Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication Of The Rights

the vindication of the rights of woman, mary wollstonecraft

“Besides, it is not possible to give a young person a just view of life; he must have struggled with his own passions before he can estimate the force of the temptation which betrayed his brother into vice. Those who are entering life, and those who are departing, see the world from such very different points of view, that they can seldom think alike, unless the unfledged reason of the former never attempted a solitary flight. When we hear of some daring crime—it comes full upon us in the deepest shade of turpitude, and raises indignation; but the eye that gradually saw the darkness thicken, must observe it with more compassionate forbearance. The world cannot be seen by an unmoved spectator, we must mix in the throng, and feel as men feel before we can judge of their feelings. If we mean, in short, to live in the world to grow wiser and better, and not merely to enjoy the good things of life, we must attain a knowledge of others at the same time that we become acquainted with ourselves— knowledge acquired any other way only hardens the heart and perplexes the understanding.”

Reading the movement against the background of its individuals brings with it a sense of clarity and understanding of the historical and the cultural aspect backgrounds. For the intensity, it colored by it’s owner approach in life. As such, every human aspect and effort on seeking or gaining knowledge, can be hardly separated from the willing of power, as Nietzsche once said.

Objective knowledge nearly seems to be indeed unfounded without it’s other different driven and personal aspects of the individual as well.

Thus, in order to understand the background of which the England feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) has come up with, in the fields of ethics and mortals, both on a social and political spectrum, we have first to gain an insightful background on what the late 1700s was like, along with the effect of the French Revolution, and the other cultural aspects that has effect her views.

The main goal of this article is to focus on her philosophy that went from breaking down the taboo, and the stretotype, pity and compassion, and the kind of sensibility, modesty concepts which mostly related to women.

Mary has also speaks about knowledge and  educational system, compared to j. j. r aspects on the subjecy. She talks about love and friendship and affection, and finally about the marriage institution, and the fatherhood as well, connected to  concepts such as obeying, independency, obedience and much more. 

On gender roles: femininity and masculinity

A Vindication of the Rights of Men and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman overlap and support one another as Wollstonecraft argues for women’s rights within her larger argument about the rights of man, and argues for human rights within her argument against the subjugation of woman.

Less obvious, however, is the relationship between Wollstonecraft’s performative dislocation of sex and gender in the Rights of Man and her illustrations of what might now be termed the social construction of gender (namely, women’s manners and behaviors considered within the context of socio-economic privileges and prejudices).

In other words, the stylistic dislocation of sex and gender in the Rights of Men performatively anticipates the argument about gender construction in the Rights of Woman, and the argument about gender construction in the Rights of Woman in some ways accounts for what have been described as stylistic eccentricities in the Rights of Men.

Wollstonecraft finds her voice in A Vindication of the Rights of Men by imitating and contesting the male authorities of her period, chiefly Edmund Burke.

On male’s aristocracy

Mary’s main interpretation and method which she follows on her book was mostly focused on exposing the arbitrary nature of patriarchal power is via a critique-of Rousseau’s arguments against women’s claims to equality.

Her main critiques was on j. j. r on his ook Emile, Or Treatise on Education, which was mostly discussing the journey of educating a young child by taking him into the wild nature, and the concepts of teaching through the exploitation of natural curiosity, practical applications, and which was mostly inspired by Robinson Crusoe, and John Locke’s philosophy.

Mary targets two of Rousseau’s perspectives: One, his claim that women are by nature inferior to men, with respect to their capacities that ground equality — namely reason, independence, and virtue.

 Second, his claim that women’s equality would subvert the social order, he presupposes that the role and natural responsibility of women is care giving, so their education should be in line with helping them enhance their caring abilities. 

Mary Wollstonecraft fact that by providing equal education opportunities to the girl child, their natural responsibility is enhanced even further. 

“Educate women like men,” says Rousseau, “and the more they resemble our sex the less power will they have over us.” This is the very point I aim at. I do not wish them to have power over men; but over themselves.”

Mary maintained two arguments on the first interpretation of Rousseau’s, both on a psychological and philosophical terms, when she adopted Locke philosophy about that our capacities are developed and our characters formed in response to our environment, or what she terms “the effect of an early association of ideas”, and for mary, one of the most significant features of the environment is education or its lack, but environment also embraced customs, habits, opportunities, parental influences, and so on. Her response to Rousseau concedes that women “in the present state of society” do seem to be less capable of both reason and virtue than men are, but she seeks to show that this is simply a product of women’s education and environment rather than natural incapacity 

“women are kept from the tree of knowledge, the important years of youth, the usefulness of age, and the rational hopes of futurity, are all to be sacrificed, to render woman an object of desire for a short time. Besides, how could Rousseau expect them to be virtuous and constant when reason is neither allowed to be the foundation of their virtue, nor truth the object of their inquiries?”

Her second argument against Rousseau is that by denying women equality, he undermines the foundation of morality because he denies women the possibility of undertaking what is in fact the sternest duty of beings accountable for themselves to god, and here comes Wollstonecraft’s perspective, and concept and interpretation on defending a number of object which is mostly related to women. 

On women’s representation: sensibility, modesty, and charity against reasoning 

“Novels, music, poetry and gallantry, all tend to make women the creatures of sensation, and their character is thus formed during the time they are acquiring accomplishments, the only improvement they are excited, by their station in society, to acquire.”

sentimental fiction teaches women to internalize beliefs in their irrationality and inferiority and to perform their proper and customary roles in subordination to men; if women read philosophy, however, they would gain confidence in their ability to reason and reject their former self-subordinating impulses. 

of the perfection of the soul is one of the ideas and concepts that mary has developed it. One of the main aspect Mary has open the light upon was on the uses and the exercising of the mental and muscles of the logical and reasoning mentality, the logical approach Love, passion, motion, reasoning, the stereotype typical concerns about personalizing women.

“And why is the life of a modest woman a perpetual conflict? I should answer, that this very system of education makes it so. Modesty, temperance, and self-denial, are the sober offspring of reason; but when sensibility is nurtured at the expense of the understanding, such weak beings must be restrained by arbitrary means, and be subjected to continual conflicts; but give their activity of mind a wider range, and nobler passions and motives will govern their appetites and sentiments.”

Wollstonecraft’s definition of reason is, furthermore, distinctive in its emphasis upon progress and perfectibility;

‘reason is the simple power of improvement’ (167)

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is above all else a manifesto for change, for progress in women’s cultural, economic, civil and political position in western society.

Her targets are tradition, custom, prejudice and the status quo in both socioeconomic and gender relations. with reason, women should be free

‘to unfold their own faculties and acquire the dignity of conscious virtue’ (134).

This aim, and not the duties of daughter, wife and mother in relation to men, should be the foremost goal of their earthly exertions. Woman, contrary to Biblical and British legal tradition, is not a part of man but a whole unto herself.

Wollstonecraft’s definition of reason as ‘an emanation of divinity’, a capacity for self-improvement, implies an explicit individualism;

‘every 58. individual is this respect a world in itself’ 

Wollstonecraft emphasizes that each individual woman is a spiritual and moral microcosm, who should be free to develop her reason and virtue independently. Reason for Wollstonecraft means self-determination.

‘the divine indefeasible earthly sovereignty breathed into man by the Master of the universe’

Vindication of the Rights of Woman clarifies the feminist resonances of her use of the Enlightenment terms reason and perfectibility and places them in the context of her belief in providential design and rational religion.

On knowledge and equal education opportunities:

“Without knowledge there can be no morality!”

J. J. R interpretation on women’s education and role on the society and their attitude and their sensibility and their lack of emotional regulation was misleading approaches, which goes along  his book, specially the 5th book; sophy, or the woman, which named after a “good omen”

and there she talked about the concept of the wild nature education 

“The good effects resulting from attention to private education will ever be very confined, and the parent who really puts his own hand to the plow, will always, in some degree be disappointed, till education becomes a grand national concern. A man cannot retire into a desert with his child, and if he did, he could not bring himself back to childhood, and become the proper friend and play-fellow of an infant or youth. And when children are confined to the society of men and women, they very soon acquire that kind of premature manhood which stops the growth of every vigorous power of mind or body. And when children are confined to the society of men and women, they very soon acquire that kind of premature manhood which stops the growth of every vigorous power of mind or body.”

On self-governance, and women’s independence

Mary Wollstonecraft has made two appointments related to women’s independence governing. She makes an analogy about a woman becoming a widow, without any recourse of supporting herself. The widow will either be a dependent and waiting for a man to marry her, and financially support her, or she either will be in charge of both the feminine and the masculine role of her life; where she can take care of herself and her children, along with taking care of the financial side. To establish a kind of indecency, a woman should be financially independent first, and that wouldn’t become an action, until a massive change on the marriage and social institutions.


Mary has started her career writing analytical reviews and articles on the government office. She read Jane Austen and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Her husband wrote her biography, and her daughter grew up educating herself on the manners of her mother. She’s one of the important enlistment philosophers and the godmother of the feminist movement.

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