Vindication Of Women

’s Rights Essay, Research Paper

John Kerber

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Throughout much of modern history, women in most societies and particularly in Western Civilization have been subject to third class citizenship. Mary Wollstonecraft challenged and helped change the old ideas about women s role in society with her book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. During Wollstonecraft s time period, women had very little control over the own destiny and were basically property of the leading man in their life. Wollstonecraft shows that this is not because of biological or innate factors that cannot be changed. She then contributes to society by showing that there is a path or a way to change these things. Life does not have to follow the status quo. She then further shows how society as a whole would be bettered if this path is followed to its logical conclusion.

Mary Wollstonecraft lived and witnessed the French Revolution. She lived in a period where the basic rights of human beings were under constant discussion. It was during this time that the general population of France wrote a constitution stating what they believed should comprise a government. More importantly, they also wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man. This document stated that people have certain unalienable rights because of the fact that they are human. She lived in this turbulent and questioning time, and she also saw that she and all other women were being left out of these basic rights as they had been for ages.

Wollstonecraft could not sit idly by and continue to watch the oppression of her sex. She wanted to focus on the fact that all of us are human beings, and that is a more underlying truth than our sexual organs. She was seeing horrific things happen to the women around her. At this time, women were poorly educated and the standards upon which men and women were judged were completely different. Men were judged on intellect and accomplishment. Women were viewed solely by beauty, and their modesty. If men had sex with women with whom they were not married it was considered an accomplishment upon which to boast about. The women with whom they had sex with, however, were often times forever tainted and prostitution was there only option as no man would marry them. They would have no other means of working because they were so poorly educated.

More so than these individual problems though were the social systems that she saw were setup to keep women in a weak, uneducated, and childlike state. The schools which women went to basically were there to teach women how to be modest and more pleasing to their fathers and future husbands. They basically just perpetuated the stereotype that women were less intelligent, and they had to have some sort of guardian man to take care of them for their entire life. A similar social system was the general outlook on how to raise children properly. Young girls were often kept inside rooms and made to listen to the older women and look pretty. Young boys however were allowed to play outside and test their own limits.

These social systems were even further established by prominent authors such as Rousseau who tried to find biological or innate reasons why women are weaker than men. Other authors also wrote books on the proper way for a man or a woman to behave. These books which were taught in the schools and read to young children shaped society and taught many generations of men and women to conform to these ideal figures. Thus creating men who are intelligent and strong, and women simply become a prized possession to obtain.

So to combat these stereotypes, Wollstonecraft used examples of men who basically act like the stereotypical woman of these books. She shows that the very rich who were never given responsibility and never truly trusted also show this indifference and frivolous nature of life. This is the typical female character from literature, but what does that say? It shows that it is not biology but circumstance that lead women into this less intelligent state. She also shows how military personnel when not properly educated are good at following routines as women are in their old situation. However, these men are not qualified to live productive lives outside of the military. This is a direct relation to how women are unable to function in Wollstonecraft s society when they are left without a man to take care of them.

Wollstonecraft does more than just describe the problems of the women of her time. She also suggests a way to change this sad existence for women. She brings up the point time and time again that through further education a woman can gain her own independence. Wollstonecraft does not simply mean that women should go to school for longer periods of time, but she insists that the general way that women are taught should change. It quite simply should be comparable if not exactly equal to what men are taught in schools. She also thinks that an overall change in society is really what needs to happen to help the advancement of women. Wollstonecraft not only shows that society needs to change to increase the ability and quality of lives for women, but she shows that society as a whole would be better off if these changes took place.

Wollstonecraft envisions a world in which women are treated as equals. She shows the benefits between all human relations and uses several different examples to illustrate her point. She brings up an adult example first. In her time period, since women were uneducated in a practical sense they were simply beauty objects. So, men and women would get married, and after a short time of initial happiness the reality of the situation would settle in. Men would start to look elsewhere for sexual pleasure because their wives were not their companions but simply their possessions. So Wollstonecraft believes that love or more appropriately lust were simple relationships. A much more compelling and deeper emotion was friendship. It is through friendship that marriages would be happier and men would be less likely to visit the prostitutes. This is because men would no longer see their wives as another sex object but as something much more important.

Another example that Wollstonecraft mentioned was the consequence of what happens to an uneducated woman when she becomes widowed. If the woman is uneducated there is no one to teach her children the morals and values of life. The entire family then becomes subject to any man who probably has other interests than the general love of the woman and her family. But in the greater sense, she is saying that educated women will raise educated children with or without a husband. This is an overall positive attribute for society.

Wollstonecraft though repetitive and difficult to read has very valid opinions that are still trying to be implemented in today s society. She states the obvious need for equality between men and women and shows an idealistic utopia that can be created through this equality. She also addresses the many problems of her society that are almost incomprehensive to the modern reader. When reading about the difficult lives of women in her time, it is easy to look at the present and simply disregard her complaints. But it must be said that without her originally writing her observations and disgust, our society would not have come as far as it has towards equality.


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