Adrienne Rich’s speech on “Claiming an Education” speaks not only to the women present during the Douglass College convocation in 1977, but to all women in education during the 70’s and today. She touches upon crucial topics such as acting on our futures as opposed to being “acted upon” and refusing to take a passive route to success in education. Rich also discusses the struggles that women face in the sciences, being that they are not as represented as much as white cis men. As a woman in STEM, I felt particularly touched by her emphasis on taking responsibility for one’s education regardless of the passive role that women are taught to take (waiting for marriage, choosing a “easy” career/courses, etc.). It’s disappointing, yet not surprising that her words can echo today, in that many women are still not taken as seriously as men are especially in scientific fields and are pushed away from those disciplines as a result.
Fortunately, we have made strides as a society due to the growth of social media and ultimately the increase in accessibility to public opinion over social justice issues. For example, the idea of sexual liberation and respect for sex workers is a relatively new concept juxtaposed to the time period in which Rich delivers this speech. This becomes clear in her statement regarding the body and mind; how they are “inseparable” in this life and “allowing” the objectification of the body puts the mind in “mortal danger” (Rich, 1977). She evokes the idea of not using one’s body as a means of financial gain or to promote intimacy. Although she does frame this argument within the context of excelling beyond the objectification and domestication of women which I can certainly agree with; the connotation of an ill use of one’s body translating to destruction of the mind seems negative and outdated.
In my analysis of Rich’s sentiments as well as her other works, it occurred to me that she was considered a radical feminist. There have been many debates about whether or not radical feminists support sex work considering the attitudes towards these workers during the 70’s. To clarify, the unnecessary sexualization of women is a major issue that is worthy of discussion. However, strippers, escorts, pornstars and the like are not “destroying their minds” with their careers. If anything, Rich’s statement shows how far even radical feminism has progressed. More contemporary views from radical feminists have supported sex work, but more must to be done.
Regardless, Adrienne Rich’s perspective in the education for women remains valid and important in conversations today. She speaks to women who are trying to move from the domestic sphere into more meaningful and fulfilling careers. It is important to keep in mind that whatever that career may be, it is the agency these women have over it that is crucial; not the career itself.
-- works cited --
Rich, Adrienne. “Claiming an Education.” In Open Questions: Readings for Critical Thinking and Writing, edited by Chris Anderson and Lex Runciman, 608–11. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005.
Geddes, Chelsea. “'Why Does Radical Feminism Exclude Sex Workers?'.” Nordic Model Now!, 3 Dec. 2018, https://nordicmodelnow.org/2018/12/01/why-does-radical-feminism-exclude-sex-workers/.