Originally delivered as a convocation address at Douglass Collee, Rich’s essay works especially powerfully as a speech both in terms of purpose and audience. Directed at women students in a women’s college, it touches upon the problems that are particularly relevant to the audience. The author strives to explain her vision of the purpose of women’s education and motivate her listeners to do what it takes on their part to contribute to that purpose.
In this passage, Rich motivates women students to take responsibility for their education. It can be interpreted as understanding one’s own goals and responsibilities when education is concerned and being consistent and determined in adhering to them. For example, when faced with a case of gender bias, a woman student should not take a passive role but assert her right to equal treatment. One of the “ethical models” mentioned in the essay is that of an “intelligent woman who denies her intelligence in order to seem more feminine” (Rich, 1977, p. 3). Claiming one’s education and taking responsibility towards oneself means refusing to take this role in favor of a more proactive approach and not being afraid to express one’s opinion and openly demonstrate one’s intelligence.
In neglecting to extend a relationship of mutual seriousness beyond the student-professor dynamic, Rich undervalues the importance of peer-to-peer relations. Regardless of the course and the type of educational institution, women students should act as a community united by common goals and challenges. Understanding the power of that community is essential for a woman who strives to achieve success in a male-dominated society. If women students support each other, respect each other’s opinions and beliefs, and work together towards common goals, it becomes much easier for any of them to be taken seriously and achieve success.
Rich, A. (1977). Claiming an education [PDF document].