A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

by Mary Wollstonecraft

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In her speech to the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, 1851, Sojourner Truth said, “I can't read, but I can hear.” How does Mary Wollstonecraft address this issue in her essay A Vindication of the Rights of Woman?

In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft address the issues of female literacy and awareness of political and social realities by arguing for the value of women’s education She argues that women are as deserving of education as men are. Furthermore, she claims that educating the female half of society provides a benefit to everyone, not just women.

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Mary Wollstonecraft’s essay A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is both a passionate and a rational plea for acknowledging that women are entitled to the same rights as men. In Sojourner Truth’s quoted statement, to “hear” may be understood as being aware of the social and political realities that shape the world in which she lives. She is pointing out that she learns what is going on by listening to what others say. Lack of literacy is a limitation but not an insurmountable obstacle to that awareness—or to the activism that springs from her knowledge.

Wollstonecraft’s claims connect well with Truth’s statement. Wollstonecraft, who published her essay about 60 years before Truth made her speech, drew on Enlightenment ideas about natural rights, which were often construed as applying only to men when it came to public life and political participation. Wollstonecraft argued against the idea that women were naturally inferior to men and were therefore incapable of contributing equally to public life.

She believed that education was key to enabling women to make such contributions as well as to performing their duties as wives and mothers. Part of the social reality that women recognize is the fact that not all women are supported by husbands, and adequate education will improve the opportunities for women who are employed, single mothers. She points out that men are harmed by dominating women, and that society as a whole would benefit from greater equality between the sexes.

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