Which of the following questions is the best for Defoe's "An Academy for Women?"
1) Are males or females ever portrayed as equals in one or more ways?
2)Is the dominance of one gender stated or taken for granted?
3)Are gender roles determined by society or by nature?
4) Are certain gender roles typical of a specific time period or culture?
The question that is most directly addressed in Daniel Defoe's "An Academy for Women" is question number three. Defoe argues that the differences between men and women are societal or cultural, i.e., that any inferiorities that characterize women are the result of a lack of education, not something inherent:
The great distinguishing difference, which is seen in the world between men and women, is in their education; and this is manifested by comparing it with the difference between one man or woman, and another.
Defoe says that the "soul...is like a rough diamond, and must be polished," and he believes that if women had access to education, that they might exceed men in many cases. It is no wonder, he says, repeating a common eighteenth century belief, that women are frivolous and not suited for intellectual endeavor. They are brought up that way from childhood. So Defoe is directly engaging with the socially constructed nature of gender roles.