A Vindication of the Rights of Women as a Feminist Text
Mary Wollstonecraft, the first feminist in the early modern time, dared to argue with the most important political personalities. She was a real struggler feminist who did not write for academic or upper-class audiences, but for the large public. Feminist activism diverted Wollstonecraft’s life to one that is more dynamic and unique in comparison with other women writers of her time.
Mary Wollstonecraft wrote, A Vindication of the Rights of Women during a time when men were perceived to be dominant. She argues, the reason for men’s dominance is due to oppression of women. Women were oppressed due to “their deficient education”. Education plays an important role in the differences between the sexes, Wollstonecraft writes “Men innately are not superior over women intellectually”. In 1792 when Wollstonecraft wrote this treatise women were not treated equally and women should be given equal rights and opportunities. This was the beginning of the feminist movement. She argues that both wealth and gender roles create major problems in society.
Women were considered weaker because of their “elegancy of mind”. This was based on what men were taught. Women were perceived to be weaker due to their emotions. However, it was through her own emotional state that she was to explain, men and women were totally equal human beings. She writes “Should I express my conviction with the energetic emotions that I feel”.
Mary argues women should be able to enter the world of medicine and politics. Women should speak their minds without worrying about being perceived as masculine. It’s the power of reason that places humankind above the rest of the natural world. Women were considered weaker by nature. She argues virtue and moral goodness is what makes one person better than another. God gave us passions to gain knowledge by struggling against them. However, reason being the foremost, its purpose was to be used to overcome prejudice, instead men use it to justify it. Wollstonecraft criticizes Rousseau because he wants women to grow up learning that what really matters is a women’s attractiveness. They are incapable of reason and truly equal education is inappropriate. “Rousseau exerts himself to prove that all was right originally”.
She disagrees with Rousseau’s belief that humans eventually return to their natural state and begin acting more like animals again. She argues, God gave humanity reason and civilization in order to improve life. Wollstonecraft is consistent in pursuing the fact that man and women are one. Women bearing the fruits of the Holy Spirit, long suffering, gentleness of manners, are God qualities.
Women are under men’s laws of submission, they were looked at as toys. Wollstonecraft’s main purpose of writing, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, was to primarily state that education is essential for women to increase their role in society. And the ways in which women in her time were oppressed and denied their potential in society. She was up against many authors who disagreed with her philosophy. Many of the writers on female education, such as Rousseau and Dr. Gregory, tend to paint women as artificial and weak. However, she chose to write about subjects that were very sensitive in nature without touching on certain branches. She writes, “A mistaken education, a narrow, uncultivated mind, and many sexual prejudices, tend to make women more constant than men; but for the present, I shall not touch on this branch of the subject’. She was very cautious in explaining her purpose rather than getting into debates.
Most importantly education for women provided independence for women in case her husband passed away. Education allotted women individual rights to support the household and raise their children. Her views on equality began the feminist movement in which women were seen to become more involved with social changes. As part of the bigger picture, God save reason to both men and women. Although Rousseau’s definition of education differs for woman, she believed woman’s education had purposes for the husband. It was not for independent thinking or individualization.
In her A Vindication of The Rights of Woman, Mary believed that women were not created frail by nature, and society was the initial responsible for women’s backwardness, so they had no right to blame women in every unreasonable behaviour she did. She asserted what has been said in, “the weakness and sensuality attributed to a certain class of women in eighteenth-century Europe are not part of their biological nature but the inevitable results of their education and social conditioning” (ibid).
Moreover, Wollstonecraft as a believer Feminist was extremely confident in woman’s abilities, she said also “Let woman share the rights and she will emulate the virtues of man; for she must grow more perfect than emancipated…”. The strong personality and faithfulness of the writer usually felt in words and this is what Mary Wollstonecraft genuinely emphasized in her major documents.