Analyze Mary Wollstonecraft's essay "Vindication of the Right of Woman," and show how some of her ideas are still relevent today.

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Certain elements of Mary Wollstonecraft's essay, "Vindication of the Right of Woman," seem familiar or obvious to us, especially her insistence on gender equality, but, in fact, many of her ideas were revolutionary for her period. In responding to works such as Rousseau's "Emile" which argued that women should only have access to limited forms of education, mainly to train them in a role subordinate to men, Wollstonecaft argues that a just and ethical society depends on gender equality.

Many of her arguments are religious and philosophical, often almost Platonic. She argues that women have souls, and that the most important characteristics of the soul have to do with its capacity for virtue and reason. Education leads to understanding the virtues (i.e. what is morally good) and reasoning enables us to achieve virtue by thinking through our actions and controlling our impulses rather than simply giving in to our emotional whims. To deprive women of education, therefore, is to deprive them of the tools they need to act as moral human beings.

Perhaps one of the most important arguments Wollstonecraft makes, one just as applicable to men as to women, is the moral aspect of training in abstract reasoning, especially in using reason to control emotional impulses and the desire for instant gratification. This is almost the opposite of our culture of self-esteem and instant gratification, but it is a model of being in the world that not only builds character but also leads to long-term success.

Read the study guide:
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

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