George Eliot/Harriet Martineau Connections

George Eliot, in his writing “Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft,” poses a quandary that was debated in his time: “On one side we hear that woman’s position can never be improved until women themselves are better; and, on the other, that women can never become better until their position is improved.” Advocates against women’s rights claimed that women had not showcased enough worth to be given a more influential position in society. Women’s rights advocates claimed that this potential could hardly be reached within the current structure of society, which shoved women into narrow, often dismissed roles. Martineau calls this construct imposed upon women “the sphere of a woman” and states that in its current understanding and implementation into society, it is a set of rules created by men to bind women into what they deem as “proper.” Ideally, Martineau thinks that “the sphere of a woman” should be redefined to be not a distinction of man, but one of God. According to him, men should not decide the potential of any human being; that is the domain of God and thus cannot be restricted by any cultural or political constraint. That said, Martineau would likely agree with Eliot that women should be given the same rights as men, in order that they can fulfill their potential to the greatest extent.

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