A2 Synoptic Module 6
Gender, Equality and Education

 Extract A 

Bathsua Makin was born around 1612. She became highly accomplished in languages ('Tongues') and mathematics and was appointed to teach Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of King Charles I. She believed firmly in the value of good education for women at a time when it was very unusual. The text that follows is part of an essay that she published in pamphlet form. She uses various tactics here, such as pretending to be a man - in order to be taken seriously — and inventing an imaginary 'objector' around whose 'letter' the essay is structured. 

An ESSAY To Revive the Antient Education OF Gentlewomen IN Religion, Manners, Arts & TonguesWITH An Answer to the Objections against this Way of Education. To all Ingenious and Vertuous Ladies, more especially to her Highness the Lady MARY, Eldest Daughter to his Royal Highness the Duke of YORK.

 Custom, when it is inveterate, hath a mighty influence: it hath the force of Nature it self. The Barbarous custom to breed Women  low,  is grown general amongst us, and hath prevailed so far, that it is verily believed (especially amongst a sort of debauched Sots) that Women are not endued with such Reason, as Men; nor capable of improvement by Education, as they are. It is lookt upon as a monstrous thing, to pretend the contrary. A Learned Woman is thought to be a Comet, that bodes mischief, when ever it appears. To offer to the World the liberal Education of Women is to deface the Image of God in Man, it will make Women so high, and men so low, like Fire in the House-top, it will set the whole world in a Flame. 

These things and worse then these, are commonly talked of, and verily believed by many, who think themselves wise Men: to contradict these is a bold attempt; where the Attempter must expect to meet with much opposition. Therefore, Ladyes, I beg the candid Opinion of your sex, whose Interest I assert.

More especially I implore the Favour of your Royal Highness, a Person most Eminent amongst them, whose Patronage alone will be a sufficient Protection. What I have written is not out of humour to show how much may be said of a trivial thing to little purpose. I verily think. Women were formerly Educated in the knowledge of Arts and Tongues, and by their Education, many did rise to a great height in Learning. Were Women thus Educated now, I am confident the advantage would be very great: The Women would have Honour and Pleasure, their Relations Profit, and the whole Nation Advantage. ...

 Were a competent number of Schools erected to Educate Ladyes ingenuously, methinks I see how asham'd Men would be of their Ignorance, and how industrious the next Generation would be to wipe off their Reproach.
I expect to meet with many Scoffes and Taunts from inconsiderate and illiterate Men, that prize their own Lusts and Pleasure more than your Profit and Content. I shall be the less concern'd at these, so long as I am in your favour, and this discourse may be a Weapon in your hands to defend your selves, whilst you endeavour to polish your Souls, that you may glorify God, and answer the end of your Creation, to be meet helps to your Husbands. Let not your Ladiships be offended, that I do not (as some have wittily done) plead for Female Preeminence. To ask too much is the way to be denied all. God hath made the Man the Head, if you be educated and instructed, as I propose, I am sure you will acknowledge it, and be satisfied that you are helps, that your Husbands do consult and advise with you (which if you be wife they will be glad of) and that your Husbands have the casting-Voice, in whose determinations you will acquiesce. That this may be the effect of this Education in all Ladyes that shall attempt it, is the desire of

Your Servant. 

To the Reader

 I hope I shall not need to beg the patience of Ladyes to peruse this Pamphlet: I have bespoken, and do expect your Patronage; because it is your Cause I plead  against an ill custom, pre-judicial to you, which Men will not willingly suffer to  be broken. I would desire Men not to prejudge and cast aside this Book upon the  sight of the Title. If I have solidly proposed something that may be profitable to  Man-kind, let it not be rejected. If this way of Educating ladies should (as its like,  it never will) be generally practised, the greatest hurt,  that I fore-see,  can ensue,  is,  to put your Sons upon greater diligence to advance themselves  in Arts and  Languages, that they may be Superior to Women in Parts as well as in Place. This  is the great thing I designe. I am a Man my Self, that would not suggest a thing  prejudicial to our Sex. To propose Women rivals with us to Learning, will make  us court Minerva more heartily, lest they should be more in her Favour. I do  verily think this to be the best way to dispell the Clouds of Ignorance, and to stop  the Flouds of Debauchery, that the next Generation may be more wise and  vertuous than any of their Predecessours. It is an easie matter to quibble and droll  upon a subject of this nature, to scoff at Women kept ignorant, on purpose to be  made slaves. This savours not at all of a Manly Spirit, to trample upon those that are down. I forbid Scoffing and Scolding. Let any think themselves agrived, and  come forth fairly into the Field against this feeble Sex, with solid Arguments to refute what I have asserted, I think I may promise to be their Champion. 

I have heard you discourse of the Education of Gentlewomen in Arts and  Tongues. I wonder any should think of so vain a thing.
   Women do not much desire Knowledge; they are of low parts, soft fickle  natures, they have other things to do they will not mind if they be once Bookish;  The end of Learning is to fit one for publick employment, which Women are not  capable of. Women must not speak in the Church, its against custom. Solomon's  good House-wife is not commended for Arts and Tongues, but for looking after  her Servants; And that which is worst of all, they are of such ill natures, they will  abuse their Education, and be so intolerably Proud, there will be no living with  them: If all these things could be answered, they would not have leisure.

 We send our Sons to School seven years, and yet not above one in five get so  much of the Tongues only, so as to keep them, and nothing of Arts.    Girls cannot have more than half the time allotted them. If they were capable,  and had time, I cannot imagine what good it would do them. If it would do them good, where should they be Instructed, their converse with Boyes would do them  more hurt than all their Learning would do them good.
I have no prejudice against the Sex, but would gladly have a fair answer to these things, or else shall breed up my Daughters as our fore-fathers did.

   Sir your Condescension herein will very much oblige,

                        Your affectionate Friend.

May 19. 1673.

 After this fictional 'letter', in which she presents some of the arguments against women's education that were commonplace at the time, Makin sets about answering them in the main part of her essay, from which the next passage is taken. 

Care ought to be taken by us to Educate Women in Learning ...I do not deny but Women ought to be brought up to a comely and decent carriage, to their Needle, to Neatness, to understand all those things that do particularly belong to their Sex. But when these things are competently cared for, and where there are Endowments of Nature and leasure, then higher things ought to be endeavoured after. Meerly to teach Gentlewomen to Frisk and Dance, to paint their Faces, to curl their Hair, to put on a Whisk, to wear gay Clothes, is not truly to adorn, but to adulterate their Bodies; yea, (what is worse) to defile their Souls. This ... turns them to Beasts; whilst their Belly is their God, they become Swine; whilst Lust, they become Goats; and whilst Pride is their God, they become very Devils. Doubtless this under-breeding of Women began amongst Heathen and Barbarous People; it continues with the Indians, where they make their Women meer slaves, and wear them out in drudgery ...

   Had God Intended Women onely as a finer sort of Cattle, he would not have made them reasonable. Bruits, a few degrees higher than Drils or Monkies, (which the Indians use to do many Offices) might have better fitted some mens Lust, Pride, and Pleasure; especially those that desire to keep them ignorant to be tyrranized over.

God intended woman as a helpmeet to man, in his constant conversation and in the concerns of His family and Estate, when he should most need, in sickness, weakness, absence, death, etc. Whilst we neglect to fit them for these things, we renounce God’s Blessing, he hath appointed Women for, are ungrateful to Him, cruel to them and injurious to ourselves.


Read through the extracts again, making notes on the following: 

1.       The effect of the opening sentences (‘inveterate’ means deep rooted or ‘long-lasting’)

2.       The tone Makin adopts in he different sections of the text. What response is she expecting from her audience in the opening address? Look at the objector’s letter. Has she succeeded in making this a ‘separate’ voice? Does anything give away the fact that this is a fictional device|/

3.       Look at the arguments given for and against the education of women. Which, if any, carry the most weight and why?

4.       Evaluate Makin’s tactics and techniques of persuasion

5.       Look carefully at the language she uses to describe women and men. How do her lexical choices add to or detract from the purpose of the writing?

6.       What evidence of language change do you see in these pieces?

  Extract B

 The next piece is by the Romantic poet Anna Barbauld (1743-1825). Despite the title and opening lines of her poem, she was not really a campaigner for women's rights, as you will see.

The Rights of Woman 

Yes, injured Woman! rise, assert thy right!
Woman! too long degraded, scorned, oppressed;
0 born to rule in partial Law's despite,
Resume thy native empire o'er the breast!

Go forth arrayed in panoply divine,
That angel pureness which admits no stain;
Go, bid proud Man his boasted rule resign
And kiss the golden sceptre of thy reign.

Go, gird thyself with grace, collect thy store
Of bright artillery glancing from afar;
Soft melting tones thy thundering cannon's roar,
Blushes and fears thy magazine of war.

Thy rights are empire: urge no meaner claim, -
Felt, not defined, and if debated, lost;
Like sacred mysteries, which withheld from fame,
Shunning discussion, are revered the most.

Try all that wit and art suggest to bend
Of thy imperial foe the stubborn knee;
Make treacherous Man thy subject, not thy friend;
Thou mayst command, but never canst be free.

Awe the licentious and restrain the rude;
Soften the sullen, clear the cloudy brow:
Be, more than princes' gifts, thy favours sued; -
She hazards all, who will the least allow.

But hope not, courted idol of mankind,
On this proud eminence secure to stay;
Subduing and subdued, thou soon shalt find
Thy coldness soften, and thy pride give way.

Then, then, abandon each ambitious thought;
Conquest or rule thy heart shall feeble move,
 In Nature's school, by her soft maxims taught
That separate rights are lost in mutual love.

  Anna Barbauld 

Extract C

Most of Virginia Woolf's novels are 'serious', and in her essays she often tackles the issue of the inequality of the sexes. However, in Orlando, which she called 'a writer's holiday', she let her imagination run riot and created a character who lives for several centuries and changes sex half way through the book. At this point, not long after she has turned from a man into a woman, Orlando begins to think about 'the penalties and privileges of her position', in other words, to wonder which sex has the better deal. The novel was published in 1928.


 'Lord,' she thought, when she had recovered from her start, stretching herself out at length under her awning, 'this is a pleasant, lazy way of life, to be sure. But,' she thought, giving her legs a kick, 'these skirts are plaguey things to have about one's heels. Yet the stuff (flowered paduasoy (1)) is the loveliest in the world. Never have I seen my own skin (here she laid her hand on her knee) look to such advantage as now. Could I, however, leap'overboard and swim in clothes like these? No! Therefore, I should have to trust to the protection of a blue-jacket.(2) Do I object to that? Now do I?' she wondered, here encountering the first knot in the smooth skein of her argument.
Dinner came before she had untied it, and then it was the Captain himself - Captain Nicholas Benedict Bartolus, a sea captain of distinguished aspect, who did it for her as he helped her to a slice of corned beef.
'A little of the fat, Ma'am?' he asked. 'Let me cut you just the tiniest little slice the size of your finger-nail.' At those words a delicious tremor ran through her frame. Birds sang; the torrents rushed. It recalled the feeling of indescribable pleasure with which she had first seen Sasha, hundreds of years ago. Then she had pursued, now she fled. Which is the greater ecstasy? The man's or the woman's? And are they not perhaps the same? No, she thought, this is the most delicious (thanking the Captain but refusing), to refuse and see him frown. Well, she would, if he wished it, have the very thinnest, smallest sliver in the world.
This was the most delicious of all, to yield and see him smile. 'For nothing,' she thought, regaining her couch on deck, and continung the argument, 'is more heavenly, to resist and to yield; to yield and to resist. Surely it throws the spirit into such a rapture as nothing else can. So that I'm not sure,' she continued, 'that I won't throw myself overboard, for the mere pleasure of being rescued by a blue-jacket after all.' 
(It must be remembered that she was like a child entering into possession of a pleasaunce or toy-cupboard; her arguments would not commend themselves to mature women, who have had the run of it all their lives.)
'But what used we young fellows in the cockpit of the Marie Rose to say about a woman who threw herself overboard for the pleasure of being rescued by a blue-jacket?' she said. 'We had a word for the. Ah! I have it. ...' (But we must omit that word; it was disrespectful in the extreme and passing strange on a lady's lips.) 'Lord! Lord!' she cried again at the conclusion of her thoughts, 'must I then begin to respect the opinion of the other sex, however monstrous I think it? If I wear skirts, if I can't swim, if I have to be rescued by a blue-jacket, by God!' she cried, 'I must!' Upon which a gloom fell over her. Candid by nature, and averse to all kinds of equivocation, to tell lies bored her. It seemed to her a roundabout way of going to work. Yet, she reflected, the flowered paduasoy - the pleasure of being rescued by a blue-jacket - if these were only to be obtained by roundabout ways, roundabout one must go, she supposed. She remembered how, as a young man, she had insisted that women must be obedient, chaste, scented, and exquisitely apparelled. 'Now I shall have to pay in my own person for those desires,' she reflected; 'for women are not (judging by my own short experience of the sex) obedient, chaste, scented, and exquisitely apparelled by nature. They can only attain these graces, without which they may enjoy none of the delights of life, by the most tedious discipline. There's the hairdressing,' she thought, 'that alone will take an hour of my morning; there's looking in the looking-glass another hour; there's staying and lacing; there's washing and powdering; there's changing from silk to lace and from lace to paduasoy; there's being chaste year in, year out....' Here she tossed her foot impatiently, and showed an inch or two of calf. A sailor on the mast, who happened to look down at the moment, started so violently that he missed his footing and only saved himself by the skin of his teeth. 'If the sight of my ankles means death to an honest fellow who, no doubt, has a wife and family to support, I must, in all humanity, keep them covered,' Orlando thought. Yet her legs were among her chiefest beauties. And she fell to thinking what an odd pass we have come to when all a woman's beauty has to be kept covered lest a sailor may fall from a masthead. 'A pox on them!' she said, realizing for the first time what, in other circumstances, she would have been taught as a child, that is to say, the sacred responsibilities of womanhood.
'And that's the last oath I shall ever be able to swear,' she thought; 'once I set foot on English soil. And I shall never be able to crack a man over the head, or tell him he lies in his teeth, or draw my sword and run him through the body, or sit among my peers, or wear a coronet, or walk in procession, or sentence a man to death, or lead an army, or prance down Whitehall on a charger, or wear seventy-two different medals on my breast. All I can do, once I set foot on English soil, is to pour out tea and ask my lords how they like it. "D'you take sugar? D'you take cream?"' And mincing out the words, she was horrified to perceive how low an opinion she was forming of the other sex, the manly, to which it had once been her pride to belong. 'To fall from a masthead,' she thought, 'because you see a woman's ankles; to dress up like a Guy Fawkes and parade the streets, so that women may praise you; to deny a woman teaching lest she may laugh at you; to be the slave of the frailest chit in petticoats, and yet to go about as if you were the Lords of creation - Heavens!' she thought, 'what fools they make of us - what fools we are!'

Virginia Woolf

1 paduasoy. silk from Padua, Italy.
2 blue-jacket: sailor


1.       How does Woolf use humour to make serios points about the respective roles and stereotypes of women and men and the way relationships between them are traditionally supposed to operate?

2.       How many ways can you find to connect this with extracts A and B? How does Woolf’s approach to the central issue differ from that of the earlier authors?

3.       In the poem, how does the author expect women to ‘win’ their ‘rights’? What are they?

4.       Look closely at the imagery used (especially in the poem) to describe women and their relationship to men.

5.       How do you, as a 21st century reader, respond to extract B?


Extract D 

Fay Weldon's novel 'Praxis' was written in the 1970's when the women's movement was at its most militant and outspoken. It is what can be described as a 'women's world' novel, focusing on the daily lives of women and the issues that affect them most. Here the heroine looks back to when she and her  friends Irma and Colleen were students at Reading University. She has just become involved with Willy, an older student.


 Willy and Praxis went to bed together between lectures: that, at any rate, was how they described it. They seldom actually reached the bed. No sooner were they inside the door than he would bear down upon her, pressing her on to the floor, table, chair, anywhere, in his urgency ... 

 'Thank you', he would say: and he was fond of her and she of him: the nakedness of his need touched her: but neither he, nor she herself, seemed to expect a female response in the least equivalent to the male. She never cried out, or thought she should, or knew that women did, or why they would. 

 She typed Willy's essays though, and found books for him in the library, getting there early so as to be first in the queue when work was set. After Willy's essays were completed and typed, she would then begin on her own. She typed slowly, using only two fingers. It was assumed by both of them that this was the proper  distribution of their joint energies. He got A's and she got C's. 

 'Well and truly snapped up,' said Irma, 'more fool you. It's war, you know. They lose and you win, or vice versa. It's vice versa for you. Mind you, they're all like that in the Humanities Department. They talk virtue and practice vice.' 

 Irma often got A's, but pretended she got C's. To look at her, as Colleen remarked, you wouldn't think she had a brain in her head, and that was the way Irma wanted it.  Irma was  looking for a husband.  She'd tried to get into Oxford and  had failed - there were few places available for women - and so had missed out, she felt, on her chances of marrying a future Prime Minister. She was, perforce, now prepared to settle for an embryo famous novelist, atomic scientist or Nobel prize winner, of the kind who could presumably be found at the lesser provincial universities. Provided, of course, one could spot a winner. Irma was certain she could. 

Skirts were narrow and calf-length and split up the back. Irma wiggled her bottom, pouted her orangey-red lips and wriggled out of goodnight kisses and away from groping, futureless hands ... 

One week Praxis got an A for her essay, on political establishments in the USA in the eighteenth century, and Willy got a C for his on the same theme. Praxis could not understand why he was so cross, or why he felt obliged to hurt her. But he certainly did ... Praxis, said Willy, was a neurotic, a bore, a rotten cook, and a slow typist.

Praxis reeled, at the sudden presentation of the malice which underlies love; the resentment which interleaves affection between the sexes, of which whe had until that moment no notion. She was shocked; she would not cry. ... 

The next day, Willy came round and apologised, and even bought her a half of shandy and paid for it himself. She was vastly relieved. Her main fear had been that she would presently find Willy in the students' bar investing in the gin and lime which would buy him his next term's sex, comfort, company and secretarial services. 

Praxis made sure that her next essay was poorly executed and badly presented, and she inserted a few good extra paragraphs of her own composition into Willy's essay while typing it out for him; this time he got a straight A and she a C minus and a sorrowful note from her tutor. 

The earlier A had been a flash in the pan, her tutor could only suppose. One of the tantalising little flashes girls in higher education would occasionally display: for the most part flickering dimly and then going out, extinguished by the basic, domestic nature of the female sex, altogether quenched by desire to serve the male. Indeed, the consensus of the college authorities was, not surprisingly, that girls seldom lived up to early promise: were rarely capable of intellectual excellence; seemed to somehow go rotten and fall off before ripening, like plums in a bad season. The extension of equal educational facilities to girls had been a hopeful, and perhaps an inevitable undertaking, but was scarcely justifiable by results. He had hoped it was not true, but was beginning to believe it was. 

For Praxis, Willy's A's and her own C's seemed a small price to pay for Willy's protection, Willy's interest, Willy's concern; for the status of having a steady boyfriend. 

 Fay Weldon


  1. What differences in attitude do you find in the last extract, from those which have gone before? Can you account for the change?

  2. What differences in style do you notice in the Fay Weldon extract? Why do you think this happened?

Sample examination questions 

The question that follows illustrates how you might be expected to write about texts on a theme, whether you have studied a pre-release anthology or done your own wide reading. 

Choose three of the extracts A, B, C, or D. Compare the ways in which these writers treat their subject matter, paying attention to how this has changed over time.

Look at:

1.       Changes in language, form and structure

2.       The ways writers use different genres to explore their ideas and feelings. Can you account for the choice of genre in each extract?

3.       The attitudes towards men and women, which are shown in your extracts (Try to account for them, if you can)

4.       The tone of the writing and also the attitudes displayed by the writer.

5.       The purpose of each piece and how you think the audience would respond a) at the time of writing and b) at the present time.