying that the qualifications of a man and a woman must equal one another.2 Although I did not discuss what was required of a man, I did say that the woman has to know all that is required of a man, plus be a wife, plus be a mother. In order for them to have equal expectations, the man would have to be required of more, or the women would have to be lessened of a few. The outcome, Condorcet believes, is that education will be more uniform across genders, and opportunities may be created for those to receive education other than those belonging to a higher class.2 These are the future ideas of education that he has presented.

Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of Women’s Rights is a political treatise. It defends the rights for women. It brings attention to women and calls upon women to take a stand. In her title the word vindication means to justify, to defend the right of, and this is what she does. Mary believes if women are going to be good wives and mothers, they first women should be intelligent and educated citizens.3 She claims society would be better off if things were this way. Mary rejects the traditional idea of defining a women by her femininity as we see illustrated by the 16th century lady of the court. Mary does not claim women are a better gender, but instead she is asserting that men and women must be treated equal. Women do not have the same opportunities men do at this time. Mary acknowledges this fact, wants to see a change, and therefore brings the problem to light in the face of other women. She does they by calling out to women to start acting like responsible adults and demands them to quit letting others treat them like children.3 This revolutionary act was the beginning of someone telling the world to give girls a chance.


1.Castiglione, Baldassarre. The Book of the Courtier. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1959. Print. (207-222)

2.Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat, marquis de Condorcet, Esquisse d’un tableau historique des progrès de l’esprit humain (Paris: Masson et Fils, 1822), pp. 279­-85, 293-­94, 303­5.

3.Wollstonecraft, Mary, and Sylvana Tomaselli. A Vindication of the Rights of Men ; with A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and Hints. Cambridge [England: Cambridge UP, 1995.


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