Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women in the midst of the French Revolution, which she happily embraced, even traveling to France to experience it firsthand. The world was being turned upside down, kings were no longer regarded as having a “Divine Right” to rule, and the people were rising up to take charge. It was a time of revolution. Yet, while this social upheaval was happening, and “the common man” was getting more rights, women were not. Wollstonecraft wrote this to urge people to include women’s rights, as basic human rights, in the new government that was forming.
In response to The Declaration of the Rights of Man, Mary Wollstonecraft took up her pen to write the A Vindication of the Rights of Women in only six weeks, making the argument that women were just as rational as men and therefore worthy of all the same rights as men. She sarcastically implores that her own sex “will excuse me if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascination graces and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone” (Wollstonecraft pg. 1170). She completely rallies against the idea that women are creatures that need to be taken care of by men, because they only have the intellect of a child. Wollstonecraft was very well educated and greatly discusses the need to educate women, because she argues if women were given equality, the same education as men, and the same chances as men, women would not need men. Women, if given education and equality would be able to attain social and economic independence.
Change was happening all around the world, and Wollstonecraft wanted to push that change as far as it would go. She believed that “the refusal of those who had espoused revolutionary principles of equality to extend right to women represented a betrayal of those supposedly universal principles.” (Historical Notes pg. 1168). Wollstonecraft was literally rebelling against everything society said about women. She wanted women to be recognized as intelligent and rational creatures. She writes, “how grossly do they insult us who thus advise us only to render ourselves gentle, domestic brutes!” (Wollstonecraft pg. 1172) Wollstonecraft wanted women to be valued for their knowledge and reasonable intellect, and not only appreciated as pretty things, wives, and mothers.
Wollstonecraft also tackled the juxtaposition between two largely held ideas of womanhood, the idea that women being morally superior, and that women were weak. Wollstonecraft states, “Women are, therefore, to be considered either as moral beings, or so weak that they must be entirely subject to the superior faculties of men.” (Wollstonecraft pg.1176) Wollstonecraft then urges women to reject these ideas saying, “I wish to persuade women to endeavor to acquire strength, both of mind and body,” (pg. 1170). Wollstonecraft’s’ dream was to see a nation full of strong independent women. Women who were strong of body, who did not need a fainting couch. Women who were strong of mind, who took pride in their intellectual prowess, and did not simply defer to a mans’ opinion.
Black, Joseph Laurence. The Broadview Anthology of British Literature. Broadview Press, 2015.
Wollstonecraft, Mary, and William Godwin. A Vindication of the Rights of Women. J. Johnson, 1792.