A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

by Mary Wollstonecraft

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In "A Vindication of the Rights of Women," how does Wollstonecraft address the issues concerning the roles of men and women in North American society during the 17th and 18th centuries?

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Your question seems to indicate that Mary Wollstonecraft was American and wrote in an American context. In fact, she was English and wrote this powerful essay based on her experience of being a woman in English society. Of course, many of the issues that she raises in this essay transfer over to America and the position of women there as well, as her essay investigates and comments upon the way that women are viewed by society and how the impression is that education will be somehow bad for them.

As far as gender roles are concerned, she actually argues against traditional ways of thinking about women, arguing that such ideas of femininity take away the dignity and strength of women. Note this summary of the purpose of Wollstonecraft's essay:

I wish to persuade women to endeavour to acquire strength, both of mind and body, and to convince them that the soft phrases, susceptibility of heart, delicacy of sentiment, and refinement of taste, are almost synonymous with epithets of weakness, and that those beings who are only the objects of pity and that kind of love, which has been termed its sister, will soon become objects of contempt.

Wollstonecraft thus challenges conventional notions of femininity and of what it is to be a well-bred lady are fatally flawed, as these "accomplishments" are actually signs of weakness and will lead to contempt. The essay thus argues for a new kind of femininity that is based on intellect rather than such activities, and also argues that men should seriously rethink their impressions and expectations of women.

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