A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

by Mary Wollstonecraft

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What is the paradox in the last chapter that has occurred as a result of women’s oppression in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman?

In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, the paradox in the last chapter is that Wollstonecraft sets out a list of faults that she claims are most common to women. For example, Wollstonecraft accuses women of making things worse for themselves by trying to gain advantages in life due to "ladylike" behavior.

The Vindication is a celebrated feminist tract, yet paradoxically, it ends on a note that is highly critical of women.

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As one might expect of a feminist tract, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is highly critical of patriarchal society, how it stifles, restricts, and infantilizes women. Men have created a social system that exists purely for their own benefit and in which the needs of women and girls are routinely ignored.

Yet in the final chapter of the book, Wollstonecraft takes women themselves to task for the part which she believes they have played in their own oppression. It's paradoxical, to say the least, that such a celebrated feminist tract should end on such a critical note toward the very people that the author hopes to liberate.

Wollstonecraft proceeds to list a number of faults that she claims are most common to women. For example, it is often the case, she argues, that women try to gain an advantage by acting all ladylike in an effort to charm men. Such behavior reinforces the prejudice of men that women are vain, shallow creatures not to be taken seriously.

Wollstonecraft also takes a potshot at women for being so quick to resort to quack remedies for all kinds of ailments. As well as keeping charlatans and cranks in business, such behavior makes it seem that women aren't very intelligent and don't have much capacity for rational thought.

However, Wollstonecraft acknowledges that all the many faults she attributes to women are largely the result of education or the lack of it. In Wollstonecraft's day, women were not expected to be educated and were largely kept in a state of ignorance. So if women are able to get an education, so the argument runs, then they won't be as prone to the same faults as they are now.

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