Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” embodies more ideals of the Enlightenment

After reading part of Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” I believe it was overall an Enlightenment argument. For example, in the first page she explains that she’s going to refrain from a lot of frilly language and then there’s two other specific excerpts of text that I think demonstrate how she framed her argument with reason and logic. On page 295, the words”Society, therefore, as it becomes more enlightened, should be very careful not to establish bodies of men who must necessarily be made foolish or vicious by the very constitution of their profession” is referring to military professions and how it causes men to accumulate poor habits and inappropriate behavior. The word “enlightenment” would have had a connotation with The Enlightenment movement and thus I don’t think it was by complete accident she used the word. Additionally, on page 299 Wollstonecraft writes, “But I wish to speak the simple language of truth, and rather to address the head than the heart.” This also shows how Wollstonecraft wanted her argument to be framed around very clear, logical reasons which would help her leave a lasting point about how women need to be treated as female counterparts to men, rather than beings idolized for lust and beauty.

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2 thoughts on “Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” embodies more ideals of the Enlightenment

  1. I definitely concur that Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” exemplifies the logic and reasoning found in Enlightenment writing, but I did notice several moments of emotional passion in her writing that would almost suggest hints of Romanticism. Since you mentioned that she would rather “address the head than the heart” (299), I find it interesting that she begins her introduction by expressing her “most melancholy emotions of sorrowful indignation” and “anxious solitude” (290). Her argument that women and men should be seen as completely equal with equal opportunities for education is logical, but her views on this subject were initiated emotionally, implying an interesting blend of Enlightenment and Romantic ideas.

    I appreciate that one of the first things you mentioned was Wollstonecraft’s desire to eschew the use of frivolous language. To me, it seems as if this passage is particularly significant, because it reflects the Enlightenment in two different ways. Firstly, it advocates the idea that persuasive writing should “persuade by the force of arguments” rather than focusing on the “elegance of language” and “artificial feelings” (292). Romantic writing is wrought with melodramatic emotion and “flowery diction” that can obscure the purpose of writing something in the first place. The passage also serves as an example to other women; Wollstonecraft’s “aim at being useful” (292) is a goal she believes all women should strive for as opposed to merely being “alluring mistresses” (291) around only to please men. If the women of that time became educated and “useful”, then their economic potential would increase, appealing to the pragmatic Enlightenment thinkers.

  2. I agree with you on the fact that this was intended to be an enlightenment piece, but for different reasons. Wollstonecraft seemed to write this reasoned and logical argument in a way that would provoke her intended audience, “enlightened” men. I also think the end of chapter 2 would highly support this argument. On page 306, Wollstonecraft writes, “Still she only acts as a woman ought to act, brought up according to Rousseau’s system.” Her main argument here is that this is a nurture vs. nature environment. That women do not think for themselves, because they were not allowed to. Women “piously believing that wiser heads than her own have settled that business…” This nurture vs. nature argument is very enlightenment oriented and supports what you have said above.

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