Upon my third dedicated attempt to read The Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft, I loved it! I was in the right mood to read it, and I gave myself a fixed block of time to get started in it.
However, since I finished reading it on my Kindle app for Android two weeks ago, I accidentally deleted all of the notes and markings I’d made as I read. I had not yet reviewed my notes or typed them out since I’d finished. Therefore, I am now rather stumped as to how to proceed in “reviewing” my impression of Wollstonecraft’s arguments, given that anything I say or quote now may not have been my original thoughts when I first finished reading the book.
This gives me further motivation to read the book again. Wollstonecraft’s prose is rather dense, and she is arguing against Rousseau’s comments and philosophies, which were unfamiliar to me. She seems to me to repeat herself. And yet, much of what Wollstonecraft argued resonated with me. I also loved her bits of sarcasm. Except, given her era, I’m certain she did not intend it to be funny. She’s completely serious.
My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their FASCINATING graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone. (Author introduction)
As the title indicates, Wollstonecraft is essentially arguing for the rights of women: for them to be respected, to be given opportunities, and not to be treated like children, both in personal marriage relationships and in the public sphere. Her essay is a call for social reform.
Till women are more rationally educated, the progress in human virtue and improvement in knowledge must receive continual checks. (Ch. 3)
Should it be proved that woman is naturally weaker than man, from whence does it follow that it is natural for her to labour to become still weaker than nature intended her to be? (Ch. 3)
To be a good mother — a woman must have sense, and that independence of mind which few women possess who are taught to depend entirely on their husbands. Meek wives are, in general, foolish mothers; wanting their children to love them best, and take their part, in secret, against the father, who is held up as a scarecrow. (Ch. 10)
I also really loved the blending of Christianity into her arguments. Because I too believe in God, I found the spiritual connections to be comforting, and I loved how it’s fully acceptable to assume people believe in God. This kind of a book could never be published today if it wasn’t a “religious” publisher, I don’t think.
Gracious Creator of the whole human race! hast thou created such a being as woman, who can trace thy wisdom in thy works, and feel that thou alone art by thy nature, exalted above her—for no better purpose? Can she believe that she was only made to submit to man her equal; a being, who, like her, was sent into the world to acquire virtue? Can she consent to be occupied merely to please him; merely to adorn the earth, when her soul is capable of rising to thee? And can she rest supinely dependent on man for reason, when she ought to mount with him the arduous steeps of knowledge? (Ch 4)
I love this. I too have felt my soul “rise toward God.” Wollstonecraft also must have, and living in an era when she as a woman was demeaned and disrespected was frustrating because she knew it didn’t add up. She, and all women, are more than “squirrels,” such as Ibsen’s Nora was treated. Wollstonecraft knew that no woman should be treated as such.
At any rate, one read of this long essay is certainly not enough. I’ll have to read it again in the future to expand on other insights, especially given that my own notes of this read were lost.
Vindication was the January selection for the Year of Feminist Classics.
Cover image above from the Modern Library edition. I read the text of the free public domain Project Gutenberg edition, as well as some in the Everyman’s edition.