Feminist Reader #4 – Mary Astell “A Serious Proposal to the Ladies”
Mary Astell’s seminal work can be summarized as a plan to establish a Protestant convent where women could pursue knowledge and education in 15th-century England. Astell, one of the first recognized English feminist thinkers, argues that education is needed to fully appreciate God, so prohibiting such to women is nothing less of a sin.
The text seems mostly aimed at male readers (in spite of its title), and clearly uses language that echoes of a promise not to threaten male authority when women become educated. However, using the same language as male detractors turns out to be self-defeating, for it engages the debate already at a degrading level, such as comparing (and calling) women to animals.
Ultimately, Astell’s efforts in A Serious Proposal for the Ladies should be interpreted as a valiant and worthwhile first attempt at subverting and opening up the world of learning to her female peers.