Do women still primarily find their strength in their appearance rather than their reason?
Mary Wollstonecraft argues that women have been systematically miseducated to be seductive and alluring mistresses rather than rational citizens and individuals.
In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects (1792) Mary Wollstonecraft argues strongly against the social expectations bestowed upon the women of her generation.
Wollstonecraft basically states that women have been, as her title suggests, socially vindicated and limited by a society led by men. In the process of vindication, women are rendered as mere artifacts meant to serve as either nurturers or entertainers of some sort.
I appeal to their understandings; and, as a fellow-creature, claim, in the name of my sex, some interest in their hearts. I entreat them to assist to emancipate their companion, to make her a help meet for them! Would men but generously snap our chains, and be content with rational fellowship instead of slavish obedience, they would find us more observant daughters, more affectionate sisters, more faithful wives, more reasonable mothers – in a word, better citizens!
Keep in mind that Wollstonecraft's argument is based on what she witnessed as a woman in the late XVIII century, right after the publication of Rapport sur l'instruction publique by Tallygrand (1791) in which he presents to the National Assembly his ideas for the education of females. So chauvinistic, ignorant, and devoid of reasoning was this treaty, that Wollstonecraft's response in Rights of Woman (notice how she does NOT use "women" but "woman" to denote collectivity) is a direct counterargument to Tallygrand.
This being said, let us move forward to the XXI century and the opportunities for growth and expansion for women.
Wollstonecraft's society did not allow women many chances for diversity and growth. Our modern society, however, offers women a myriad of opportunities to move away from any stereotypical social role. Hence, if a woman finds her strength, self-worth, and motivation solely based on her sexuality and femininity, that is her choice. Yet, it is in no way her only option.
It is true that modern society has entire markets geared to promote the sexuality of women. It is no wonder that, in seeing models, singers, actresses, and artists we always see them looking sensually-appealing, fit, made up, and as fake as ever. Women may confuse this "made for TV", artistic look, with how every woman really should look like.This is what has brought about so many cases of bulimia, anorexia, and low self-esteem in young women everywhere.
However, the XXI century woman has many more options and choices to lead a life spared from these physical expectations. Women today have ways and means from which they can gather their strength and demonstrate their self-worth. Times have, luckily, changed. If a woman still reverts to finding their self-worth merely on their sexuality, it is entirely the woman's choice and her ultimate responsibility.