A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

by Mary Wollstonecraft

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Who is the author’s audience in "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman"? 

"A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" is directed towards a primary audience of those interested in women's education. Beyond this, Wollstonecraft aims to reach the widest possible audience in order to effect change and employs a wide range of arguments to convince diverse groups of people.

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The audience for Mary Wollstonecraft's essay, "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman," is much disputed. The essay is addressed to the French diplomat, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, who had presented a report on public education to the French National Assembly in 1791. Talleyrand had said that while boys should be sent to school to prepare them for a career in public life, girls should be educated at home to prepare them for a domestic career.

The most immediate audience for the essay, therefore, is Talleyrand himself, and anyone who has an interest in the issues of public education he raises, more specifically the education of women. The principal academic dispute has been whether, beyond this core group of engaged readers, Wollstonecraft's work is mainly directed towards men or women. Anca Vlasopolos argues that Wollstonecraft creates "rhetorical distance" between herself and other women and surmises that the essay is written primarily for men. Elissa S. Guralnick, on the other hand, calls the discourse "rambling" and "uneven," and suggests that this was because the essay was intended for a female audience unused to following logical arguments. This seems to subvert the very purpose for which the essay was written. However, it seems reasonable to say that the relatively informal and accessible nature of the work was written to include a wide audience.

Wollstonecraft believed she had an urgent message for the world and wanted her work to reach as many people as possible. To this end, she includes a plethora of arguments on a wide range of topics beyond education so that her message is as effective as possible in reaching a wide range of people. Men, of course, were largely responsible for making the policies Wollstonecraft aimed to amend, but women must demand change in order for the movement to be credible.

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