In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, what are some qualities the author conventionally assigns to men and women?
How does the writer satirize the belief that educating women will make them masculine?
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In the first paragraph, Wollstonecraft asserts that “those beings who are only the objects of pity” will soon become “objects of contempt.” Wollstonecraft sees “pretty feminine phrases” as a means by which men soften women’s “slavish dependence.”
We become aware of her energetic repudiation of such language as she goes on at length attacking “flowery diction.” After asserting that elegance is “inferior” to virtue, she indicts “pretty superlatives” that create a “kind of sickly delicacy” and make domestic pleasures “insipid.” She italicizes “fascinating,” presumably in order to call our attention to an example of the diction she repudiates.
By rejecting elegant phrasing in favor of the “important object” of communicating “experience and reflection,” the author emphasizes that her purpose is to be realistic: “I shall be employed about things, not words!” Her serious tone is intensified by her contempt for “the turgid bombast of artificial language.”
In paragraphs 5 and 6, the author describes marriage in terms that suggest wives’ responsibilities are not being met. After noting that marriage is “the only way women can rise in the world,” she refers to the childlike activities of wives (dressing, painting, nicknaming), and then asks, rhetorically: “Can they be expected to govern a family with judgment, or take care of the poor babes whom they bring into the world?” Wollstonecraft’s attitude toward women is critical. She notes their “fondness for pleasure which takes place of ambition, and those nobler passions that open and enlarge the soul” But she does mention “individuals” who are exceptions owing to their intellect.
Remarks in paragraph 3 leave no doubt that the author is deeply committed to her topic: “Animated by this important object, I shall disdain to . . . polish my style: --I aim at being useful. . . . “
The author acknowledges that women’s education has been “more attended to than formerly,” but complains that though women acquire “a smattering of accomplishments,” they sacrifice “stren gth of body and mind” to “libertine notions of beauty” (par. 5). She says that such training has made them “insignificant objects of desire—mere propagators of fools!” As for family life, women are “taken out of their sphere of duties, and made ridiculous and useless when the short-lived bloom of beauty is over.”
The author suggests that the attribute of “artificial weakness” has made women cunning. She adds this challenge: “Let men become more chaste and modest, and if women do not grow wiser in the same ratio, it will be clear that they have weaker understandings.”
Wollstonecraft’s argument suggests that “the first object of laudable ambition is to obtain a character as a human being, regardless of the distinction of sex.”
This essay achieves audience identification in the first paragraph by appealing to women as “rational” creatures who can stand alone . Later the author uses analytical commentary to attack artificial language, misdirected education, and fondnes s for pleasure—all of which illustrate the subversion of reason or of strength.
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