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The first major feminist work in English.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Apart from Class ridden snobbery condemming working classes to manual work and paying attention to current social mores, Wollestonecraft makes a reasoned case for women to shove off the fripperies of womanhood and get into some solid educational DIY.
Her thesis is a woman is a better wife etc if she is educated rather than an uneducated bimbo who is more concerned with the latest fashion than by the state of her brain. I think this holds true.
Well worth reading, well written and an easy read in comparison to other philosophy texts.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Mary Wollstonecraft is often credited with being the world’s first feminist. That may be something of an exaggeration, but her 1792 treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is certainly renowned as the earliest, most powerful, most overtly feminist tract in the English language – despite having been written long before the word “feminism” was coined.The dense wordy style of an eighteenth century political tract is easily enough to put off the majority of modern readers, but – for the brave or committed reader – this work more than repays the effort required. Indeed, what struck me is how much of what Wollstonecraft says in A Vindication resounds in the modern world.Her argument (addressed primarily to the position of middle-class women) is that a lack of effective and appropriate education, and a distorted view of women’s purpose in life, have combined to render many or most women weak, foolish, vain, selfish, cunning and unfit for what Wollstonecraft sees as their peculiar (but not primary) duty – that of motherhood.[Aside: much to my satisfaction, there are a number of pro-breastfeeding remarks in A Vindication, and Wollstonecraft repeatedly makes the point that beauty requirements and other foolish demands on women make them averse to breastfeeding with potentially disastrous consequences!]She argues powerfully that society (by which she means, primarily, men – since they have all the education and the political and economic power) fails women in a number of ways.For one thing, it makes them utterly dependent financially on men – fathers, husbands, brothers or other relatives. The effect is that for self-preservation women must adopt a subservient, self-abasing attitude to men. This degrades them twice: once in dignity; and then (which makes me think of Dickens’ Uriah Heep!) by forcing them to use cunning – those famous “womanly wiles” – to get what they want or need but cannot obtain for themselves.Secondly, society assigns to women an obligation to please men, and to be pleasing to them. This springs in part from their aforementioned dependence on men, and is reinforced by the fact that precious little other outlet is given them for their emotions and ambitions. The consequence is that women, being admired far more for their persons than for their minds, expend all their care and effort on the former at the expense of the latter. They become vain, and bitchy, and obsessed with “beauty”, by which they mean weak delicate bodies decorated in whatever ornaments are currently in fashion.More than all this, what women suffer is a total lack of any education worth the name. It is their want of a proper education which narrows their horizons and reinforces both their dependence on men and their inordinate concern for petty things such as their dress or (by outward show, if not in practice) maintenance of the one virtue that no woman must be without – chastity.Such women as this, Wollstonecraft argues, inevitably become hopelessly caught up in “vice” – vanity and cupidity if nothing else – and will inevitably lack any real virtue such as genuine chastity, proper affection, loyalty or generosity, selfless friendship, or sound understanding. Moreover, such women as this will also invariably either neglect their children in favour of pursuing the “necessary” activity of continuing to please men by maintaining their beauty and other charms – or they will devote themselves excessively to their children but, because they lack both judgement and sound understanding, they will be unable to respond to their children properly and thus will risk spoiling either their health or their tempers, perhaps irremediably. In either case, such a woman as this will be unable to carry out her peculiar (but not primary) duty: to bring up children who are healthy, happy, well-behaved and suitably educated.Wollstonecraft’s primary aims in A Vindication are twofold.Firstly, she endeavours to sweep away the lingering idea – by making clear how nonsensical and self-contradictory it is – that Woman was made by God to be a plaything and propagator for Man, and that she has no true rationality or personhood of her own.Secondy, she makes a strident plea for proper education for women. If women were given a level playing field and still fell behind men, she says, it would be appropriate to charge them with inferiority. Unless and until that happens, she insists that no man can prove women inferior. But, she says, even if we believe that women are in some way less than men, they are still human beings, still rational creatures, and still (as she says) given an immortal soul which it is their sacred duty to expand and develop. It is wrong for women to be oppressed and prevented from meeting this sacred duty, merely because of an (unproved!) idea that women will or may not actually achieve their aim in the same degree as men. Indeed, if that were not argument enough, it should be remembered that failing to educate women properly will prevent them from meeting their secondary duty – that of mothering – because it renders them unfit for the job.In short: Women are Human! and Education for All!More than that, Wollstonecraft anticiaptes, by around two centuries, a surprising number of modern feminist ideas. Women as sex class? The beauty myth? Socially constructed gender roles? The seeds of all these ideas and more can be found in A Vindication. Wollstonecraft even suggests – although tentatively, aware of the response that she would get for it – that perhaps women might at some point have a legitimate claim to taking some part in the government of their country. So we can credit her with “Votes for Women!” too.Superb.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
As convenient as it can sometimes be, a disadvantage of reading from anthologies is that one can graduate from college with the vague notion that one has read a work in its entirety, only to discover later that in fact one has read only a page and a half of it in a long-forgotten Eighteenth-Century British Literature class. Which, as you may have guessed, is exactly what happened to me with Mary Wollstonecraft's seminal 1792 treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. I'm happy to have rectified my mistake at last and read Vindication from cover to cover. Unsurprisingly, Wollstonecraft's arguments assume a significant degree more complexity and idiosyncrasy on what I had, until recently, been thinking of as my "second time through."And in fact, as much as she would probably have disapproved of the comment, it was Wollstonecraft's own character that particularly appealed to me throughout this reading. I agreed with her on some points and disagreed with her on others, but throughout I enjoyed her forthrightness, her willingness, to use a modern phrase, to call bullshit on all the male arguments used to claim that women's natural state is one of gentle, slavish devotion, and that women should not be allowed physical or mental exertion. In her impatience with sickly-sweet yet fundamentally condescending verbiage about the "angelic innocence" of women, and with male writers' self-serving insistence that women are formed for the sole purpose of pleasing men, I spied a kindred spirit and was cheering (and sometimes, out of recognition) chuckling along with her outrage. I love how, for example, halfway through a passage quoted from Rousseau on his proposed method of educating women, she can't stand to wait until the end to comment and appends a footnote reading only, "What nonsense!" Neither is she afraid of the exclamation point: "Without knowledge there can be no morality!" she exclaims, and "Ignorance is a frail base for virtue!" I felt throughout, however, that she earned those exclamation points: these are infuriatingly simple and logical conclusions that are nonetheless STILL often disregarded when we educate girls to be sexy rather than smart, charming and flighty rather than honest and self-respecting.I particularly object to the lover-like phrases of pumped up passion, which are every where interspersed [in Fordyce's sermons]. If women be ever allowed to walk without leading-strings, why must they be cajoled into virtue by artful flattery and sexual compliments? Speak to them the language of truth and soberness, and away with the lullaby strains of condescending endearment! Let them be taught to respect themselves as rational creatures, and not led to have a passion for their own insipid persons. It moves my gall to hear a preacher descanting on dress and needle-work; and still more, to hear him address the British fair, the fairest of the fair, as if they had only feelings.I'm reminded of the men who yell at me as I walk down the street lost in thought: "You'd be prettier if you smiled!" As if being eye candy for random men is somehow supposed to be my top priority. Oh sorry! I forgot to think about PLEASING STRANGE MEN while I was cogitating on existential literature! And again:To carry the remark still further, if fear in girls, instead of being cherished, perhaps, created, were treated in the same manner as cowardice in boys, we should quickly see women with more dignified aspects. It is true, they could not then with equal propriety be termed the sweet flowers that smile in the walk of man; but they would be more respectable members of society, and discharge the important duties of life by the light of their own reason. 'Educate women like men,' says Rousseau, 'and the more they resemble our sex the less power will they have over us.' This is the very point I aim at. I do not wish them to have power over men; but over themselves.THANK YOU, MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT. Her discussions of what has come to be called "the male gaze"—the way in which girls and women are taught to think always of how their conduct will appear to men, and act accordingly, rather than acting to please themselves or in accordance with what is most appropriate to the situation—struck me as particularly insightful. In the paragraph following the one I quoted on Fordyce, for example, she points out that he (a preacher) tries to lure women into religious piety by arguing that men find it sexually attractive when women are lost in pious contemplation. Seriously, how insulting! I'm not even religious, and I understand how disrespectful that argument is to the deeply-held beliefs of people engaged with their faith. And yet, have things really changed? I'm reminded of so-called "womens' magazines" and the arguments they use to convince women to go to the gym: it's all about appearing more sexually attractive to a potential partner; and only lip-service is paid to the idea that a woman would value herself enough to want to make her body stronger and healthier for her own sake.Not that there weren't areas where Wollstonecraft and I diverge. She shares, for example, the common Enlightenment belief in humankind's ability to approach perfection through rational discourse, to achieve a state closer to God through the application of reason. Although I agree with her that men and women both benefit by the frequent exercise of their physical and mental faculties, I'm skeptical about how perfectible or rational the human race, or any individual, really is. Moreover, either because or in spite of my religious atheism/agnosticism, I tend to find Enlightenment arguments about the human ability to know God through logic a bit silly:The only solid foundation for morality appears to be the character of the supreme Being; the harmony of which arises from a balance of attributes;—and, to speak with reverence, one attribute seems to imply the necessity of another. He must be just, because he is wise, he must be good, because he is omnipotent.I mean, what? Judeo-Christian friends: is that sound theology? Why does one quality necessarily imply the others? I can easily imagine omnipotence without goodness, for example, just like every day I experience perfectly robust morality with no particular basis in divinity. Arguments like this always strike me as simply a human being imagining all the good things he can think of, combining them in his imagination into one Being, and then claiming that because he can conceptualize this Being, it must exist. And when I say "he," I mean Descartes. But apparently Mary Wollstonecraft as well. It's as if I made a drawing of my dream house, and then claimed that because I drew it, it must be available for purchase. My drawing doesn't prove that the house isn't available; but neither is it proof that it is.Not only that, but in her quest to agitate for the education of women as strong, rational creatures, Wollstonecraft veers so far in favor of strength and reason that she leaves little room for human vulnerability. Take the passage quoted above, for example, on the treatment of fear in girls and boys. While I agree that kids shouldn't be encouraged to be shrieking and cowering away from every little thing when they wouldn't be doing that naturally, I can hardly agree that their fear should be treated like that of boys in the sense of being sternly reprimanded, shamed, told that "boys don't cry," and so on. My personal ideal for both genders is a happy medium between the affected over-sensitivity that has historically been associated with women, and the repressive, uncommunicative stoicism that has often been expected of men. Humans feel fear, tenderness, anger, and so on for reasons, and it's illogical and unwise, in my opinion, to teach children to distort or disregard their true feelings rather than acknowledging those feelings and taking them into account when deciding how to act. (Not, of course, that a passing emotion should be the ONLY criterion for action; just that it should be, ideally, one piece of valid data among others.) Moreover, there's a difference between "fear" and "cowardice"; in equating the two, it seems to me Wollstonecraft is removing the possibility of courage, which I'd define as following through on a difficult action despite feeling afraid. (And in passing, Wollstonecraft's aversion to instinct struck me as one of the strangest facets of the book. She denigrates it even to the point of arguing that animal instinct somehow doesn't reflect her God: "Thus [sensibility] is defined by Dr. Johnson, and the definition gives me no other idea than of the most exquisitely polished instinct. I discern not a trace of the image of God in either sensation or matter." Yet where else would it come from, given her own belief in an all-powerful creator Being? I realize that, for Enlightenment thinkers, the gift of reason is what elevates humans above animals, but surely a benevolent God wouldn't endow the animals with an outright malevolent quality? A very odd, if minor, point.)Like most philosophers, then, Wollstonecraft takes certain positions with which I personally disagree; her feminism is, unsurprisingly, neither so radical nor so inclusive as that of certain more recent writers. Still, as an early, passionate step toward female equality, not to mention as a document of the tumultuous times (Wollstonecraft's argument is very tied up with the Republican rhetoric of democracy and equality which were giving rise to the American and French revolutions), Vindication of the Rights of Woman is an important and thought-provoking read, and one I'm glad to have in my repertoire.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is a valuable tool for understanding late 18th century thought, and how a real live woman ahead of her time framed her opinions on the rights and education of women long before modern feminism.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This book is way too hard to read. It is reputed to be one of the most important books ever written, but I simply could not get through it. The language is extremely convoluted and reads as though it has been written for the chardonnay set. It would be difficult for the average layperson to read. I have been reading this book for months and I am not even half-way through. I think now is the time to give up!read more
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This was simultaneously brilliant and saddening. I didn’t expect these words to resonate quite as much as they did. I didn’t expect to be able to immediately apply them to my life. I was looking for a historical perspective, some sign that we are headed in the right direction.We are. At least, I think so. Unfortunately, those steps we have taken don’t seem as dramatic anymore. I mean, women can vote. They can run for office. They have been liberated from traditional sexual confines. They can take pride in just being.One of Wollstonecraft's biggest arguments was that women are socialized to appeal to men at their own expense. They don’t exercise their own wills or minds except for in a very limited sense. Where are they left when the passion dies? They are incapable of commanding respect or friendship. The best they can hope for is to be treated as lovely, mindless things whose sole purpose for existence is to satisfy the whims of the more dominant sex, which, after their mates have become habituated to their presence, is impossible.Popular culture still surrounds us with the idea that women need to be beautiful, that everything else is somehow secondary. It is important to be well dressed, to be thin. It bothers me that these words, so eloquently written so long go, have not prompted us to change the way we bring up our children. Beauty isn’t everything. Love isn’t everything. Relationships are not everything. We have to refine ourselves in order to refine our culture.read more
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The first major feminist work in English.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Apart from Class ridden snobbery condemming working classes to manual work and paying attention to current social mores, Wollestonecraft makes a reasoned case for women to shove off the fripperies of womanhood and get into some solid educational DIY.
Her thesis is a woman is a better wife etc if she is educated rather than an uneducated bimbo who is more concerned with the latest fashion than by the state of her brain. I think this holds true.
Well worth reading, well written and an easy read in comparison to other philosophy texts.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Mary Wollstonecraft is often credited with being the world’s first feminist. That may be something of an exaggeration, but her 1792 treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is certainly renowned as the earliest, most powerful, most overtly feminist tract in the English language – despite having been written long before the word “feminism” was coined.The dense wordy style of an eighteenth century political tract is easily enough to put off the majority of modern readers, but – for the brave or committed reader – this work more than repays the effort required. Indeed, what struck me is how much of what Wollstonecraft says in A Vindication resounds in the modern world.Her argument (addressed primarily to the position of middle-class women) is that a lack of effective and appropriate education, and a distorted view of women’s purpose in life, have combined to render many or most women weak, foolish, vain, selfish, cunning and unfit for what Wollstonecraft sees as their peculiar (but not primary) duty – that of motherhood.[Aside: much to my satisfaction, there are a number of pro-breastfeeding remarks in A Vindication, and Wollstonecraft repeatedly makes the point that beauty requirements and other foolish demands on women make them averse to breastfeeding with potentially disastrous consequences!]She argues powerfully that society (by which she means, primarily, men – since they have all the education and the political and economic power) fails women in a number of ways.For one thing, it makes them utterly dependent financially on men – fathers, husbands, brothers or other relatives. The effect is that for self-preservation women must adopt a subservient, self-abasing attitude to men. This degrades them twice: once in dignity; and then (which makes me think of Dickens’ Uriah Heep!) by forcing them to use cunning – those famous “womanly wiles” – to get what they want or need but cannot obtain for themselves.Secondly, society assigns to women an obligation to please men, and to be pleasing to them. This springs in part from their aforementioned dependence on men, and is reinforced by the fact that precious little other outlet is given them for their emotions and ambitions. The consequence is that women, being admired far more for their persons than for their minds, expend all their care and effort on the former at the expense of the latter. They become vain, and bitchy, and obsessed with “beauty”, by which they mean weak delicate bodies decorated in whatever ornaments are currently in fashion.More than all this, what women suffer is a total lack of any education worth the name. It is their want of a proper education which narrows their horizons and reinforces both their dependence on men and their inordinate concern for petty things such as their dress or (by outward show, if not in practice) maintenance of the one virtue that no woman must be without – chastity.Such women as this, Wollstonecraft argues, inevitably become hopelessly caught up in “vice” – vanity and cupidity if nothing else – and will inevitably lack any real virtue such as genuine chastity, proper affection, loyalty or generosity, selfless friendship, or sound understanding. Moreover, such women as this will also invariably either neglect their children in favour of pursuing the “necessary” activity of continuing to please men by maintaining their beauty and other charms – or they will devote themselves excessively to their children but, because they lack both judgement and sound understanding, they will be unable to respond to their children properly and thus will risk spoiling either their health or their tempers, perhaps irremediably. In either case, such a woman as this will be unable to carry out her peculiar (but not primary) duty: to bring up children who are healthy, happy, well-behaved and suitably educated.Wollstonecraft’s primary aims in A Vindication are twofold.Firstly, she endeavours to sweep away the lingering idea – by making clear how nonsensical and self-contradictory it is – that Woman was made by God to be a plaything and propagator for Man, and that she has no true rationality or personhood of her own.Secondy, she makes a strident plea for proper education for women. If women were given a level playing field and still fell behind men, she says, it would be appropriate to charge them with inferiority. Unless and until that happens, she insists that no man can prove women inferior. But, she says, even if we believe that women are in some way less than men, they are still human beings, still rational creatures, and still (as she says) given an immortal soul which it is their sacred duty to expand and develop. It is wrong for women to be oppressed and prevented from meeting this sacred duty, merely because of an (unproved!) idea that women will or may not actually achieve their aim in the same degree as men. Indeed, if that were not argument enough, it should be remembered that failing to educate women properly will prevent them from meeting their secondary duty – that of mothering – because it renders them unfit for the job.In short: Women are Human! and Education for All!More than that, Wollstonecraft anticiaptes, by around two centuries, a surprising number of modern feminist ideas. Women as sex class? The beauty myth? Socially constructed gender roles? The seeds of all these ideas and more can be found in A Vindication. Wollstonecraft even suggests – although tentatively, aware of the response that she would get for it – that perhaps women might at some point have a legitimate claim to taking some part in the government of their country. So we can credit her with “Votes for Women!” too.Superb.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
As convenient as it can sometimes be, a disadvantage of reading from anthologies is that one can graduate from college with the vague notion that one has read a work in its entirety, only to discover later that in fact one has read only a page and a half of it in a long-forgotten Eighteenth-Century British Literature class. Which, as you may have guessed, is exactly what happened to me with Mary Wollstonecraft's seminal 1792 treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. I'm happy to have rectified my mistake at last and read Vindication from cover to cover. Unsurprisingly, Wollstonecraft's arguments assume a significant degree more complexity and idiosyncrasy on what I had, until recently, been thinking of as my "second time through."And in fact, as much as she would probably have disapproved of the comment, it was Wollstonecraft's own character that particularly appealed to me throughout this reading. I agreed with her on some points and disagreed with her on others, but throughout I enjoyed her forthrightness, her willingness, to use a modern phrase, to call bullshit on all the male arguments used to claim that women's natural state is one of gentle, slavish devotion, and that women should not be allowed physical or mental exertion. In her impatience with sickly-sweet yet fundamentally condescending verbiage about the "angelic innocence" of women, and with male writers' self-serving insistence that women are formed for the sole purpose of pleasing men, I spied a kindred spirit and was cheering (and sometimes, out of recognition) chuckling along with her outrage. I love how, for example, halfway through a passage quoted from Rousseau on his proposed method of educating women, she can't stand to wait until the end to comment and appends a footnote reading only, "What nonsense!" Neither is she afraid of the exclamation point: "Without knowledge there can be no morality!" she exclaims, and "Ignorance is a frail base for virtue!" I felt throughout, however, that she earned those exclamation points: these are infuriatingly simple and logical conclusions that are nonetheless STILL often disregarded when we educate girls to be sexy rather than smart, charming and flighty rather than honest and self-respecting.I particularly object to the lover-like phrases of pumped up passion, which are every where interspersed [in Fordyce's sermons]. If women be ever allowed to walk without leading-strings, why must they be cajoled into virtue by artful flattery and sexual compliments? Speak to them the language of truth and soberness, and away with the lullaby strains of condescending endearment! Let them be taught to respect themselves as rational creatures, and not led to have a passion for their own insipid persons. It moves my gall to hear a preacher descanting on dress and needle-work; and still more, to hear him address the British fair, the fairest of the fair, as if they had only feelings.I'm reminded of the men who yell at me as I walk down the street lost in thought: "You'd be prettier if you smiled!" As if being eye candy for random men is somehow supposed to be my top priority. Oh sorry! I forgot to think about PLEASING STRANGE MEN while I was cogitating on existential literature! And again:To carry the remark still further, if fear in girls, instead of being cherished, perhaps, created, were treated in the same manner as cowardice in boys, we should quickly see women with more dignified aspects. It is true, they could not then with equal propriety be termed the sweet flowers that smile in the walk of man; but they would be more respectable members of society, and discharge the important duties of life by the light of their own reason. 'Educate women like men,' says Rousseau, 'and the more they resemble our sex the less power will they have over us.' This is the very point I aim at. I do not wish them to have power over men; but over themselves.THANK YOU, MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT. Her discussions of what has come to be called "the male gaze"—the way in which girls and women are taught to think always of how their conduct will appear to men, and act accordingly, rather than acting to please themselves or in accordance with what is most appropriate to the situation—struck me as particularly insightful. In the paragraph following the one I quoted on Fordyce, for example, she points out that he (a preacher) tries to lure women into religious piety by arguing that men find it sexually attractive when women are lost in pious contemplation. Seriously, how insulting! I'm not even religious, and I understand how disrespectful that argument is to the deeply-held beliefs of people engaged with their faith. And yet, have things really changed? I'm reminded of so-called "womens' magazines" and the arguments they use to convince women to go to the gym: it's all about appearing more sexually attractive to a potential partner; and only lip-service is paid to the idea that a woman would value herself enough to want to make her body stronger and healthier for her own sake.Not that there weren't areas where Wollstonecraft and I diverge. She shares, for example, the common Enlightenment belief in humankind's ability to approach perfection through rational discourse, to achieve a state closer to God through the application of reason. Although I agree with her that men and women both benefit by the frequent exercise of their physical and mental faculties, I'm skeptical about how perfectible or rational the human race, or any individual, really is. Moreover, either because or in spite of my religious atheism/agnosticism, I tend to find Enlightenment arguments about the human ability to know God through logic a bit silly:The only solid foundation for morality appears to be the character of the supreme Being; the harmony of which arises from a balance of attributes;—and, to speak with reverence, one attribute seems to imply the necessity of another. He must be just, because he is wise, he must be good, because he is omnipotent.I mean, what? Judeo-Christian friends: is that sound theology? Why does one quality necessarily imply the others? I can easily imagine omnipotence without goodness, for example, just like every day I experience perfectly robust morality with no particular basis in divinity. Arguments like this always strike me as simply a human being imagining all the good things he can think of, combining them in his imagination into one Being, and then claiming that because he can conceptualize this Being, it must exist. And when I say "he," I mean Descartes. But apparently Mary Wollstonecraft as well. It's as if I made a drawing of my dream house, and then claimed that because I drew it, it must be available for purchase. My drawing doesn't prove that the house isn't available; but neither is it proof that it is.Not only that, but in her quest to agitate for the education of women as strong, rational creatures, Wollstonecraft veers so far in favor of strength and reason that she leaves little room for human vulnerability. Take the passage quoted above, for example, on the treatment of fear in girls and boys. While I agree that kids shouldn't be encouraged to be shrieking and cowering away from every little thing when they wouldn't be doing that naturally, I can hardly agree that their fear should be treated like that of boys in the sense of being sternly reprimanded, shamed, told that "boys don't cry," and so on. My personal ideal for both genders is a happy medium between the affected over-sensitivity that has historically been associated with women, and the repressive, uncommunicative stoicism that has often been expected of men. Humans feel fear, tenderness, anger, and so on for reasons, and it's illogical and unwise, in my opinion, to teach children to distort or disregard their true feelings rather than acknowledging those feelings and taking them into account when deciding how to act. (Not, of course, that a passing emotion should be the ONLY criterion for action; just that it should be, ideally, one piece of valid data among others.) Moreover, there's a difference between "fear" and "cowardice"; in equating the two, it seems to me Wollstonecraft is removing the possibility of courage, which I'd define as following through on a difficult action despite feeling afraid. (And in passing, Wollstonecraft's aversion to instinct struck me as one of the strangest facets of the book. She denigrates it even to the point of arguing that animal instinct somehow doesn't reflect her God: "Thus [sensibility] is defined by Dr. Johnson, and the definition gives me no other idea than of the most exquisitely polished instinct. I discern not a trace of the image of God in either sensation or matter." Yet where else would it come from, given her own belief in an all-powerful creator Being? I realize that, for Enlightenment thinkers, the gift of reason is what elevates humans above animals, but surely a benevolent God wouldn't endow the animals with an outright malevolent quality? A very odd, if minor, point.)Like most philosophers, then, Wollstonecraft takes certain positions with which I personally disagree; her feminism is, unsurprisingly, neither so radical nor so inclusive as that of certain more recent writers. Still, as an early, passionate step toward female equality, not to mention as a document of the tumultuous times (Wollstonecraft's argument is very tied up with the Republican rhetoric of democracy and equality which were giving rise to the American and French revolutions), Vindication of the Rights of Woman is an important and thought-provoking read, and one I'm glad to have in my repertoire.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is a valuable tool for understanding late 18th century thought, and how a real live woman ahead of her time framed her opinions on the rights and education of women long before modern feminism.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This book is way too hard to read. It is reputed to be one of the most important books ever written, but I simply could not get through it. The language is extremely convoluted and reads as though it has been written for the chardonnay set. It would be difficult for the average layperson to read. I have been reading this book for months and I am not even half-way through. I think now is the time to give up!
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This was simultaneously brilliant and saddening. I didn’t expect these words to resonate quite as much as they did. I didn’t expect to be able to immediately apply them to my life. I was looking for a historical perspective, some sign that we are headed in the right direction.We are. At least, I think so. Unfortunately, those steps we have taken don’t seem as dramatic anymore. I mean, women can vote. They can run for office. They have been liberated from traditional sexual confines. They can take pride in just being.One of Wollstonecraft's biggest arguments was that women are socialized to appeal to men at their own expense. They don’t exercise their own wills or minds except for in a very limited sense. Where are they left when the passion dies? They are incapable of commanding respect or friendship. The best they can hope for is to be treated as lovely, mindless things whose sole purpose for existence is to satisfy the whims of the more dominant sex, which, after their mates have become habituated to their presence, is impossible.Popular culture still surrounds us with the idea that women need to be beautiful, that everything else is somehow secondary. It is important to be well dressed, to be thin. It bothers me that these words, so eloquently written so long go, have not prompted us to change the way we bring up our children. Beauty isn’t everything. Love isn’t everything. Relationships are not everything. We have to refine ourselves in order to refine our culture.
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