In A Vindications of the Rights of Women, can Mary Wollstonecraft be seen as an anti-feminist due to her extreme hatred of soft spoken women?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wollstonecraft cannot be seen as anti-feminist, because she counsels women not to be soft-spoken. She does not have an "extreme hatred" for soft-spoken women, but she does say in her Vindication of the Rights of Women that "soft phrases ... delicacy of sentiment and refinement of taste" make women seem weak. By acting compliant and being soft-spoken, women arouse pity in men, and that pity eventually turns into contempt.

Wollstonecraft, instead, wants women to be strong, both physically and mentally. She decries an education system which she argues equips women only to be simpering and emotional second-class citizens. As a believer in Enlightenment ideas, Wollstonecraft thought that "nurture," rather than "nature," formed women and that the right education could help set them free; she believed education in both men and women should equip them as rational beings and that women should be taught to be the companions of men rather than simply their wives. By advising women not to be soft-spoken or weak, Wollstonecraft actually reveals her strong feminism: she does not blame women for the way they are, but wants to guide them toward a mode of living and being that will lead them to greater happiness.

It is important to remember that Wollstonecraft's ideas about educating women were considered far more radical in her time than today. 

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It seems as if it is a tough standard to meet if Mary Wollstonecraft is anti- feminist if she critiques women who capitulate to the traditional notion of being a woman.  I think that Wollstonecraft is seeking to undo much in way of academic and social understandings of women that desire to relegate them to a status that is inferior to men.  She is fighting against an embedded attitude that is indicative of how women are not to be treated in the same light as men.  In this light, she perceives women who capitulate to such standards as unnecessarily acquiescing to what men want and say.  This does not make her anti- feminist in pointing this out.  It makes her a zealous advocate for her beliefs, to the point that she would be driving against anyone or anything that embraced what men would say or think about women.  I don't think that her repudiation of the traditionalized roles of women makes her anti- feminist.  Even in her anger and disdain for women who accept the traditional roles, I think that one can find Wollstonecraft to support women's rights and voices, even should disagreement happen.

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A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

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