Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women
1. Wollstonecraft explains that “Women are told from their infancy, and taught by the example of their mothers, that a little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, OUTWARD obedience, and a scrupulous attention to a puerile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of man; and should they be beautiful, every thing else is needless, for at least twenty years of their lives” (84). This statement points to the process of socialization that teaches girls to cultivate an identity of calculating childishness and fragility. What are the effects of molding girls in this way when it comes to marriage and motherhood (67, 95, 100, 119); obedience (84, 91, 93); false refinement and appearances (87, 89, 91, 93, 99, 107); and physical delicacy (95, 99, 105). You may choose to focus on one of these topics in a comprehensive manner, or seek to analyze passages from a number of these topics.
2. Throughout chapter 2 Wollstonecraft argues that education has stunted women’s intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth (see pages 84, 88, and 89). She also highlights that the best education (for men and women) is “such an exercise of the understanding as is best calculated to strengthen the body and form the heart” (86). Summarize what Wollstonecraft believes to be the inadequacies of education for women. After, explain what she imagines would be an ideal education. What limitations do you see in her judgments about education? Present your assessment of Wollstonecraft’s ideas in a concluding paragraph.
3. Explain Wollstonecraft’s attitude toward the aristocracy and the military, as exemplified by the following quotation: “But for this epoch we must wait–wait, perhaps, till kings and nobles, enlightened by reason, and, preferring the real dignity of man to childish state, throw off their gaudy hereditary trappings; and if then women do not resign the arbitrary power of beauty, they will prove that they have LESS mind than man” (87, see also 67, 104, 112). Specify the problem that Wollstonecraft has with these institutions. Why does she think that reason is an antidote to tyranny from rulers of states and homes?
4. In the 18th century, virtue was defined as “A particular moral excellence; a special manifestation of the influence of moral principles in life or conduct” (OED). However, Wollstonecraft’s repeated references to virtue mean something more. She urges that “Women ought to endeavour to purify their hearts; but can they do so when their uncultivated understandings make them entirely dependent on their senses for employment and amusement, when no noble pursuit sets them above the little vanities of the day, or enables them to curb the wild emotions?” (94). She also sees virtue as too often “sacrificed to temporary gratifications, and the respectability of life to the triumph of an hour” (107). Identifying one other passage in the text that also addresses the idea of virtue, begin your essay by explaining what Wollstonecraft means by virtue in three passages. In three to four body paragraphs, discuss why Wollstonecraft’s definition of virtue is important for transforming women from dependent creatures into valuable members of society. In your conclusion, you may discuss whether her definition of virtue has relevance in today’s society.
5. Wollstonecraft is quite skeptical about love, stating baldly that there is a need to “restrain this tumultuous passion, and to prove that it should not be allowed to dethrone superior powers, to usurp the sceptre which the understanding should ever coolly wield” (93). Why does she say that “Fondness is a poor substitute for friendship!” (95). See also pages 94, 96, 100. What does she think are the consequences of teaching women to believe in the lofty powers of romantic love? Discuss why Wollstonecraft damns romantic love. In a concluding paragraph, explain why you agree or disagree with her.
(Informal assignments that provide an opportunity to reflect on or relate to the text but do not assume mastery of the text.)
A paraphrase involves restating complex ideas from a source in your own words. Below are some quotations from Chapters 2 and 3 of Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. As a group, paraphrase the quotation that correspondents to your group number. Aim to condense the quotation and to explain the main ideas, not every sentence. You will share this paraphrase with everyone in the last 15 minutes of class.
1. “To do every thing in an orderly manner, is a most important precept, which women, who, generally speaking, receive only a disorderly kind of education, seldom attend to with that degree of exactness that men, who from their infancy are broken into method, observe. This negligent kind of guesswork . . . prevents their generalizing matters of fact, so they do to-day, what they did yesterday, merely because they did it yesterday” (88).
2. “As a proof that education gives this appearance of weakness to females, we may instance the example of military men, who are, like them, sent into the world before their minds have been stored with knowledge or fortified by principles. The consequences are similar; soldiers acquire a little superficial knowledge, snatched from the muddy current of conversation, and, from continually mixing with society, they gain, what is termed a knowledge of the world; and this acquaintance with manners and customs has frequently been confounded with a knowledge of the human heart” (88-9).
3. “Besides, the woman who strengthens her body and exercises her mind will, by managing her family and practising various virtues, become the friend, and not the humble dependent of her husband; and if she deserves his regard by possessing such substantial qualities, she will not find it necessary to conceal her affection, nor to pretend to an unnatural coldness of constitution to excite her husband’s passions. In fact, if we revert to history, we shall find that the women who have distinguished themselves have neither been the most beautiful nor the most gentle of their sex” (95).
4. “How women are to exist in that state where there is to be neither marrying nor giving in marriage, we are not told. For though moralists have agreed, that the tenor of life seems to prove that MAN is prepared by various circumstances for a future state, they constantly concur in advising WOMAN only to provide for the present. Gentleness, docility, and a spaniel-like affection are, on this ground, consistently recommended as the cardinal virtues of the sex; and, disregarding the arbitrary economy of nature, one writer has declared that it is masculine for a woman to be melancholy. She was created to be the toy of man, his rattle, and it must jingle in his ears, whenever, dismissing reason, he chooses to be amused” (100).
5. “But I still insist, that not only the 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 endeavour to acquire human virtues (or perfections) by the SAME means as men, instead of being educated like a fanciful kind of HALF being, one of Rousseau’s wild chimeras” (106).
6. “Women deluded by these sentiments, sometimes boast of their weakness, cunningly obtaining power by playing on the WEAKNESS of men; and they may well glory in their illicit sway, for, like Turkish bashaws, they have more real power than their masters: but virtue is sacrificed to temporary gratifications, and the respectability of life to the triumph of an hour” (107).
7. “[T]ill women are more rationally educated, the progress of human virtue and improvement in knowledge must receive continual checks. And if it be granted, that woman was not created merely to gratify the appetite of man, nor to be the upper servant, who provides his meals and takes care of his linen, it must follow, that the first care of those mothers or fathers, who really attend to the education of females, should be, if not to strengthen the body, at least, not to destroy the constitution by mistaken notions of beauty and female excellence” (107).
8. “Girls and boys, in short, would play harmless together, if the distinction of sex was not inculcated long before nature makes any difference. I will, go further, and affirm, as an indisputable fact, that most of the women, in the circle of my observation, who have acted like rational creatures, or shown any vigour of intellect, have accidentally been allowed to run wild, as some of the elegant formers of the fair sex would insinuate” (110-11).
9. “Let not men then in the pride of power, use the same arguments that tyrannic kings and venal ministers have used, and fallaciously assert, that woman ought to be subjected because she has always been so. But, when man, governed by reasonable laws, enjoys his natural freedom, let him despise woman, if she do not share it with him; and, till that glorious period arrives, in descanting on the folly of the sex, let him not overlook his own” (112).
10. “It is time to effect a revolution in female manners, time to restore to them their lost dignity, and make them, as a part of the human species, labour by reforming themselves to reform the world. It is time to separate unchangeable morals from local manners” (113).
(In-class 10-minute writing assignments that might be discussed with whole class. Students might also be asked to return to what they wrote at the beginning of the class, and to add to or to make changes to what they previously thought.)
1. At the beginning of Chapter 3 (see pages 109-111), Wollstonecraft suggests that children, especially girls, need to be given more freedom to play independently. The situation she describes is pertinent today as parents continue to debate “helicopter” (over-protective) vs. “free-range” (relaxed) parenting. Do you think Wollstonecraft would subscribe to the “helicopter” or “free-range” parenting model? Do you agree with her parenting philosophy? Do you think modern children are given too much or too little freedom?
2. At the end of Chapter 3 (see pages 119-120), Wollstonecraft observes that without discipline and a higher sense of purpose, men and women give in to distractions, “noisy pleasures, and artificial passions” (120). Do you find this to be true today? What vices or distractions do you have, and how do they undermine your goals in life?
3. In her letter to M. Talleyrand-Périgord, Wollstonecraft bluntly states that “from the weak king to the weak father of the family; they are all eager to crush reason” (67). What do you think is the connection she makes between kings and patriarchal heads of households? (An additional exercise, ask students to write a protest letter.)
4. Wollstonecraft judges that “The great misfortune is this, that they both [soldiers and women] acquire manners before morals, and a knowledge of life before they have from reflection, any acquaintance with the grand ideal outline of human nature. The consequence is natural; satisfied with common nature, they become a prey to prejudices, and taking all their opinions on credit, they blindly submit to authority” (89-90). Why does she make a connection between soldiers and women? Do you agree that soldiers and/or women develop “manners” before “morals.”
5. In several passages in the text, Wollstonecraft attacks the idea that women should be still and passive, while men should be physically active. What do you think of exercise? Why does Wollstonecraft feel that it is important for women to be initiated into physical activity early on? See pages 95, 99, 105.
6. Do you think that differences between the sexes are innate and biological, or nurtured and taught? Describe an example that supports your point of view. What does Wollstonecraft think? Explain why you agree or disagree with her.
Short Answer / Critical Response
(Opportunities to write creatively or imaginatively about the text, and shared with the class.)
1. Wollstonecraft talks about ways that eighteenth-century women become “slaves to their bodies” (111). What does she mean by this? In what ways is this still true today? How might Wollstonecraft suggest that we combat some of our modern problems with women’s body image issues?
2. Wollstonecraft is debating the purpose of education: whether it is designed to advance the individual toward virtue, or to help one “prepare for life.” Think of your purposes in getting an education. What does a college education mean for you, or for your family? Are you the first in your family to go to college? Do you see education as a journey of personal growth, as a training for a future job, as both?
3. What does it take be a radical? Think about #blacklivesmatter, Occupy Wall Street, the movement to legalize gay marriage, or New York Fast Food workers’ fight to raise the minimum wage. What strategies did one of these groups use to achieve their goals? What do you see is a connection between their strategies and Wollstonecraft’s, if any?
(Open book quiz given toward the end of the unit to re-affirm key terms.)
Wollstonecraft often uses vocabulary whose meaning has changed from her own time to ours. For each of the following word give a one to two sentence explanation of how Wollstonecraft is using the term. This should not be a dictionary definition; it should reflect Wollstonecraft’s ideas. Notes are permitted.
- Corporeal accomplishments:
Teacher’s Guide for Terminologies
- virtue (84, 107)—alludes to reason, knowledge, understanding, not just moral goodness or sexual purity
- reason (88)—logical thinking and deductive thought-processes, a key theory arising out of the Enlightenment
- passions (96)—strong, wayward feelings or ‘appetites,’ not necessarily sexual
- employments (96, 98)—activities in which one spends one’s time, hobbies
- constitution (105)—physical health and strength
- modesty (107)—respectable humility and shyness, usually false and put on
- manners (02)—the behaviors and mannerisms deemed appropriate for respectable, upper-middle class women, i.e., fragility, demureness, soft-spokenness, passivity
- sensualist (90)—someone devoted wholly to physical and sexual pleasure
- corporeal accomplishments (88)—frivolous achievements and passive activities that keep women occupied as entertainment for men, i.e., embroidering, sewing, flower arranging, water-color painting, singing
- aristocracy (87)—the nobility, highest class of society with heredity rights, especially the French royals
(*Handout vocabulary list before reading. **Definitions from New Oxford American Dictionary)
Instructions: Highlight and define the following terms from your reading.
- vindication (title)—
- sagacious/sagacity (88)—
- tyranny (87)—
- hereditary (87)—
- cypher/cipher (90)—
- libertine (94)—
- insipid (92)—
- eradicate (93)—
- abhorrence (93)—
- gallantry (93)—
- dissimulation (94)—
- affectation (95)—
- voluptuous (96)—
- coquettish/coquetry (97)—
- uncultivated (97)—
- abject (99)—
- docility (100)—
- indolent (101)—
- emancipated (101)—
- sober (102)— serious
- despot (107)—
- eloquence (108)—
- inculcated (110)—
- ramifications (112)—
- fallible (115)—
- encumbered (116)—
- yoke (116)—
- impotent (117)—
- discriminating (117)—
- exertions (120)—
Teacher’s Guide for Vocabulary Journal
- vindication—the justification for some act or belief
- sagacious/sagacity (88)—showing an ability to understand difficult ideas and situations and to make good decisions
- tyranny (87)—cruel or oppressive rule or governance
- hereditary (87)—holding a position or title that was passed on from your parent or an older relative
- cypher/cipher (90)—a person who has no power or is not important
- libertine ()—a person, especially a man, who behaves without moral principles or a sense of responsibility, especially in sexual matters.
- insipid (92)—lacking vigor, energy, or uniqueness
- eradicate (93)–to remove something completely: to eliminate or destroy
- abhorrence (93)–to dislike someone or something very much
- gallantry (93)–very brave behavior: polite attention shown by a man to a woman
- dissimulation (94)–to hide under a false appearance
- affectation (95)–the act of taking on or displaying an attitude or mode of behavior not natural to oneself or not genuinely felt
- voluptuous (96)–giving pleasure to the senses
- coquettish/coquetry (97)–a flirtatious act or attitude
- uncultivated (97)–underdeveloped, not studied or directed
- abject (99)—degrading or unpleasant
- docility (100)–easily taught, led, or controlled
- indolent (101)–not liking to work or be active
- emancipated (101)–to free someone from someone else’s control or power
- sober (102)—solemn, serious, sensible
- despot (107)—a person who has a lot of power over other people
- eloquence (108)—discourse marked by force and persuasiveness
- inculcated (110)—to cause something to be learned by someone by repeating it again and again
- ramifications (112)–something that is the result of an action, decision, etc.
- fallible (115)–capable of making mistakes or being wrong
- encumbered (116)–to cause problems or difficulties for someone
- yoke (116)–something that causes people to be treated cruelly and unfairly especially by taking away their freedom
- impotent (117)–lacking power or strength
- discriminating (117)—having or showing refined taste or good judgment
- exertions (120)–physical or mental effort
Mary Wollstonecraft & Her Legacy Essay examples
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Mary Wollstonecraft & Her Legacy
Following the Enlightenment, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote the feminist novel The Vindication of the Rights of Woman. In this novel she applied rights to females that had formerly been reserved to males, such as unalienable rights. Her novel impacted different areas of society. Wollstonecraft called for the advancement of women’s rights in areas such as education, work, and politics. She also proposes that women are just as capable as men and have a far greater purpose than simply to be pleasing to men. Her novel became a bestseller in the summer of 1792.1 After reading her novel, many women applied her views to their lives to the greatest extent possible in the time period in which they lived. Mary…show more content…
The "late hours of rigorous study and lack of outdoor play and exercise" caused Margaret to have recurring nightmares, fits of hysteria, hallucinations and even caused her to sleepwalk. However, it was because of this rigorous studying that Mary contributed to the women’s movement, mainly through her novel, The Vindication of the Rights of Woman.4
Margaret Fuller’s novel, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, employed many similar concepts as Mary Wollstonecraft, but took a slightly different direction. In her novel she writes that everyone under God has certain rights and these rights apply to man as well as woman. She illustrates that human society consists of two components that must work together if harmony is to be reached: the feminine side and the masculine side. For this reason, Fuller insists that women stop playing the subservient role in society,and overcome the role of dependence on man. Similar to Wollstonecraft, she feels that if women advance in society, following their wishes and desires, society as a whole will become better. She explains the inequality and unrest within her contemporary society. Despite advancements for both genders, women remain behind due to