Throughout various sections of her treatise, Wollstonecraft attempts to counter the pronouncements of various authorities on the nature of women and their moral character, as well as pronouncements on how best to educate women. Choose one of these authorities and briefly state the position. How does Wollstonecraft refute this authority? What is the overall significance of this refutation?
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One of the fundamental authorities that Wollstonecraft challenges is the social construction that places women in roles that embody stratification. Wollstonecraft refutes the authority of social expectation that teaches a women her function is nothing more than external beauty: “Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman's sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.” For Wollstonecraft, ensuring that women's construction of self is superficial creates a realm where women can be locked into specific roles. The education of women within such a role is one where the primary motivation is to obtain a husband and gain social acceptance because of exterior reality and extrinsic rewards. Challenging the social authority that dictates women are seen in one particular light, a prism through which there is a stunning lack of power, is a critical part of this construction.
Wollstonecraft refutes this in demanding that social expectation be geared towards demonstrating a respect and reverence for the expansion of a woman's mind. The capacity for women to demonstrate a strong mind and for society to accept it is a critical part of Wollstonecraft's refuting the social education of women:
Make them free, and they will quickly become wise and virtuous, as men become more so; for the improvement must be mutual, or the injustice which one half of the human race are obliged to submit to, retorting on their oppressors, the virtue of men will be worm-eaten by the insect whom he keeps under his feet.
The overall significance of this refutation is resounding. It demands that the bias that women face is not singular and isolated. Rather, it is endemic in the social construction that places women in stratified roles through education and perception. In refuting this, Wollstonecraft demands that the institution of social perception is radically altered. It is an alteration that must take place in the minds of both men and women. Only then can "the oppressors" be challenged an a humanist aspect of improvement become evident. Being able to challenge the social authority that educates women is a significant part of Wollstonecraft's target. Her refutation on this level demonstrate the seismic impact of her theoretical underpinnings
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