A History of Discrimination (World Philosophers and Their Works)
Chapter 4 analyzes some of the causes that lead to women’s inferior state in society. First, Wollstonecraft points out that women have always been treated as either slaves or despots, and neither situation is conducive to reason. Second, pleasure is exalted as the business of women’s lives, and while society continues to hold this view, women will continue to be weak. Third, women are praised and rewarded (usually by acquiring a husband) for being beautiful and useless. With nothing solid to occupy their minds, they occupy themselves with mindless coquetteries and exchange their liberty, health, and virtue for the sake of a man who provides them with physical sustenance but little else.
Wollstonecraft laments the fact that men spend their youth in preparing for and advancing in a profession, but women spend their time exciting their emotions, for this is the chief faculty for which they are awarded. This same focus on the emotions will unfit women for motherhood, as it disposes them to tantrums and to indulging their children and spoiling them. Further, for women who do not have husbands to meet their daily financial needs, their complete lack of training will lead them to become burdens on their relatives or even prostitutes, who further degrade society and the family bond.
(The entire section is 213 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects is considered by many to be the manifesto of feminism and one of the first written expressions of feminist ideas. Although others before Wollstonecraft had written about the need for women’s rights, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (as the work is best known) is the first comprehensive statement about the need for women to be educated and for philosophical treatises on the nature of gender differences.
Like many late eighteenth century essays, this text may seem to later readers to ramble and repeat ideas when the point has already been made. Wollstonecraft is expressing new and radical concepts that shocked many, and which were connected to the ideas fueling the French Revolution, an event that so frightened the English government that it suspended most political and many civil liberties during this time. Wollstonecraft’s repetitions and careful, sometimes overstated, logic can be explained as the natural reflex of anyone who introduces revolutionary notions to a culture.
Wollstonecraft’s primary concern is the education of women. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is, in large part, a rebuttal to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ideas, expressed primarily in his book Émile: Ou, De l’éducation (1762; Emilius and Sophia: Or, A New System of Education, 1762-1763; better known as...
(The entire section is 1806 words.)