the time of writing her book, Mary Wollstonecraft explains that many arguments
have been presented to defend “the tyranny of man” over woman and explain how
women are unable to achieve virtue due to their inferiority or lack of
strength. However, Wollstonecraft asserts that if women have souls then ultimately
there should be no difference between men and women when it comes to obtaining
virtue or happiness. The biggest problem that she has is that from a very young
age women are taught -and exemplified by their mothers- to priorities their
looks and maintain, a child-like sense of right and wrong, soft temper and
outright obedience. Although the term “innocence” seems to have a positive
connotations, it’s actually and empty term that describes weakness not
blamelessness. Furthermore, men seem to criticize women’s shortcomings without
ever realizing that it’s the collective fault of a society that teaches women
to have this slave-like demeanor.
then turns to lessons in manners and the type of education women receive. On
its own education is extremely important not just to manners but also to human
development as it “will slowly sharpen the senses, form the temper,
regulate the passions as they begin to ferment, and set the understanding to
work before the body arrives at maturity; so that the man may only have to
proceed, not to begin, the important task of learning to think and
reason.” Furthermore she believes that an individual education must be integrated
into a society where both men and women live. She states that the most perfect
type of education is one that encourages the individual to maintain habits of
virtue that will make him or her independent. Rousseau argued that virtuous
beings must achieve their virtue from the use of reason. However, while he applied
that argument to men, Wollstonecraft focused on applying that same argument to
of the writers on female education, such as Rousseau and Dr. Gregory, tend to portray
women as more “artificial” and “weaker characters” than they would be under different
conditions. Wollstonecraft believes that their work can be said to degrade half
of the human species. When taking
Rousseau’s argument, she asserts that if men achieved perfection of mind when
they arrived at maturity it would be acceptable to have man and woman become
one and let the woman lean on the man’s perfect understanding, but in reality,
men are just as immoral and childlike as women are assumed to be.
are many causes that enslave women, one of them being the disregard of order.
Women’s education is disorganized, fragmented, and random. She states that the
knowledge women usually obtain is received from the observation of everyday
life but that hers is used to perfect her looks. This situation is similar to
that of soldiers, who are sent into the real world before they have matured or
as she puts it “before their minds have been stored with knowledge or fortified
by principles”. Additionally, men and
women in the military are taught obedience before they are able to develop any
morals, thus they are driven by social norms that they hold without
understanding, such as prejudices. Wollstonecraft
also believes that sensualists are tyrant-like and take part in keeping
women less educated in order to maintain their power over them. Rousseau’s
character Sophia from his novel is a prime example as Wollstonecraft states that
she admires Rousseau and does not intend to criticize Sophia as a whole but rather
her education since it’s the foundation that her character is built from.
Wollstonecraft, women should be considered as moral beings, or weak and
subjected to the superior qualities of men. Rousseau’s answer to that claim is
to have women never feel independent and to learn obedience. She argues that this is absurd since women’s
conduct “should be founded on the same principles and have the same
aim” as men’s. Wollstonecraft doesn’t want to invert the order of things
since she believes that men’s physical size makes them naturally superior
because it, as well as their pursuits, leads to greater opportunities to make
moral choices and achieve virtue. All she is saying is that there should be no
double standard when it comes to virtue; moral and intellectual virtue should
not be different for men and women. Furthermore, women will not lose their
“peculiar graces” if they pursue knowledge. Wollstonecraft is not
trying to speak against love, but rather to demonstrate how “tumultuous
passions” should not superseide the place of the “superior powers”.
Wollstonecraft disapproves of Dr. Gregory’s Legacy to his Daughters book
because he encourages his daughters not only to forcefully gain a love for
dress but to learn to lie about their feelings. Instead, Wollstonecraft
believes that women should seek to purify their hearts, but they cannot do so
when they are dependent on their emotions and senses, and care only for trivial
things. Women should not be satisfied with a role that gives them nothing but
to maintain a men’s affection. Furthermore, a woman who strengthens her mind
and body will become a friend to her husband, and not just a submissive partner.
She further goes on to state that love
is in fact dangerous in a marriage since it is assumed that passion is common,
but when it dies out the marriage becomes problematic. Those with intelligence
understand that passion should be replaced by friendship and understanding.
Wollstonecraft the goes on to claim that “an unhappy marriage
is often very advantageous to a family, and … a neglected wife is, in
general, the best mother” because happiness and pleasure detract from
experience and understanding.
Gregory also advises his daughters not to bother developing their minds by
reading or educating themselves if they intend to marry. Wollstonecraft
responds by saying that women should not stop their pursuit of knowledge when
they decide they want to marry. Some women do go too far into demonstrating
their innocence (weakness) such as novelists, but that is not what she
advocates for. Dr. Gregory’s ideas amount to nothing more than a system of
slavery. Moreover, there is nothing wrong with gentleness, but when gentleness
is applied to women it brings with it weakness, dependence, prostration, and submissiveness.
She asserts that it is absurd that women are told to only plan for the present
in their marriage, and only recommended to achieve the virtues of gentleness
and obedience. Women are thus made the toys of their husbands, meant to amuse
them instead of help them.
main point of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman seemed to be that
miseducation of women was occurring and that needed to be changed.
Wollstonecraft saw the education system that was in place as a way men could
oppress women and to make them seem less rational and weaker than they actually
are. She suggested that the solution to this was to educate women differently
than they were being educated. She and her revolutionary contemporaries viewed
education as the most essential aspect for causing social change.
it comes to the topic of equality, it’s quite evident that most people would
agree with Wollstonecraft, myself included. She helped pave the way to bring
equality to education and a lot of her arguments still hold up to this day. She
argued that, when women are held in subjection to men the way that they were by
the rules and norms of society, everyone suffers as a result. Women were told
to value trivial things such as their beauty. Instead of these fruitless endeavors,
women should focus of education themselves in order to become strongminded and
more independent. Also, children would be better nurtured if they and the women
who taught them were educated. If the place of women must be in the home as
nurturers of children, it would be more advantageous to make that the best
situation that it could possibly be. In fact, Wollstonecraft suggested that
women who had been educated would be able to educate children more thoroughly
because they would have developed morals.
alludes to one of the most essential aspects of her argument because it’s a general
view of society and concern for future generations. This stands in contrast to
other views of liberation that work within a system that encourage individual
women to rise to the top of the social ladder in competition with men.
Wollstonecraft’s idealistic vision can speak to us today and critique our own
society for fostering values of domination instead of promoting the education
and freedom of all.
demanded that young girls be taught about the moral life rather than temporary
ambitions such as physical beauty, softness of temper, and societal propriety.
However, she acknowledged that children begin as blank slates, in that they can
be taught correctly and virtues can be learned, nurtured, and practiced, or
they can be taught incorrectly and indoctrinated with false ideas about
themselves and their abilities. Since she observed the second of the two
possibilities to be the case with women, she concluded that education had to