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‘A Vindication of the rights of women’ by Mary Wollstonecraft plot summary

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Mary Wollstonecraft was a British writer, philosopher, and advocate of women’s rights. Today Wollstonecraft is regarded as one of the founding feminist philosophers, and feminists often cite both her life and her works as important influences. During her brief career, she wrote novels, treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book, and a children’s book. Wollstonecraft is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education.

File:Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie (c. 1797).jpg - Wikipedia

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is one of the most significant works of feminism. Published in 1792, Wollstonecraft’s work argued that the educational system of her time deliberately trained women to be frivolous and incapable. She posited that an educational system that allowed girls the same advantages as boys would result in women who would be not only exceptional wives and mothers but also capable workers in many professions. Other early feminists had made similar pleas for improved education for women, but Wollstonecraft’s work was unique in suggesting that the betterment of women’s status be effected through such political change as the radical reform of national educational systems. Such change, she concluded, would benefit all society.

Chapter 1

Wollstonecraft begins the chapter by explaining that she is going to start with some basic principles and ask several simple questions. She asks what gives humanity a superior status over the other creatures. She answers it herself as ‘Reason’. Reasoning power gives humans a preeminence over wild creatures. Then she asks another question, “what glorifies one human above another?”. The answer is ‘virtue’. Then she asks, “why do people deal with passions?” The purpose of following passion is to gain ‘knowledge’. Therefore, our nature and the capability of achieving happiness must be calculated by the amount of reason, virtue and wisdom possessed by the person. These qualities helps to distinguish every individual.
However, throughout the ages, reason has been mixed with errors. Deeply rooted prejudices have affected the reasoning capacity. The desire for wealth and power has polluted mankind. The philosopher Rousseau argued that man was by nature a lonely animal and the society was providing conditions for wickedness to exist. However, Wollstonecraft disagrees Rousseau’s opinion. She believes that God has placed mankind on earth to live in a community of other humans. God has provided the capacity to reason in order to achieve happiness.
In terms of rulers, men achieve their grand, regal status by committing innumerable crimes and intrigues, and their subjects idly accept the rule without using reason. Such a society will never be healthy if such rulers are allowed to rule. Those who achieve the status of king desire for flattery and praise, and are restricted from the use of wisdom and virtue as they as they attain power. It is really dangerous that the fate of so many people rests on the hands of such rulers. In fact any profession that has a desire for power is lacked by reason, virtue, and wisdom. An army cannot be provided with freedom because subjugation, tyranny, strictness is necessary for maintenance of an army. Therefore, it is observed that every man develops his character based on his profession. Thus his opinions are formed on the basis of work he does.
In this chapter, Wollstonecraft tackles some major reasons why women are subjugated, lack of education, a governmental structure that does not take necessary reforms. The society makes women consider themselves attractive before everyone. Mary Wollstonecraft argues that women has a soul just as men do. Both the sexes have a capacity to reason and should be allowed equal opportunity. She argues against the statements made by Rousseau, against women. Rousseau claimed that women are by nature inferior to men in terms of reason, independence and virtue. She may argue that women are sillier than men, but it is because society has molded them in such a fashion and has denied them capacity to reason like men.

Chapter 2

Wollstonecraft claims differences between men and women are largely because of how girls are raised. She acknowledges qualities men complain about in woman. Wollstonecraft calls these ‘the natural effect of ignorance’, because society teaches women that being beautiful is all that matters. She argues that education must be for all people of the society. Unfortunately for women, society strictly limits female education. Objecting to how men write about female education, Wollstonecraft says they have made women ‘more artificial, weak characters’. Rousseau is a particular target.
Wollstonecraft also disapproves of Dr Gregory’s book, ‘A Father’s Legacy to His Daughters’. Gregory believes women are naturally fond of dressing up but Wollstonecraft asserts that a woman focuses on clothes because a well-dressed woman commands attention. Gregory tells women to lie and recommends a woman never tells her husband how much she loves him. Wollstonecraft fiercely rejects such ideas.
She argues that men should not be made responsible for women’s moral & intellectual growth. If men became perfect at maturity, his wife could depend on him to guide her, but men are ‘overgrown children’.
Wollstonecraft claims love should not be allowed to dethrone superior powers, arguing marrying for love is not always a practical choice. Instead she writes that a good marriage must be based on friendship rather than love.
Wollstonecraft asserts that women’s feelings of inferiority have increased because of their treatment. She claims that women must be given chance to prove themselves. If, after they are given opportunities, women do not prove equals to men, then men’s superiority will be clear. Just as kings do not always prove to be better than ordinary men Wollstonecraft suggests that men will not always be better than women.

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