A Vindication of the Rights of Women

The argument in “A vindication of the Rights of Women” follows that of the Enlightenment. Wollstonecraft bases her argument in reason, discussing the equality of women in economic and industrious settings. To begin, she claims to have produced “irrefragable arguments drawn from matters of fact” (289). Her later statements support her claim with simple logic such as “faithless husbands with make faithless wives” (289), and “I reason consequentially…that [men and women] have the same simple direction, and that there is a God.” (298). Enlightenment holds the belief that religion and reason are a source of wisdom while Romanticism focuses on nature. Many of the mentions of nature are often in context with education and society; she claims that the faults of men and women are “the natural consequence of their education and station in society.” (309-310). The main argument of Wollstonecraft suggests that upbringing, rather than nature, produces any “natural” qualities associated with gender. She argues that women grow up wanting to be pretty because they are taught to, implying the ability of man over nature, and identifying the possibility that teaching the opposite would in turn have the opposite effect. Lastly, she takes a practical approach on the unfair treatment of women. Instead of a romantic dialogue on how women feel because of their inferior treatment, she discusses how if a women were to lose her husband and be left with children, she would need “to educate them…to form their principles and secure their property” (305). The passage treats death like an economic issue, looking at the trials of a widow from a practical point of view, absent of all emotion. The logical thinking in the work and style of argument suggests characterize the work as part of the Enlightenment movement.

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2 thoughts on “A Vindication of the Rights of Women

  1. I would agree with your idea that Wollstonecraft frames her argument in a rational and practical fashion, which led to me initially view it as an Enlightenment argument. However, after closer consideration, I found segments of the work that strayed from this logical standpoint. In the midst of her rational arguments, Wollstonecraft’s diction occasionally became impassioned and emotional. She describes how “days and weeks are spent in dreaming of the happiness enjoyed by congenial could till their health is undermined and their spirits broken by discontent” (pg 299). This quote is full of emotionally loaded words and seems to be intended to make the reader sympathize with the women described. The tactic of attempting to elicit an emotional response from the audience instead of simply relying on logic seems to contradict her previously stated plan for this argument. She claims to want to “persuade by the force of [her] arguments” (pg 292), but occasionally falls back on emotion as well. I don’t think that this is a flaw in her argument, though. Wollstonecraft effectively lays out a rational and logical argument which made this piece appear to have a style similar to pieces from the Enlightenment era, as you explained in your post. I do, however, believe that Wollstonecraft’s writing was somewhat influenced by the Romantic period. Her use of an Enlightenment argument with occasional hints of Romanticism is effective because the emotional passages help the reader understand how strongly she feels about the subject.

  2. I strongly agree with every point; the only thing I could add to your post is the fact that this piece of work can show both Enlightenment and Romanticism. Mary Wollstonecraft is talking about reason, religion and basically logic things, such as how women and men should be able to have equal rights and how they should both rely on God and religion “have the same simple, direction that there is God”, because we cannot deny the fact that she is living in a very religious era, and she knows God wants every person to be moral and live a deserved life. As direct as it can seem to the changes she is wanting to implement in women’s lives, she also shows Romanticism because she describes the way she feels about the oppression she is going through. Being treated as a different species, not having the same rights (educational, political) and not having a legal identity is something she needs to express in order to make an impact.

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