Term Paper, 2002
In 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Women. The book was controversially discussed initially because it was considered radical and revolutionary. As a result, it was widely read and translated into several languages, and Wollstonecraft is said to have been the first woman to address feminist issues. Many critics interpreted her writings in several ways. One of these critics, Aaron Burr, loved Vindication of the Rights of Women and raised his daughter according to Wollstonecraft’s priorities. Although a few parodies of this work were written, the majority of women, especially in the young American Republic, agreed with her. In 1947, Freudians suggested that Wollstonecraft hated men […] she greatly admired and feared creatures that seemed to her capable of doing everything.
Mary Wollstonecraft was born 27 April 1759. Her life was not always easy. She lost her mother and two sisters. The father of her first daughter, Fanny, left her. As a consequence of the resulting depression she felt, she tried to commit suicide twice. Although she was never convinced about marriage because her sister Eliza experienced a broken marriage, she nonetheless married William Godwin, the father of her second child, Mary. However, septicaemia put an end to her life on September 10, 1797 just a few days after having given birth to Mary.
A Vindication of the Rights of Women is a book about women’s rights and their education. It put forth the idea that the gentler sex of mankind also has natural talents and should not be put into competition with men and their abilities. Wollstonecraft wrote about women’s status in the 18th century and how it could be improved, because she believed in human nature as essentially good and able to change its attitude towards prevailing situations. This self-educated woman had been very active in intellectual circles and had observed the developments of the French Revolution very closely. Although she was also much influenced by Rousseau and cited him numerously, she contradicted most of his arguments. The main point of her work was that marriage should not be based on desire like in Emile, a book written by Rousseau, but rather on the equality and affinity of two souls.
Wollstonecraft’s impact on future education and politics is still felt today. She published eleven books and several collections of letters, yet her work was criticized shortly after her death. This was done in part Godwin, who published Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1798) including his own memoirs of her, which were not always fair or true. The result was that her private life became the object of attention rather than her professional achievement, which nearly led to Wollstonecraft’s works disappearing from intellectual discussions. In spite of this, her ideas survived centuries, and they are surprisingly relevant today. She showed no fear in blaming male point of views and their conception of society, she even attacked them. Fortunately, she did refer to popular men’s thoughts, which could create her a larger audience in her days.
Rousseau was one of her intellectual contemporaries and her most criticised one, too. In A Vindication of the Rights of Women, she cited and commented long passages from Emile where he degraded women. She interpreted his opinion as meaning that he did not want women to be wives or sensible mothers but pleasing mistresses instead. In contrast, Wollstonecraft proposed that at schoolgirls get the same exercises as boys right from the very beginning of their schooling education onwards to have the same educational foundations. She was aware that she could not “breed a generation of independent and unattached women like herself, but that she seeks to develop wiser and more virtuous mothers”. This paper will analyse the political and social ideas of A Vindication of the Rights of Women by comparing her contribution to contemporary intellectuals regarding her primary aim of achieving sexual independence for all women.
Wollstonecraft was influenced by the various epochs and writers of her time. The three major developments that her ideas were influenced by were the Enlightenment (1690-1780) - the Age of Reason; the era of profound faith in the powers of human reason; of devotion to clarity of thought, to harmony, proportion and balance; of tolerance; of individuality and of genius; the French Revolution (beginning in 1789) - the fight for democracy and freedom over monarchy; and American Revolution (beginning in the 1770’s) - the fight for independence from Great Britain). She also interacted in the intellectual circles that included four particular writers she was influenced by. The first of these was Thomas Paine (1737-1809), an English-American journalist who fought for the independence of the USA. After the French Revolution, he was naturalized in Paris and was later banished from the French national convention as he was a follower of the underground moderate wing of the French Republicans. Edmund Burke (1729-1797) was the second writer who greatly influenced Wollstonecraft. He was an English politician and author on economic topics, he was a follower of the Whigs and an opponent of the French Revolution. His conservative and idealistic politics influenced romantic thinkers in France and Germany. Jean-Jeaques Rousseau (1712-1778), French-Swiss author, writer, philosopher and educationalist also influenced her. He was an important ideologist of the revolutionary lower-middle class before the outbreak of the French Revolution and precursor of the Jacobins. Rousseau lived mostly in France, where he was a member of the radical wing of the encyclopedists (a group who worked on the French encyclopedia headed by Diderot and d’Alembert in the second half of the 18th century). As an opponent of absolutism and monarchy, he demanded a Republican type of state in which the people have all the power. His idealization of the natural state made him the precursor of Romanticism, and he wrote critiques on cultural, educational and constitutional writings. The last of the four writers who had the greatest influence on Wollstonecraft was Arouet Voltaire (1694-1178), philosopher, author, and the main representative of the French Enlightment. Also a collaborator of the encyclopedia, he was a social critic with a tough, penetrating style. He fought for Enlightment, tolerance, and humanity while he fought against church, dogma, and suppression. He was a follower of deism and wrote dramas, stories, histories and an epic.
For the next 50 years after the beginning of the French Revolution, Europe was terrified of a repetition of the upheaval. Revolutionary ideas such as Paine’s and Wollstonecraft’s were seen as dangers to the foundations of society. Many feared that these unconventional thoughts would spread to other nations across Europe.
During the early Romantic period and later Victorian Age the question of “what are the rights and responsibilities of women in society” was debated. The stereotypical woman began to change. The ideal woman became less of an “angel in the house” to one with more education and practical duties. The issue of women’s rights and responsibilities has existed since men and women have been put on earth together. However, the issue was brought to the forefront during the early Romantic period for three reasons: the French Revolution, the introduction of legislation in Great Britain and, finally, the Industrial Revolution. The French Revolution had an extreme impact on the discussion of women’s rights issues as the discussion of the natural rights of man emerged. It was during this period that Marie-Jean-Antoine Condorcet (1743-1794) wrote his famous work A Vindication of the Rights of Man, arguing for citizenship rights. Condorcet was a French philosopher, mathematician, astronomer and collaborator of the encyclopedia, his idealistic theory of the progressive development of human beings in ten stages strongly influenced civil sociology. He was furthermore a follower of physiocracy, economics thought founded by Francois Quesnay in the 18th century, content based on the concept that the state should adapt the order of society by laws of the natural order and to protect property and the principal of granting and non-intervention. After Condorcet’s work was published, Mary Wollstonecraft published her work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, in which she protested the current woman’s situation.
Later, British legislature passed the Reform Bills of 1832 and 1867 in which universal suffrage was granted to many inhabitants of Britain, but still excluding women. Lastly, during the Industrial Revolution, many lower-class women began to leave the house and their domestic duties to work in textile factories, causing many middle class women to question their housebound positions. Up until that point, Women had embodied innocence and gentleness in society’s eyes in Romanticism. Emphasis was placed on their appearance, and many women excelled in sensory talents such as music and dance. Marriage and having the love of a man was seen as an acceptable goal for every woman. Women could almost be seen as slaves to men, however, many people believed that nature created women as such, and thus her state was not deplorable. It was this conceived natural state of women that made many men and women begin to react against it. For example, Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855: English writer, who fought for the emancipation of woman and against civil hypocrisy in her novels and lyric poetry) wrote in Jane Eyre, “Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers”. Mary Wollstonecraft argued in her Vindication that the innocence so prized in woman makes a woman a child and less than a rational creature. She urged women to instead of leading sheltered uneducated lives to “endeavor to acquire strength, both of mind and body”. She reacted against the notion that women could not be educated because nature made their souls different and not conducive to education. Many women and men believed that woman had the potential to be educated as there was no innate difference between the soul of men and women. Women, just as men, had intellectual capacity.
The question of marriage and domestic duties also became a highly debated topic of the times. Wollstonecraft wrote in 1790 that women should be married, raise children, and oversee domestic duties. However, she also advocated for friendship in marriage instead of love. Moreover, she believed women should not be educated in order to give them other options besides domestic duties, but to make them more efficient in these duties. Later, as the women’s rights movement progressed, some women began to question the position of women in the household. One woman who questioned this was Florence Nightingale (1820-1919), an English nurse and social reformer who organized improved care of the wounded and more hygienic treatment in sick bays during the Crimean War, developed a significant working plan for civil and military nursing, and who established nursing schools and soldier hostels. She asked in 1852 in her work Cassandra, which she labeled as a “record of frustration,” why “have women passion, intellect, moral activity – these three – and a place in society where no one of these three are exercised?” Like her, more and more women began to advocate their right to work outside the home. Harriet Martineau, for example, wrote in her autobiography how she felt liberated when she was forced to work for a living because her family came upon hard times, and that, “by being thrown, while it was yet time, on our own resources, we have worked hard an usefully, won friends, reputation and independence, seen the world abundantly, abroad and at home, and, in short, have truly lived instead of vegetated”.
The transition of the ideal woman figure from one with few rights in society to one with more freedom was not immediate. In order for the position of woman to be changed, society as a whole had to be educated. As Jane Austin astutely pointed out, “The image of woman conveyed to the modern reader is overwhelmingly made by men”. To change this perception, many women took to the pen themselves and began to write, discuss, and debate the role of woman. As Stuart Curran asserted, “There were thousands of women in Great Britain writing between the years of 1780 and 1830” and they sought “independence and identity through their writing”.
The emergence of the novel had important implications in the development of women’s rights. Read and written by women, the novel was in some respects a dialogue between women about women. Women began to protest their repressed state through the young female heroines of their novels. The general trend of the women’s ideal centered on liberty. Many women advocated for the liberty to have careers and be educated in intellectual pursuits as well as the liberty to be counted as equal to men. This acquisition was by no way immediate nor acceptable to both sexes. However, many women and men felt the need for a change in the ideal role of women, and thus worked for more women’s rights. Many people continued, and still continue, to believe that a woman’s place is the home in a subservient position to men.
Rousseau said, “The education of women should always be relative to that of men. To please, to be useful to us, to make us love and esteem them, to educate us when young, to take care of us when grown up, to advise, to console us, to render our lives easy and agreeable; these are the duties of women at all times, and what they should be taught in their infancy.” Certainly Rousseau broke no ground regarding the topic of women. Nearly a hundred years before his writing Emile, Mrs. Makin published An Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewomen. In her Serious Proposal to Ladies of 1694, Mary Astell advocated a convent where serious-minded women might retire for study and contemplation.
Daniel Defoe supported the idea that men should take women for companions, and educate women to be fit for marriage. In his Essay on Projects, he suggested an academy for women where they might study whatever they chose. He observed as early as 1697, “We reproach the sex every day with folly and impertinence, while I am confident, had they the advantages of education equal to us, they would be guilty of less than ourselves.” Women should have been taught all sorts of breeding suitable both to their genius and quality. They should have been taught languages, in particular French and Italian, and they should have, as a particular study, been taught all the graces of speech. They should have been moved to read books, especially on history, as to read would make them understand the world and be able to know and judge of things when they heard of them. Defoe even glorifies the female sex in saying that a woman well bred and well taught, furnished with the additional accomplishments of knowledge and behaviour, is a creature without comparison. Her society is the emblem of more sublime enjoyments, her person is angelic, and her conversation heavenly. She is all softness and sweetness, peace, love, wit, and delight. She is in every way suitable to the most sublime wish, and the man that has the fortune to have her companionship, has to do nothing other than to rejoice in her and be thankful. Yet Defoe did not ever think that God Almighty made them so delicate, glorious creatures and furnishing them with such charms so agreeable and delightful to mankind, with souls capable of the same accomplishments as men, just so that they could be Stewards of our Houses, Cooks, and Slaves. Defoe longed for the days when men would become wise enough to mend that which he criticized.
Heather E. Wallace gives, without scruples, a woman’s education to women, and claims that they love the cares of their sex, that they possess modesty, and that they know how to grow old in their cage and keep busy in their house. Helen Evans Misenheimer pointed out that Rousseau leaves out the sexual education in Emile in describing Sophie. In fact, she is his sexual identity in the book. Rousseau in general considered a man’s union with a woman a debasement of his nature, but also contradicted himself. While insisting on the importance of motherhood, he stumbled when it came to his views on women’s role as mothers. In addressing the issue of mothers in Book I of Emile, he acknowledged their primacy in the education of youth. However, he denied that women possessed the ability to reason, hence denying their ability to raise children, which Mary Wollstonecraft later attempts to prove. Francis Gribble proposed, “Contemporary critics contended that Jean Jacques did not mean a word that he said; the difficulty of modern critics is to discover him saying anything at all which he did not immediately afterwards contradict.”
Wollstonecraft discussed the dichotomy of women in Rousseau's writings. She claimed that Rousseau saw woman as totally subservient to man, a mere plaything for the superior sex. Yet the moment he inserted Sophie in the woman’s role in his educational theories put forth in Emile, he encouraged others to give the question of just how subservient she was further thought at a moment in history when social revolution uniquely supported her. This is exactly the cause which Wollstonecraft took up to prove women should not be.
Perhaps the single most important Enlightenment writer was the philosopher, novelist, composer, music theorist, language theorist, etc., Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He was born on June 28, 1712 in Geneva, Switzerland. His mother died shortly after his birth and, and when Rousseau was 10 his father fled from Geneva to avoid imprisonment for a minor offense, leaving young Jean-Jacques to be raised by an aunt and uncle. Rousseau left Geneva at 16, wandering from place to place, finally moving to Paris in 1742. He earned his living during this period working as everything from footman to assistant to an ambassador.
This allrounder, who was a defender of personal rights, did not believe that such individual liberty was for women. He thought that women were not able to reason, and only trusted men to use thought and reason. In his opinion, only men could thus be seen as citizens, not women. Rousseau and many other writers contributed to rendering women more artificial, weak characters than they would otherwise have been, more useless members of society. The contents of their books tended to degrade this particular one-half of the human species. According to Rousseau, man attained a degree of perfection of mind when his body arrived at maturity, and that it might be proper to make a man and his wife one. With this philosophy, Rousseau declared that a woman should never for a moment feel independent. She should be governed by fear in order to subdue her natural cunning, and be made a coquettish slave in order to render her a more alluring object of desire, a sweeter companion to man, whenever he chose to relax. He held the opinion that truth and fortitude, the corner-stones of all human virtue, should be cultivated with certain restrictions, because, with respect to the female character, obedience is the grand lesson which ought to be impressed with unrelenting rigour.
He also thought about the character of woman: She is weak and passive because she has less bodily strength than man. Hence, he inferred that she was created to please and to be subject to him, that “They must be subject, all their lives, to the most constant and severe restraint, which is that of decorum.” This was her duty to render herself agreeable to her master. He stressed that man should not exert his strength, but depend on the will of the woman when he sought pleasure with her. Sweetness of temper was a very important character trait in a woman. However, Rousseau thought that the strongest of the sexes is only the master in appearance, but actually depends on the weakest, “not from any frivolous practice of gallantry or vanity of protectorship, but from an invariable law of nature, which, furnishing woman with a greater facility to excite desires that she has given man to satisfy them, makes the latter dependent on the good pleasure of the former and compels him to endeavour to please in his return, in order to obtain her consent that he should be strongest.”
On the one hand, Rousseau thought that man and woman were not constituted alike in temperament and character, and so they should not be educated in the same manner. On the other hand, he pointed out, “Educate women like men, […] and the more they resemble our sex, the less power they will have over us.” “Woman and man were made for each other,” but their dependence is different. The man depends on the woman because of his desires, the woman on her desires and her necessities. Rousseau concluded that men could also subsist without women more easily than they could without men. Concerning children, he thought that boys and girls have many common amusements, but the older they became, the more different their tastes became. Boys like sports, noise, drums, spinning tops, and little carts; girls love mirrors, trinkets, and dolls. Females were taught needlework instead of reading and writing. By learning this they thought with pleasure that such qualifications would enable them to decorate themselves, and by analyzing this observation Rousseau expressed indirectly that a young woman without any mind was very pleasing.
Finally, Rousseau claimed that a woman and a man as a couple form one moral person in which the woman may be termed the eyes, and the man the hand. Their dependence on each other means that the woman must learn from the man what she sees, and the man must learn from the woman what he is to do. If both lived in a partnership but independent of each other, they would live in perpetual discord and their union could not subsist. Through their dependence upon each other, they create harmony and are able to tend to a common end. Rousseau believed their children should form an even more permanent connection between a couple than love.
In Wollstonecraft’s most famous work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman , she used radical principles of liberty and equality in her sexual politics. Rights of Woman is a devastating critique of the ‘false system of education’ which was forcing the middle-class women to live within a stifling ideal of femininity and which, “Taught from infancy that beauty is women’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage seeks only to adore its prison.” However, Wollstonecraft saw women as “rational creatures” who should aspire to a wider human ideal which combines feeling with reason and the right to independence.
Wollstonecraft lived a difficult, brave, and tragically short life of continual quest for financial, intellectual and sexual independence. She earned her own living by enduring the orthodox female occupations of paid companion and governess. As she had published Rights of Woman, she established herself in radical London circles as a professional writer. Wollstonecraft struggled to break conventional forms in her works, for example in A Short Residence in Sweden (This work, a story of her journey to Scandinavia in 1795 with her two-year-old daughter and a maid on behalf of her unfaithful lover Gilbert Imlay, consists of a series of personal letters. It includes categories with travel writing, political commentary and a love story ) In the unfinished Maria (Maria, or The Wrongs of Woman) written after Rights of Woman, she uses the forms of popular fiction to paint a disturbing portrait of a society which abuses and excludes women of all classes. Wollstonecraft died of puerperal fever eight days after the birth of her second daughter, the future Mary Shelley. In 1798 Wollstonecraft’s husband William Godwin (1756-1836: political philosopher, representative of anarchistic, social reforming ideas in his novels) published his agonizing Memoirs of the Author of The Rights of Woman. Wollstonecraft’s political opponents condemned her as an ‘unsex’d female’. However, historians rediscovered that her work survived as an example and a challenge to the nineteenth-century women’s movement. Two hundred years later she is seen as an inspiring figure whose writings are vital to our understanding of the origins of modern feminism.
Deeply religious, Wollstonecraft believed that God created men and women as equal and perfect. Literary interpreters explained “Wollstonecraft as an egalitarian rationalist, whose central thesis is that since men and women are all essentially rational spirits whose virtues are of the same kind, they ought to be given the same education, rights and liberties.” She believed in a future where people are free, autonomous and equal, and where people could act according to their own principles. This belief was very important in order to change social status quos of this time. Unfortunately, she did not explain how this equality should be economically realized. She gave many reasons to explain the falseness of the notion that men and women are unequal. After all, Women, especially mothers, needed reason and emotions to manage a home and raise their children. In fact, what if the husband died and the woman was left alone? She would be completely lost if she did not have any knowledge about how to make a living on her own and would quite possibly have another man she probably did not love even just to maintain her living standard and to feed her children. She would have never thought or acted for herself up to this point of life. She had only learned to please men and to gracefully serve them. She would have to obtain another protector or husband who supplied the source of reason.
Wollstonecraft in turn even called men incomplete because they were just ruled by their appetites and their compulsion to oversee intellectual women. She was also for a soulful relationship not a marriage based on desire. She said, “The man who can be contented to live with a pretty, useful companion without a mind has lost in voluptuous gratifications a taste for more refined enjoyments; he has never felt the calm satisfaction that refreshes the parched heart like the silent drew of heaven- of being beloved by one who could understand him […] ‘The charm of life’, said a grave philosophical reasoner, is ‘sympathy; nothing pleases us more than to observe in other men a fellow feeling with all the emotions of our own breast.’ Mary Wollstonecraft sees the inequality of men and women partly in nature and partly in education. “Nature having made men unequal by giving stronger bodily and mental powers to one than to another, the end of government ought to be, to destroy this inequality by protecting the weak”. She felt that therefore women should have their own guaranteed representatives in politics, the ideal being if 50 percent of all seats in the legislature were filled with female politicians. She proposed the division of the voters. Women should vote for women and men for men. The only disadvantage here was that nobody could any longer influence the election of the other sex. It may also led to an isolation of each other.
Wollstonecraft recognized a better general diffusion of knowledge in France than in other European countries, which perhaps had something to do with the social intercourse of the sexes. Personal reserve, sacred respect for cleanliness, and delicacy in domestic life were almost despised by French women, but they had to work to improve the morals of their fellow-citizens to labour for men would respect modesty in women and to acquire it themselves, as the only way to merit their esteem. Freedom, the French thought, strengthened the reason of women so that they were able to comprehend their duties. For Wollstonecraft´s part, she had sufficient strength of mind to be able to exert her own reason, only dependent on God for the support of her virtue. She loved men as her fellows, but she did not accept their sceptre.
The Picture of Women in the Community
The picture of women in the community was often portrayed as their being made to be loved. Indeed, many considered the female sex as the weakest as well as the most oppressed half of the species. A man was probably seen as a superior being accidentally caged in a human body. The same scheme applied to the few extraordinary women who had ventured in eccentric directions out of the orbit prescribed for their sex. Only “few women have emancipated themselves from the galling yoke of sovereign man.” They appeared to be male spirits, confined by mistake in female frames. Unfortunately, one did not often heard of women who boldly claimed respect on account of their great abilities or daring virtues. Society only expected more spiritual or emotional virtues from them – patience, docility, good humour, and flexibility – virtues which have little to do with any vigorous exertion of intellect. Instead of being occupied by duties, women were always on the watch for adventures. For example, when a man travelled he only thought about the aim of his trip. A woman thought more of the incidental occurrences, the strange things which perhaps occurred, the impression she made on other travellers. She gave great considerations to the clothes she carry with her to dress appropriately for any given occasion. In fact, women seemed to have acquired all the follies and vices of society. Women were made marital and domestic slaves, so they were expected to free themselves from listless inactivity and stupid acquiescence.
The Home as the Women’s Sphere
Wollstonecraft accepted that women’s sphere was the home, but home should not be isolated from public life. Public and domestic life should be connected in her view. Home should form a foundation for social and, therefore, public life. State and public life should enhance and serve the individual and the family so men should in addition have duties in the family and women likewise duties to the state. Wollstonecraft believed women to be able to follow more serious intellectual pursuits. However, it was generally thought that domestics were the only thing women were good for. The dream of Wollstonecraft was to create a society with the constitution that man either had to fulfil his duties as a citizen or be despised, and that a man should be employed away from family, his wife, who was also an active citizen, should be able to manage their family, educate their children, and assist her neighbours just as well as the man would.
The Right of A Woman to Be Educated
Wollstonecraft stressed that as long as women were not more rationally educated, the progress of human virtue and improvement in knowledge should undergo continual checks. A woman was not created merely to gratify the appetite of man, nor to be the upper servant who provides his meals and takes care of his linen. Emancipation was to come through education. Education, she argued, strengthens the marital relationship, this social contract between two individuals. Thus, a woman must have equal knowledge and sense to maintain the partnership. She further stressed that a stable marriage provides for the proper education of children. A perfect education can be seen as exercise to strengthen the body and form the heart or to enable the individual to attain habits of virtue as will render it independent.
The Woman as Sexual Being
Frequently in this era, a pretty woman was seen as an object of desire by men, whilst a fine woman, who inspired more sublime emotions by displaying intellectual beauty, may have been overlooked or observed with indifference by those men who found their happiness in gratification of their appetites. Wollstonecraft acknowledged that women are sexual beings, but that men are too, so female chastity and fidelity should require male chastity and fidelity in a stable marriage. Nevertheless she acknowledged that men and women should put duty over sexual pleasure, meaning that those who control the family size are those who strengthen the family and the individual in the family and serve the public interest through raising better citizens.
Duty above Pleasure
Duty above pleasure did not mean that emotions were unimportant for Wollstonecraft. She wanted feeling and thought to be in harmony with each other. The harmony of feeling and thought was said to be reason. Women should not dream life away in the lap of pleasure, or the languor of weariness. They should assert their claim to pursue reasonable pleasures, and should render themselves conspicuous by practising the virtues which dignify mankind. According to her master and mistress of a family should not continue to love each other with passion since they should otherwise not be able to fulfil the duties of life and to pursue the various employments which form the moral character. Alas, she saw that the love of pleasure indeed led some men to marry only to have a safe bedfellow, to seduce their wives. Yet, love as animal appetite, she thought, could not be effective for very long. The husband’s attention disappears, and after having been treated like a goddess, the woman can not imagine becoming a mere upper servant that she never wanted to become. In addition, Wollstonecraft believed that a woman was independent if she discharged her duties. Her first duty was to be rational and the second was being a mother. In real life a woman was dispensed of these duties and was degraded as a mere doll. By neglecting domestic duties, she had no power to win to prevent the rusting of her faculties.
The Missing of Reason
Women were seen a lot in sensing and feeling activities combined with fashion and beauty which denigrated their reason. Therefore, they were less able to maintain their part in a partnership, which reduced their effectiveness as educators of children and made them less dutiful as citizens. Wollstonecraft wanted society to see feeling and thought together without separating the two as one attribute possessing for woman and one for man. According to Wollstonecraft, women had to be brought nearer to nature and reason to become more virtuous and useful and win more respect. There were many women who strengthened their minds by struggling with their vices and follies instead of being supported by the reason and virtue of their fathers and brothers to bring their reason back to a natural dependent state. Wollstonecraft was of the opinion that raising children and that the creation of a rich body and mind was a destiny of women, but to be able to do this, they had to show reason and their minds had to be able to absorb more.
Virtue Among Women
The probability of finding virtue among women was much greater in lower classes. Poor women supported their children with every effort and tried to keep together their families which would otherwise have likely scatter abroad because of the vices of the fathers. Gentlewomen were too indolent to be actively virtuous, so society softened them instead by refining them. Although they had few advantages of education the good sense could nevertheless be met among poor women and they consequently acted heroically. Rifling employments seemed to make a woman a trifler. Still in the upper classes it was unjust of a man to tyrannize a woman while she nevertheless caressed him with true feminine softness. The narrow views and selfishness of women’s virtue proved this true. “Beauty, gentleness, etc., may gain a heart; but esteem, the only lasting affection, can alone be obtained by virtue supported by reason. It is respect for the understanding that keeps alive tenderness for the person.” Who had fallen from grace in men´s eyes did not get the possibility to regain respectability by returning to virtue, but men did not lose respect their reputation through the indulgence of vice. Therefore, women endeavoured to preserve their reputation and tried to lead chaste lives and to swallow their sorrows. However, neither religion nor virtue when residing in the heart, required this. Behaviour must always be proper and motives have to be pure.
Equality of Women and Men
When women and men are equally free and dutiful towards family and state true freedom can be created. To achieve such equality an equal and qualified education for women is necessary including the education of their duties to educate their children, to be an equal partner to her husband to make themselves creatures of thought and feeling, therefore, of reason. Women need self- realization, self- reliance and self- respect instead of dependence and control. If they are not permitted to enjoy legitimate rights, they will render men and themselves vicious to obtain illicit privileges. Women should be seen as a moral agent and not the link which united men with brutes. Their minds should be cultivated, she should get a salutary, sublime curb of principle and attain conscious dignity by feeling themselves only dependent on God. They should be taught like men to submit to necessity, instead of giving a sex to morals. Their ambitions should not be to raise emotion, but to inspire respect. Wollstonecraft stressed that men and women should treat each other with respect: personal respect, modest respect of humanity, and empathy. Respect for man is the foundation of every noble sentiment. The want of modesty belongs to morality. Actually, a woman needed her husband, who had to lend her his reason by educating their children. Finally, only both together made one moral being.
Mistakes in Women’s Infancy
In the 18th century women were taught that a little knowledge of human weakness like cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience, and a scrupulous attention to a puerile kind of propriety would give them the protection of men. It was impossible for women to endeavour in co-operation with God. Doing everything in an orderly manner was seldom manageable for women because they only received a disorderly kind of education which was regarded to be unimportant for them. In addition, it was a great misfortune that women acquired manner before morals. The woman who had only been taught to please would soon find that her charms were obliqued sunbeams, and that they could have had much effect on her husband’s heart when they were seen every day, when the summer was passed and gone. If a woman was only taught to please men still found happiness in her pleasing, she was an example of folly and vice to her innocent daughter. Then she did not played the mother role any longer, but only a coquette in embodying just the sexual emotions of her husband. Instead of being a friend to her daughter, she saw a rival in her because she was much more attractive in her young age. Due to education, genteel women were slaves to their bodies, and glory in their subjection. Taught from their infancy that beauty was a woman’s sceptre, the mind shaped itself to the body and, roaming round its gilt cage, only sought to adore its prison. In contrast, men had various employments and pursuits which engaged their attention and gave a character to the opening mind.
If a woman had lost her honour, she felt that she could not fall lower. Her former station in life seemed impossible to recover. Consequently, she lost every spur and since she had no other means of support, prostitution became a kind of refuge. Men would never resort to such things. Just because of the educated woman’s state of idleness and because a woman was always meant to look up to man for a livlihood and to give him her body in return for his exertions. The female sex orientated to the views of the parents, and these parents did not often ask for the inclination or did not provide for the comfort of the girls. The consequences were: “these dutiful daughters become adulteresses, and neglect the education of their children, from whom they, in turn, expect the same kind of obedience.” The female sex was very much under the dominion of their parents all over the world. This kind of slavish bondage cramped every faculty of the mind.
Solutions and Goals Women Should Have Struggled for to Change the Situation of Women
Wollstonecraft mentioned many proposals for solutions and goals women should have struggled for to change their situation in the 18th century. Firstly, she based the superiority of the male sex on bodily strength. Indeed, the virtue and the ability to absorb knowledge of the two sexes should have been the same in nature. Women should have not only been considered as moral but also as rational creatures. According to Wollstonecraft, they should endeavour to acquire human virtues by the same means as men instead of being educated like a fanciful kind of half-being. If there was not more equality in society, if ranks were not abolished, and if women were not free, then domestic happiness could not be created. She mentioned six solutions to conquer the inequality of the two sexes. Firstly, the task of education could not be carried out appropriately if the body got more attention than the mind. Women only became foolish and depraved if they were ignorant. A revolution in female manners would improve mankind. Wollstonecraft believed that female follies resulted from the tyranny of man. If women were allowed to be free in a physical, moral and civil sense, they would change their characters and correct their vices and follies.
Secondly, Wollstonecraft’s opinion was that wealth and female softness equally tended to debase mankind. Women should allowed to be rational beings and they should encourage to acquire virtues which they are able to call their own. The understanding of woman could thus enlarge and her character could made more firm if she were allowed to govern her own conduct, and then she was better able to manage raising her children properly. If a family wanted to secure ease and prosperity they would act prudently in giving the children an early insight into the weaknesses of nature. In addition, those who really wanted to possess modesty had to know that ignorance and vanity were out of place. The quest for love should not be the whole goal in life, because the heart was not strong enough to give modesty the great importance which was needed in a close union of humanity. The government did not care for the happiness of one-half of its citizens, which was a very imperfect government. “In order to render their private virtue a public benefit, they must have a civil existence in the State, married or single”
Thirdly, women should struggle for the prize of her high calling and she should cultivate her understanding without stopping to consider what character the husband whom she is destined to marry may have. A proper education and a well-stored mind would have had enabled a woman to support a single life with dignity. Rousseau said, “Educate women like men, and the more they resemble our sex, the less power they will have over us.” This was the point Wollstonecraft liked to stress that women should not have power over men, but over themselves. The power over feelings and a lofty, dignified affection helped mothers not to spoil their children. Sensitive women were very unfit for raising a child since carried away by their feelings, they spoiled a child’s temper. It was very important that the temperament of a child was well developed. This required the sober and steady eye of reason by mothers and a plan of conduct which was distant from tyranny and indulgence like men had.
Fourthly, Wollstonecraft asked all women to fight against narrow-minded prejudices. They should endeavour to strengthen their minds to acquire virtue and knowledge, so that their heads formed a balance for their hearts. Women needed duties, which were subordinate, to grand tasks to improve their minds and to prepare their affections for a more exalted state of mind. Unfortunately, “a women will pardon an affront to her understanding much sooner than one to her person.” A woman should be aware that her body could not be as attractive to her husband as it was to her lover. Women had to stop to act up to such opinions.
Fifthly, Wollstonecraft was convinced that woman were needed as representatives in government to have direct influence in the deliberations of government. She suggested that women should study the art of healing, and she was sure that they would be able to become physicians, nurses and politicians. Women had been able to find many different employments, but there had to be a change in the system of education to achieve a better condition for women. Even achieving this they should not neglect their domestic and family duties. However, the few jobs there were for women did not get much respect, and if a woman was able to work as a governesses because she had received a superior education, she was not treated in the same way as tutors of the sons in the family for which she worked.
And sixthly, in the eyes of Wollstonecraft, both sexes were improved if they were educated together in private families as well as in public schools. Mankind should be educated by the same system, if marriage had the basis of community. A marriage would have become sacred if women were brought up with men, so that women were prepared to be the companions rather than the mistresses of men. Indirectly, a woman had a lot of power, but this power created degradation, because it was a forbidden power. In order to lead women back to nature and duties, the government should establish day-schools for particular ages, in which boys and girls were educated together. Those schools should make no distinctions between poor and rich pupils. All children should wear similar clothes to avoid the creation of vanity. The school should be surrounded by school yards in which physical exercises could be done. Such exercises supported perfection, joy, and improvement and amusement of the senses, but they moreover created change and produced compensation for sedentary employments. In schools in which boys and girls were together, both sexes would be able to find dignity together ; tasteless “making a exhibition of oneself” would not exist any longer because it will become a natural state of being going to school together.
Weakness of Women
Wollstonecraft´s view was that the weakness of mind and body frequently prevented women of the upper classes from fulfilling the duties of their sex. Surely, it would not have been a natural state if women because of her weakness of body, had been not able to suckle her children and if she, because of weakness of mind, had spoiled their temperaments. Some evidence of this weakness which was due to ignorance was the fact that many women were drawn to fortune-tellers. Those women who did not carry out their wifely and domestic duties. Another example of female weakness of character was their romantic frame of mind. Women were taught to search for their happiness in love, and by doing so they worked themselves up in sensual feelings, and therefore, they were led to neglect their above mentioned duties of life. The main employment of a woman was to please men. Societies political and civil oppression prevented her from doing more important tasks, and so sentiments became events for her, she thought too much about those feelings, and became lost in them. The third female weakness of character was her vanity due to ignorance and mistaken cunning. Wollstonecraft wanted to convince women to reduce their fondness for dress in order not to rest only on the outer appearance. Wollstonecraft pointed out that all causes of female weakness and depravity stemmed from men’s desire for them to be chaste. To satisfy them, women were made voluptuous, so this heartless intercourse with the opposite sex depraved both sexes because the taste of men was vitiated and women squared this behaviour for their pleasure and to gain power. Hence, women of the upper classes became weaker in mind and body and were not any longer able to bear and nurse children, which actually should have been one of the grand purposes of their existence. They did not have sufficient strength to fulfil their duty of a mother. Women of the lower classes did not have the chance to decide. In order to make a living a poor woman had to work and nurse her children on her own.
The book The Woman of Reason is about feminism, humanism and political thoughts. In this work, written in 1989, the author Karen Green (lecturer in Philosophy at Monash University in Australia) uncovers the female version of rationality and calls for a reconceptionalizing of common rationality and liberalism regarding women’s thoughts in the last 200 years. She starts out explaining the thoughts of two very important philosophers and their works. Plato´s Republic and Aristotle´s Politics. Both describe their ideal society which is based on patriarchy for Aristotle and equality of opportunities for Plato. Green goes on explaining Christine de Pisan who is said to be the first feminist. She compares Pisan with Thomas Hobbes´ moral psychology and comes to the conclusion that they differ massively. Another chapter compares Mary Wollstonecraft and Jean- Jacques Rousseau which will be discussed in the following lines. Simone de Beauvoir, a post- structuralist, speaks about new times for women where they can rethink their positions in life and where they can live according to their own interests and logics. In the 70´s the issue feminism became debatable and interesting for a larger audience. It even became accepted in political philosophies.
According to Green the various standpoints are based on either masculine and feminine theories. The feminine theory is led through moral motives and sentiments with a clear tendency to love. The masculine theory manifests itself in the search of liberation and freedom, reason and moral motivation, which does not necessarily include moral desires. She also claims that the “asymmetry between the sexes is attacked as unjustified and ultimately motivated by male self-interest, libertinism, and in the case of Rousseau, an excess of sensibility”. She explains Rousseau’s sensibility as being a result of his passionate friendship at that time. Green thinks about equalitarian parenthood, where man and woman have the same rights but it was not possible in this period that women could be able live independently from their husbands because they did not earn any money in doing the household. The same problem exists in our modern times. It would be perfect to earn money for the household so that a woman could leave her perhaps tyrannical husband if necessary.
Furthermore, she compares the two philosophers Wollstonecraft and Rousseau. They had many philosophical views in common. Wollstonecraft shared Rousseau’s love of nature and his interest in moral sentiments. Both divided the term autonomy into three parts: the physical or material autonomy, the moral autonomy and, finally, the psychic autonomy. Fundamental for both was moral autonomy, although achieving this was not fully possible when living in a society that expected integration of the individual to the community, and yet everybody was supposed to his or her moral autonomy up to a certain point. Psychic autonomy was also limited because a person who only cared for him- or herself was not a moral being any longer. However, psychic dependence to another person was a threat to one´s moral independence and that is why Rousseaus character Emile had to leave his educator Sophie, so as not to become dependent on her willings. Both agreed on the point of woman’s maternal role as being a very important one. Mothers should nurse their own children and care for them. Rousseau based his opinion on his views of naturalness and Wollstonecraft on her views of reasonableness. The opposing ideas of Wollstonecraft and Rousseau were much broader, especially, when regarding the inequality of men and women in daily life and in their education.
Rousseau opposed Wollstonecraft most concerning the subordination of women to men. Rousseau, seen by her as a cold rationalist, thought that a woman must be dutiful to her husband and follow him her whole life long. He partly contradicted this statement himself by saying: “Perhaps I said too much already. To what shall we reduce the education of women if we give them no law but that of conventional prejudice?” Rousseau described his methods in Emile, the story of a boy’s upbringing in a natural environment. Admiring his sentiment, Wollstonecraft applauded Rousseau’s scheme for Emile but deplored the neglect of Emile’s perfect wife, Sophie. Rousseau outlined his theories for the ideal education for women in Chapter V of Emile which was written between 1757 and 1761. Rousseau wrote that children should form a more permanent bond between a couple than love. If a woman ceased to be a man´s mistress, he philosophied, then she would become his wife, friend and mother of his children. Wollstonecraft agreed with him that children were “a much more permanent bond between married people than love.” However, she did not understand why he said that a girl had to be educated for her husband with special care, as she might be for an Eastern Harem, because he also wrote that a husband no longer valued beauty after having been married to his wife for six months.
Rousseau expected from women to be virtuous and constant, but he stressed that she was not allowed to think that reason is the foundation of their virtue and truth the object of their inquiries, either. He did not use his reason, “he became impassioned, and reflection inflamed his imagination instead of enlightening his understanding.” Therefore, Wollstonecraft denied only his sensibility that led him to reduce a woman by making her a slave of love. To hold the affection of a woman “whose sensibility was confined to one sex, …, it requires sense to turn sensibility” to everything except a sexual relationship. “Many women have not mind enough to have affection for a woman, or a friendship for a man.” Reason and understanding virtues that are necessary in order “to give variety and interest to sensual enjoyments.” If women would become rational creatures and free citizens, they would be good wives and mothers, “if men do not neglect the duties of husbands and fathers.”
Regarding their schooling, Wollstonecraft’s most famous and controversial work, Rights of Woman, was not the first work to advocate better education for women. Among Wollstonecraft's contemporaries, there were several in France who had written on behalf of women. Olympe de Gouges spoke boldly in defense of her sex in several publications, one titled A Declaration of the Rights of Woman. Condorcet advocated better education for women in Memoirs on Public Instruction. Wollstonecraft had reviewed Catherine Macaulay’s Letters on Education for the Analytical and acknowledged her debt to the work in Rights of Woman.
Another striking influence was the French Revolution. Like many English intellectuals, Wollstonecraft watched the it with great interest, anticipating that the monumental social experiment there would one day reach her shore. She, like many of her countrymen, looked hopefully to France as the great proving-ground. She espouses the cause of freedom in her Vindication of the Rights of Men, written in reply to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. She digressed occasionally in this work, criticizing the effects of wealth and rank, and chiding Burke for his fondness for waifishness and weakness in women.
Wollstonecraft´s immediate impetus for writing the Rights of Woman was Talleyrand’s Report on Public Institution, an outline of the projected plan of national education under a new French constitution. Talleyrand declared that girls should be educated with boys only until the age of eight. Wollstonecraft prefaces her book with a letter to Talleyrand which urges him and his compatriots not to deny women the right to educate throughout their childhood.
At the time of its publication in 1792 , A Vindication of the Rights of Women was considered radical and revolutionary. By the end of the year Joseph Johnson published a second edition of her book. An American edition, thereafter, appeared in Boston and Philadelphia, followed by a French translation in Paris and Lyons. Aaron Burr admired it and attempted to raise his own daughter according to its principles, although he complained in 1793 that he had “not yet met a single person who had discovered or would allow the merit of this book.” Contemporary reactions ranged from shock to amusement to enthusiasm. Despite a number of mean-spirited parodies, including A Sketch of the Rights of Boys and Girls and A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes, there is no doubt her book had a tremendous impact on British and American feminism. Her argument that one must educate mothers so they may better raise their children would be echoed by the advocates of the philosophical movement “Republican Motherhood” in the first years of the new American republic.
Mary Wollstonecraft's ideas were savagely attacked in England after her death, when the horrors of the French Revolution had convinced most Englishmen that all revolutionary theories were dangerous, because so many people were killed and persecuted. However, there is little doubt that her ideas live on and like Rousseau's, still have an impact on education. Public education, teaching by exploiting natural curiosity and teaching with practical applications, are all ideas that descended from Rousseau and Wollstonecraft. Most distinctive of these is Wollstonecraft’s radical notion that women and men be educated together. What is of greatest note is that Wollstonecraft is one of the most important women who laid the foundations for sexual independence. She was influenced by many men whom she analysed, criticized and supported their opinions.
Wollstonecraft’s feminism arose partly through personal experience and partly through her having had an education. In her childhood, she saw how her drunkard father beat her mother. She tried to prevent her father from hurting her mother by sleeping in front of her parent’s bedroom. When her mother died some years later, she left home and intended to make herself independent from men in order to prevent herself being beaten like her mother had been. Therefore, she educated herself and started numerous careers, for instance, as a girl’s school director, as a governess and finally as a translator and a writer. It was through her writing that she became famous by supporting a radically new democratic philosophy that supported women’s legal rights and by criticizing the social subordination of women, which was also very much supported by Rousseau, her biggest opponent.
Sometimes it seems Wollstonecraft’s liberalism did not go far enough in that she just seemed to contradict the opinions to many men of her day, who made a contribution concerning the role of women. Thus, she did not develop a concept that was her own. She took on male point of views instead of refusing the men’s ideological terms on a “debased, erotized femininity”. Although she used reference to the opinions of men who wrote and spoke about the subordination of women so that she could analyse, agree and criticize these opinions, she did however make progress with the woman’s movement and showed courage by discussing and writing about the rights of women.
By regarding male points of view she showed intelligence, first, by knowing this famous and influential people of her day, second, by knowing their opinions and third, by being able daring herself to attack them. She proved to have no fear in blaming men and in putting herself on the same stage as men. If she had just developed her own concepts, probably far fewer people would have taken her very seriously. By referring to popular men’s thoughts, she could create more interest and a greater chance of being listened to.
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 Ib. [= Abrams, p. 168]
 Ib. [= Abrams, p. 1734]
 Ib. [= Abrams, p. 1728]
 Stuart Curran, Women Readers, Woman Writers (Handout), p. 177.
 Ib. [= Curran, p. 179]
 Ralph M. Wardle, Mary Wollstonecraft, A Critical Biography (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1951), p. 143.
 Francis Gribble, Rousseau and the Women He Loved (as cited by Misenheimer), p. 4.
 Ib. [= Wollstonecraft, p. 180]
 Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (London: Penguin Books, 61992), 176.
 Ib. [= Wollstonecraft, p. 177]
 Green, Karen. 1995, 85. The Woman of Reason- Feminism, Humanism and Political Thought New York: CPC, 1995.
 Wollstonecraft, Mary. 1792, 188-9. Vindication of the Rights of Woman
 Wollstonecraft, Mary. 1989 (1794) ,17. The French Revolution in The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft London
 Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (London: Penguin Books, 1992 ), 119.
 Ib. [= Wollstonecraft, p. 199]
 Ib. [= Wollstonecraft, p. 275]
 Ib. [= Wollstonecraft, p.267]
 Ib. [= Wollstonecraft, p. 206]
 Green, Karen. 1995, 89. The Woman of Reason- Feminism, Humanism and Political Thought New York: CPC, 1995.
 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile (trans. Barbara Foxley, London, Melbourne: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1986), 345.
 Ib. [= Wollstonecraft, p. 191]
 Ib. [= Wollstonecraft, p. 192]
 Ib. [= Wollstonecraft, p. 302]
 Ib. [= Wollstonecraft, p. 302]
 Ib. [= Wollstonecraft, p. 302]
 Ib. [= Wollstonecraft, p. 306]
 Matthew L. Davis, Memoirs of Aaron Burr (as cited by Wardle), p.158.
2 Linda K. Kerber, “The Republican Mother”, Women’s America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 87-95.
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