A Vindication of the Rights of Women did not start a movement toward women's rights in Wollestencraft's own day. I. Life became know through Godwin's Memoirs of the Author of "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" A. Details her affairs, her suicide attempts, and her liberal position on religion and sexual matters 1. became a notorious figure by even the most progressive thinkers of Victorian England II. "A Vindication of the Rights of Women" A. Wollstoncraft had already postulate the basis for individual rights in Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790) 1. as an answer to Burke's Reflections (like Paine later) B. . Rights of Women came out a 1791 report that the French revolutionary Charles Maurice de Talleyrand had called for a system of free education for all boys throughout France 1. Wollestonecraft wanted the new society envisioned by revolutionaries to include the individual rights of women a. Insisted women be included in the new order b. based her argument on her own life and the lives of the middle-and-upper-class women she had known and observed. 2. Assumed poor women had more independence because they earned their own livings a. did not address how such women were economically exploited.
WOMEN'S MENTAL ABILITIES. Wollstonecraft first attacks the idea that women have inherently inferior mental ability. She agrees that women often act less rationally and responsibly than men, but she points out that all women's training and education is focused on attracting and pleasing men. Not being educated to think for themselves, women necessarily are occupied with trivia and devoid of active virtue. Following the psychology of John Locke, Wollstonecraft asserts that anyone who is badly educated will become corrupt. Freedom, she goes on, must be linked to responsibility. Too much power leads to abuse, so she theorizes that a more equal sharing of power between the sexes will bring about more general virtue and happiness.
THE STATUS OF WOMEN. In the second chapter Wollstonecraft turns to the particular status of women. She states that women are encouraged to be idle and to get their way through cunning. Innocence is regarded by her not as a virtue but, except in children, as a weakness.
EDUCATION. Wollstonecraft states her belief that the basis for a good education is the same for both sexes. Here she begins to refute the position of Rousseau, who argued that women should always be trained for the pleasure of men. She sees this as a sensuous, libertine argument. She argues that passionate love is necessarily of short duration; therefore, husbands and wives should ideally become friends. Further, she states, weak women are not good wives; they cannot even behave like rational creatures.
Wollstonecraft develops her arguments with specific references to how women lived at the time. Her treatise is repetitious and tends to digress, but she argues with great energy and force. The reader feels her exasperation and impatience with the condition of women's lives. She describes conventional marriage based on property considerations as "legal prostitution" and exclaims "What nonsense!" to some of Rousseau's opinions. She cites the bad effects of property laws that discourage independence by denying women the right to the profits of their own labor, and she suggest that women should have either own representatives in government. Wollstonecraft also makes several suggestions as to what women can do for themselves. She believes that women should behave modestly among themselves without being prudish, that they should give their children honest information about procreation, and that they should nurse their own children instead of putting them out to a wet nurse. She feels also that they should not consult astrologers or read sentimental novels but instead should study the proper education of their children and act for the general public good.
Wollstonecraft advocated state-sponsored day school for both boys and girls in the same schools, believing that the best educational arrangement was for children to meet together for study and play during the day but to return to their own homes for parental supervision every evening. Her plan to avoided both the overindulgence of the private tutor or governess and the bullying and moral corruption of boarding schools. Interestingly, the Wollstoncraft plan of public education first became common in the United States, where small communities set up coed day schools as the frontier moved westward.
Ideas about individual freedom and hopes for a better social system were stirred and intensified by the start of the French Revolution in 1789. In England a group of radical thinkers including Blake, Wollstonecraft, and their associates created in their poetry and prose visions of a new order that would liberate men and women form the restraints of conventional moral authorities and economic exploitation.
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