Benjamin Franklin Gender Roles
Gender and the Age of Reason “In these two books, we have the story of a young man coming of age and finding success in the world and the story of a young woman coming of age and failing to do so. In either book, what gender roles prevailed? ” In The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, we are reading the path that one man took to go from a middle class child to a well respected adult. Benjamin Franklin created what we know today as the American dream.
Today we understand the American dream to be that one can go from rags to riches with a little hard work.
The autobiography is based around the age of reason and a time man was thought to be able to be perfected by means of science and invention. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is full of success, however, the male gender prevails much more than the female gender. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin begins in 1706, when Benjamin was born. He was the fifteenth of seventeen children. His father, Josiah, had intended that Benjamin go to school to become a minister. However, Benjamin showed a great love for reading and writing and soon enough the path to become a minister was abandoned.
At age ten, he was soon taken out of school to begin work with his father Josiah. This work included making candles and soap. During this time, Ben’s father taught him the importance of debate, which would stick with Ben for the rest of his life. Not long after, Benjamin began to work for his brother James, a printer. Ben signed an eight year work contract with his brother. Ben disliked his fathers trade and preferred working for a printer because it allowed him to read and hone his writing skills. This brief history of Ben’s childhood alone shows the importance of the male gender during the 1700’s.
A female would never have been given a job at a printing press or put through school in the same way that Benjamin was. His success began right when he was born because of his father putting him through school and finding jobs for him. More importantly, his father teaching him the importance of debate is a groundbreaking moment. Benjamin Franklin is known as a political figure and scientist/inventor. Learning the importance of debate at such a young age clearly served him in great and many ways. Benjamin Franklin spent his teen years practicing his writing. In 1720, James started a newspaper known s the New England Courant. According to Franklin, this was the second newspaper in America. Franklin worked as a delivery boy and would publish his own writings anonymously. Franklin often disputed politics and books with another “bookish lad” by the name of John Collins. One of their arguments speaks directly about the female gender during the 1700’s. “A question was once, somehow or other, started between Collins and me, of the propriety of educating the female sex in learning, and their abilities for study. He was of opinion that it was improper…” (Franklin, Benjamin.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. New York: Bantam Books, 1982, pg 14. ) Collins shares the same views and mentalities that many men of the 1700’s shared. At the time, it was understood that education and teaching was not to be wasted on women. Not only was it a waste but Collins specifically states that it is improper. “I took to the contrary side, perhaps a little for disputes sake. ” (Franklin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, 14. ) This statement, made by Benjamin Franklin, is of great importance. He goes against the general population, whether by choice or simply for the sake of argument.
When he states that it was perhaps a little for disputes sake, he leaves room for the reader to assume that he was in fact for the education of women. That being said, this doesn’t mean he is wishing their success in following the American dream like many women are more than capable of doing today. Nonetheless, the fact that Franklin promotes their educational well-being at all is a big step and is of significance. Benjamin Franklin doesn’t mention too much about his own family’s success. However, the beginning of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is written as a letter to his son, William.
William did succeed however, quite well in fact. He went on to be the royal governor of New Jersey in 1771. Benjamin’s wife, Deborah Read, was never mentioned as being a very successful woman. In fact, together, they lost a son who was only four years old at the time. This death is only given a brief mention, most likely in order to not relive the tragedy. Within Franklin’s family, the male gender prevails. The most significant sign of this is with William Franklin’s rise to royal governor of New Jersey. However, there is also a great deficit within the male gender of Franklin’s family.
The passing of Franklin’s second son shows that while the male gender succeeded greatly during the Age of Reason, there was also a great loss as well. The 1700’s were designed for a male to succeed. From the beginning of the discovery of America, which was done by Columbus and mostly men, the male gender has taken leadership. It has taken nearly five hundred years for females to become as successful as they are today, and yet they still aren’t equal with men. In conclusion, even if it wasn’t by choice, Benjamin Franklin and the male gender in general were much more successful than the female gender during the 1700’s and the Age of Reason.