J. S. Murray’s “On the Equality of the Sexes” Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Jun 12th, 2021


Judith Sargent Murray is a writer and a poet, known for her advocacy for women’s rights. The author discussed the topic of equality in the eighteenth century, which was a radical viewpoint at that time. This paper presents the analysis of Murray’s On the Equality of the Sexes, which was published in 1790. It addresses the linguistic devices used to convey meaning, the elements of fiction, and the theme presented in the paper. The paper concludes that Murray’s work is a notable piece from the perspectives of its innovativeness, irony, and persuasiveness.

Linguistic Devices

Irony can be considered one of the mist significant ways Murray selects to convey meaning; its significance for the work will be discussed in detail below (Pizzetta 1). It is vital to add that irony offers “radical destabilizing possibilities”, which is why the author involves it in the text (Walsh 93). On the Equality of the Sexes presents the examples of ambiguity as well. For instance, the author writes that “the torpid spirit mingling with its clod can scarcely boast its origin from God” (Murray 3). The word “clod” can be interpreted in several ways; one of its meanings is the piece of earth, while the other one is a dull person.

In these words, the author seems to criticize individuals who believe that any man, even the least intelligent one, is better than a woman. She says that those who are not smart may be less godly that they think they are. It is possible to say that the text presents ambivalence as well. For instance, in the very first line of her work, Murray seems to agree with the opinion society has, but in the next one, she questions it, saying that the future experience will reveal the truth (Murray 3).

Elements of the Fiction

It is possible to say that On the Equality of the Sexes is written in a persuasive but ironic tone. She author presents the views society has on the differences between males and females and questions them, revealing her opinion and helping the reader to see the contrast between these opposing perspectives. She refers to people who “eat, and drink, and all their work is done”, not willing to learn more about the world (Murray 3). The author contrasts these individuals with others, seeking the causes of events, and having curious minds. These words are ironic, as Murray implies that men do not have to work hard to be perceived smart, because for society, their gender implies higher intellectual capacities.

Thus, one of the figures of speech that can be seen in Murray’s work is irony. For instance, she starts one of her lines with “as if” when discussing the perspectives society has about women (4). She presents her viewpoint in the way that questions the societal norms of her time. Murray’s words show that the author does not believe that women are servants, while men are leaders. Her tone can be considered mocking; she laughs at the existing views and wants to illustrate that they are comic. Pizzetta notes that Murray incorporates irony to “ameliorate the expectations” society has about women (1). It is possible to conclude that the quality of the elements the author incorporates in her work is high, as her ironic tone is not offensive but contributes to her advocacy for the idea.


The primary theme that can be traced in the work is equality between sexes. The author creates On the Equality of the Sexes to discuss the perceptions society of her time has regarding the differences between men and women. She notes that a person’s intellectual properties do not depend on gender. Murray says that “some there are who wish not to improve, who never can the path of knowledge love” (3). She implies that if a person is not curious and does not aspire after knowledge, they cannot be intelligent regardless of their sex. The author criticizes the traditional gender roles of her society. Murray notes that women are creative and have lively imagination; they are masters of deception and speculation (5). She believes that their minds can do greater things than housework.

In her words, Murray also demands the reader to “grant that their minds are by nature equal” (6). She argues that the perceived superiority of males is not determined by their higher intellectual properties but their differences in education for boys and girls. In her age, boys were encouraged to study science and math, while female students had to learn how to take care of their households. Murray’s work suggests that the female brain is not limited in any way compared to the mail one; instead, society suppresses women’s intellectual capabilities by forcing them to perform unfulfilling tasks.


This work is significant from the perspective of feminism, especially considering the fact that it was written in the eighteenth century. It is possible to say that Murray’s ideas presented in On the Equality of the Sexes are ahead of her time. As mentioned above, in the author’s society, women are perceived differently than men from the viewpoints of their intellectual qualities, expectations, and approaches to education. It is notable that although Murray’s views can be considered radical for her time, her statements and judgements do not intend to offend men. The author’s arguments are designed to challenge the system that judges people differently based on their sex. It is possible to say that Murray’s views are progressive; they contribute to the development of feminist ideas in society of her time.

On the Equality of the Sexes is also notable from the perspective of sociology. Murray writes that “the soul unfetter’d, to no sex confin’d” (4). These words mean that a person’s soul is not confined to their gender, and that gender cannot correspond to the complexity of a soul. The author’s perspective is also revolutionary for her time, as the idea about genders and their meanings are still disputed and questioned today. Murray’s work is significant from both the feminist and the sociological perspectives, as the woman discusses the ideas at the time when females are forced to focus on particular topics and center their lives around their chores and households.


Murray’s On the Equality of the Sexes is a persuasive and innovative work that presents arguments for the equality of sexes. The piece was written in 1790; it features a radical perspective on societal norms and the concept of gender that was uncommon for that time. The use of irony helps the author to convey her criticism while not offending any groups of individuals directly.

Works Cited

Murray, Judith Sargent. Selected Writings of Judith Sargent Murray, edited by Sharon M. Harris, Oxford University Press, 1995.

Pizzetta, Candis. “A Darwinian Approach to Judith Sargent Murray’s “On the Equality of the Sexes.” International Journal, vol.6, no. 1, 2018, pp. 1-9.

Walsh, Sue. “Gender and Irony: Children’s Literature and Its Criticism.” Asian Women, vol. 32, no. 2, 2016, pp. 91-110.

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