What are some of Wollstonecraft's criticisms of women? How does she propose to improve the condition of women?

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rareynolds eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wollstonecraft argues that women should be educated in a manner that makes them more "masculine." This does not mean to make them "like" men, but to develop in women the same virtues that cause men to value other men -- namely, the cultivation of their reason, and the nurturing of their talents. As the eNote summary for Vindication notes, Wollstonecraft argues that the "education" most women receive teaches them 

a common knowledge of human nature, the use of power in indirect ways (cunning), a soft temper, outward obedience, a “puerile propriety,” and an overemphasis on beauty. This type of education does not develop a good person, but one who is immature; incapable of sustained, orderly thought; and, therefore, easily influenced.

Wollstonecraft famously compares most women to hot house flowers:

[they are] like the flowers which are planted in too rich a soil, strength and usefulness are sacrificed to beauty; and the flaunting leaves...fade, disregarded on the stalk, long before the season when they ought to have arrived at maturity.

Like the flowers, women are taught to be beautiful instead of smart; in this way much of their potential is wasted. Wollstonecraft argues that if, for example, women could be educated for a profession, as men are, their ability to contribute meaningfully to society would greatly improve. In short, if women were educated to be human beings, rather than women, society as a whole would be much better off!


Read the study guide:
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

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