Wollstonecraft and the Rights of Women:
Chapter II. The Prevailing Opinion of a Sexual Character Discussed
In this particular chapter of Wollstonecraft’s book, the author exhibits an underlying fury as she speaks about the way men see women. She speaks of the “tyranny of man” and is concerned that men keep women from being educated, saying that they “try to secure the good conduct of women by attempting to keep them always in a state of childhood” (4.7-8). Wollstonecraft disagrees with the arguments that have attempted to prove that women are indeed the weaker sex and believes that equal opportunities for education of both males and females are necessary, saying, “the mind will ever be unstable that has only prejudices” (2.4-5). At a time in history when women were oppressed, the success of her writings was unusual but continue to be relevant today as they were then.
Wollstonecraft calls herself a philosopher (58.1), but philosophy is basically considered rational thinking, reflective and logical, not an outlook on life. She, however, offers a passionate, mostly one-sided argument for the education of women by setting forth her interpretation of the beliefs of notable male writers who have defined women in different ways with the same result, i.e. Milton, she says, believes women are innocence personified, formed for softness and sweet attractive grace. Wollstonecraft disagrees, saying, “Children should be innocent, but when the epithet is applied to men, or women, it is but a civil term for weakness” (4.12-13). Through this entire chapter, Wollstonecraft intentionally uses language designed to show men in the worst possible light. Her word choices are quite graphic.
How grossly do they insult us who thus advise us only to render ourselves gentle, domestic brutes (4.1-2).
All of the writers who have written on the subject of female education and manners, from Rousseau to Dr. Gregory, have contributed to render women more artificial, weak characters, than they would otherwise have been (12.1-4).
Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience. but, as blind obedience is ever sought for by power, tyrants and sensualists are in the right when they endeavor to keep women in the dark, because the former want only slaves, and the latter a play-thing” (21.6-9)
Wollstonecraft, who agrees with some of Rousseau’s views on education, does not, however agree with him and other male writers who consider female education as merely a way to render females pleasing. It is necessary to delve into her personal history to understand some of the more passionate passages in this chapter (Wollstonecraft, p.7, 34.9-11). Her early years were influenced by the fact that: 1) her father was a heavy drinker, probably abusive. 2) She was called to care for her sister, Eliza, whose mental condition had deteriorated after the birth of her son. Mary was convinced her sister’s condition was due to her husband’s bad treatment. 3) Mary had an illegitimate child, Fanny, by Gilbert Imlay who more than once almost drove her to suicide because of his philandering. She did marry William Godwin for the sake of their daughter Mary, even though neither of them believed in marriage. Unfortunately, she died of childbed fever after Mary’s birth (Lewis, n.pag.).
It must be concluded that Mary Wollstonecraft was an influential writer whose points were well made when she urged women to develop their minds and acquire their own identities, an effort that has yet to be fully embraced in today’s society, though advancements have definitely been made.
Lewis, Jone Johnson. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: overview of the life and work of England’s early feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft. Women’s History Guide, 1999. 17 September 2006. http://womenshistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa082099.htm
Philosopher. The Free Online Dictionary. 17 September 2006. Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Printed at Boston, by Peter Edes for Thomas and Andrews, Faust’s statue, no. 45, Newbury-street, MDCCXCII. . Bartleby.com, 1999. www.bartleby.com/144/. 16 September, 2006.
Wollstonecraft and the Rights of Women: