An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex, In Which are Inserted the Characters of a Pendant, a
Squire, a Beau, a Vertuoso, a Poetaster, a City-Critick, &C. by Judith Drake
Published in 1696, the authorship of An Essay in Defence of the Female sex has been a subject of debate for a long time. Initially the work had been attributed to the contemporary author of Judith Drake, Mary Astell. However this controversy has been cleared with Judith Drake as the decided author of this work. The controversy perhaps emanated from the fact that no author had been indicated on the letter. It was only stated, ‘Written by a lady’. This has been interpreted by some literary analysts as a having been done deliberately by the author to emphasize her message of feminism, the key theme in the work. (Hannah, 2006).
The main theme in Drake’s work is feminism, with the author seeking to disprove the male stereotypes that have painted women as being intellectually inferior. Written as a letter to a female friend, as is thus indicated: “In a letter to a lady”, the author is said to have been inspired to write the essay by some conversation between ladies and some gentleman. In vindicating the
intellectual strength of women and dismissing the belief by men that women are inferior, Drake employed the rationalist approach, similar to the approach used by John Lock in his work ‘An Essay Concerning Human Understanding’. This framework followed only two other earlier works by female authors, Fancoise Poulain De La Barre’s analysis of cultural misconstruction of gender in her work ‘De l’egalite de deux sexes’ in 1673 and Mary Astell’s ‘A serious proposal
to the ladies’ in 1694 (Hannah, 2006). Using this rationalist approach, Drake successfully countered the traditional belief and stereotype of women as intellectual inferiors and instead argued for equal access by women to modern education as well as the importance of informal education.
To further bring out the gender equality argument, Drake also sought to expose men as not being infallible like it was earlier stereotyped. This she successfully does by bringing in some male characters with follies. By using male characters like the Country Squire, the Bully, the News-Monger, the City Critick, the Pendant and the Beau; Drake brought out some stereotypes
among men, painting them as being imperfect and full of human errors. By exposing the weak characteristics among her male characters, the author sought to impress on the reader the fact that, just as women, men also made mistakes and the issue of imperfection was something common to human nature, not a preserve of women. She was countering the male presentation of women being inherently imperfect while men were intellectually superior and with no mistakes (Devereaux , 2008)