Mary Wollstonecraft Excerpt

For this week’s reading, we will be discussing an excerpt from Mary Wollstonecraft’s seminal essay “ A Vindication of the Rights of Women”. Few writers embody the tensions between the claim of reason and the pull of feeling as Mary Wollstonecraft, the first ‘ modern’ feminist and a revolutionary in the age of revolutions. The eldest daughter of middle class parents who was forced to earn her living when her parents lost their wealth. Trying all the occupations available to respectable women in the 18th century—seamstress, paid companion, governess, school teacher, and administrator—Wollstonecraft found herself unfulfilled. As a result she carved out a career open to very few women in her time, as a translator, editor and writer. Living on her own in London, she became part of a circle of radical thinkers, artists, painters and intellectuals. Having seen her mother and sister abused by their husbands, she suffered through a series of difficult relationships with men. She gave birth to her second daughter , also named Mary, in 1797, but died ten days later of an infection brought on by unhygienic practices typical of physicians attending women during childbirth before the discovery of bacteria. Her oldest daughter committed suicide at the age of 22; the second married the English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. At age 19, Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein, one of the landmarks of 19th century fiction.  A Vindication of the Rights of Women, which she wrote in 1792, writes against the prevailing opinions of the time that gender disabled women intellectually. She fought against the ideas of women’s inferior intellect, and instead described the consequences of depriving women of the opportunity to train their minds.   Wollstonecraft is as critical of women as she is men—what is her critique of women’s position in society and their complacency about the status quo?( She argued that women are complicit in their own subjugation, by elevating beauty as superior to intellect, and by taking on the fragile airs and ‘weak’ appearance that men want them to cultivate. )   What is the tone of her essay? (She is striving to be persuasive and rational, as we can see in her convoluted and overly rational prose.)   What is love, what is her critique of love ? (Pigs 744-745, 751, Love she argues is inferior to friendship. Love is used to subjugate women.)   What institutions does she critique? (Marriage for one—how?) What ideal or technique do men use to control women? (Childhood, perpetual childhood, pg 747) What is her critique of husbands ? (Pg 747- 748, they too suffer when marriage is not equal).  What is her argument about the morality of women? (pg 749, women’s morality also suffers in this system, thus the cause of immorality is not women’s nature, but the system or structure that encourages them to be morally weak.) What is she asking for? (pg 749, end blind obedience. The analogy between the slave and the plaything—both are not free.) what does she identify as a main problem for women? (pg 742, not just a lack of education, but a system of false education.) What is her final argument? (pg 753, revolution! What kind ? )

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