Charismatic and inscrutable Carlton entwined his Ernest Mete and brandished doubtfully.
Instead, she argues that their selves are corrupted, that most women lack autonomy — internal freedom and self-mastery — and are instead governed by the whims of their emotions.
Astell claims that rather than exercising the rational capacities that all human beings possess to make accurate judgments on the way things are, women tend to pay attention to appearances instead.
They believe that material things such as their bodily beauty or wealth are important, rather than their immaterial and immortal souls. They fall into the predominantly feminine vices of pride and vanity, valuing themselves on the wrong things. Women are prevented from learning appropriate things — their true natures, the nature of God, etc.
It involves both the formation of habits that are difficult to break and societal forces that are difficult to counter. Her intention is that women should retreat from the world and devote themselves to education and virtue in the company of other women.
The seclusion will shield them from the ethical dangers of the everyday world, which tempts them toward vanity, inconstancy and pride. They will also be protected from the inimical effects of custom — instead, they can develop their own, positive habits which will guide the development of their characters toward virtue.
They will have the time and space for reflection and acquisition of self-knowledge. Astell might be read as prefiguring twentieth-century feminist separatist movements.
Self-cultivation Part II of A Serious Proposal to the Ladies sets out the method for self-improvement that readers should follow; this is the regimen in which women inside her community would be instructed.
It involves meditation, reading, philosophical reflection, and emotional self-control. By meditating on philosophical topics using the method Astell advocates, drawn largely from Logic: For instance, philosophical reflection will bring women to understand that they have an immaterial, immortal soul, and that the material world and their bodies are unimportant by comparison.
Realizing this will help women to abandon their concern with fashion and external beauty. Her attention is on individual self-improvement, not on communal resistance to oppression. Her use of philosophical argument to these ends establishes her as a key forerunner to feminist philosophy today.
Notes  For discussion of modern feminist separatism, which does not reference Astell, see Frye An Early Modern Theory of Virtue. In Feminist Social Thought: In Descartes and Cartesianism: Essays in Honour of Desmond Clarke. Oxford Scholarship Online,pp.Study Guide for A Serious Proposal to the Ladies.
A Serious Proposal to the Ladies study guide contains a biography of Mary Astell, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.
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A Serious Proposal argues for an alternative to marriage and urges that a “Religious Retirement” be founded for women to devote themselves to education and religious matters. This work had at least four editions, and was followed by A Serious Proposal to the Ladies Part II.
Mary Astell’s A Serious Proposal to the Ladies is one of the most important and neglected works advocating the establishment of women’s academies. Its reception was so controversial that Astell responded with a lengthy sequel, also in this volume.
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