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How does Mary Wollstonecraft apply the term "vindication" in the introduction of A...

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joiner | Student, Undergraduate | Honors

Posted February 9, 2012 at 7:24 AM via web

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How does Mary Wollstonecraft apply the term "vindication" in the introduction of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in the introduction?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 9, 2012 at 9:41 AM (Answer #1)

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In Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, she applies "vindication" in the introduction in several ways.

First, "vindication" is defined as...

...to uphold or justify by argument or evidence...[or]...to assert, maintain, or defend (a right, cause, etc.) against opposition.
In this essay, Wollstonecraft is both justifying her argument and defending her position. She is defending the right of women to be treated as the equals of men, not physically (e.g., strength), but on a human level, and she wants them to be respected. She asserts that women are not even considered to be human beings, let alone the equals of men:
...they are only considered as females, and not as a part of the human species...
The author does not intend to turn the roles of men and women completely up side down:
The male pursues, the female yields—this is the law of nature...This physical superiority cannot be denied...
That a man pursues a woman is not something that Wollstonecraft has a problem with. She does believe that women are treated in an inferior way based upon inaccurate perceptions of the capabilities of women:
...[they] are rendered weak and wretched by a variety of concurring causes, originating from one hasty conclusion. The conduct and manners of women, in fact, evidently prove that their minds are not in a healthy state...
Because of the assumption that women are incapable of being any better than they are, they are treated poorly—a self-fulfilling prophecy. Women become nothing greater because they are not encouraged to do so—NOT because they are unable to do so. After a man "captures" a woman, she is first treasured and then neglected. She is most valuable based upon youthful beauty, but is later considered worthless when her looks fade though she still has much to offer. Wollstonecraft asserts that women have little choice. They are trained from an early age to act in ways that serve the desires of men:
...they spend many of the first years of their lives in acquiring a smattering of accomplishments...strength of body and mind are sacrificed to libertine notions of beauty, to the desire of establishing themselves,—the only way women can rise in the world—by marriage.
The author notes that women become weak and useless based on their education...
One cause [is] a false system of education, gathered from the books written on this subject by men who, considering females rather as women than human creatures, have been more anxious to make them alluring mistresses than wives...
Wollstonecraft finally addresses women, hoping not to insult, but to inspire:
...I [will] treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone...
She encourages women to "endeavour to acquire strength, both of mind and body"—to be enlightened, realizing finally that...
...the soft phrases, susceptibility of heart, delicacy of sentiment, and refinement of taste, are almost synonimous with epithets of weakness...
If men first treat women like a delicate orchid, it turns them into "objects of pity...[and] contempt." Women must demand equal treatment and work to achieve their full potential as human beings, and Wollstonecraft believes that if society promotes authentic education and respect, women are capable of great intelligence and accomplishment.

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