Don’t be Charitable, Stupid

“But how inefficient is benevolence when not directed by knowledge!”

Martineau’s cry for the education of women is not the feminist manifesto contemporary audiences would wish. After all, one of her arguments for women’s education is to, “enlarge and steady the mind, and raise it, nearly at least, to the level of the other sex.” However, this concept of educated charity is a call that can easily be adapted to contemporary audiences, specifically, evangelical Christians in the west.

“An enlightened mind…can comprehend extensive views, can design not only the present relief of misery, but can look forward to the permanent improvement of its kind.” This efficiency and the argument that women’s charity will benefit with education remains a relevant argument. Women of many ages are frequently involved, deeply involved, in non-profit work, social work, long and short-term religious missions, and family care. For full efficiency in these sectors, women’s education must even now be stressed. This is not to say that only women should be encouraged in these sectors, or encouraged to participate in these sectors. Rather, women should be encouraged to further their educations so that they might contribute their combined intellectual abilities to the solving of social issues. The reputation of Women’s historical involvement in social work and missions is rich, but often fraught with reports of cultural insensitivity and hard proselytization. The current stereotype of the young blonde female student surrounded by African children on her five-day missions trip to Uganda is a vestige of a culture that idolized the nurturing, social issues-minded woman, while ignoring her education in world economics, religion, gender, and culture.

One cannot help thinking, as the column in which charity is addressed in Martineau’s brief article continues, that she is being highly facetious as she addresses a *potentially* all-male audience in a *potentially* male voice. For, after she argues for education-to-further-benevolence, she throws in the idea that when all the “feminine duties” are fulfilled, an education is needed to “make social intercourse more delightful…such will cheer the hours of dulness, and furnish pleasant subjects for the thoughts to turn to in times of sickness or sorrow.”

Basically, Martineau wants women to gain an education so they’re not dull, selfish, whining snobs, in charitable endeavors or at home. However, what is difficult about the passage remains the idea that women shouldn’t be educated people for the sake of not being dull, selfish, whining people — it is because they should be educated women so that they might become more cheery and efficient nurses and social gophers for everyone else. 

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