On Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women

Published 06 Jul 2017

In A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Wollstonecraft notes the “deplorable state” of women resulting from the imposition of an “artificial character” upon her. Such an imposition may be seen as resulting from the classical and Enlightenment view that women’s reason stands in direct conflict to her emotions. The rationale behind this lies in the association of the emotive to women and the rationale to men. In the aforementioned work, Wollstonecraft provides a rebuttal to assumption above. In lieu of this, what follows is a presentation of Wollstonecraft’s argument as presented in text above.

Wollstonecraft’s argument appeals to both the dominant and subversive ideology. Her initial argument states that educated women will be better wives and mothers. The other argument, on the other hand states that there is an inherent value in enabling women to develop both their virtue and reason. It is important to note that the first argument is similar to the ones held by both Kant and Rousseau. Both philosophers recognize the equality of both men and women. However, specific traits and qualities were attributed to each sex wherein men were seen as the proponents of reason whereas women were perceived as the proponents of emotions. In this case, women are thereby perceived as complementary while at the same time being supplementary to men.

As opposed to the subversive argument mentioned above, the more radical version of Wollstonecraft’s argument states that equality may be achieved by both sexes if women were given the opportunity to develop both her virtue and her reason. Wollstonecraft notes:

(Not) only virtue, but the knowledge of the two sexes should be the same in nature, if not in degree, and that women, considered not only as moral, but rational creatures, ought to endeavor to acquire human virtues…by the same means as men, instead of being educated like a fanciful half being… (41)

In relation to this, Wollstonecraft further noted that the conception of the female as a subversive figure towards the male is only a result of social and political condition that failed to provide women with the same opportunities given to males which will enable them to develop both their reason and virtue.

Works Cited

Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects. New York: A.J. Massel, 1833.

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