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Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 2141 words Published: 16th May 2017

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When in 1792 the French minister for education proposed a revolutionary system of state-supported system of public education for men only, Mary Wollstonecraft was outraged. As a concrete embodiment of the French revolution's promise to redress the wrongs of past, this proposal seemed a betrayal of all that the revolution stood for. Wollstonecraft responded with A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, arguing a simple principle: that if she (woman) be not prepared by education to become the companion of man , she will stop the progress of knowledge and virtue ; for truth must be common to all or it will inefficacious with respect to its influence on general practice". Just one year earlier she had leapt to the defense of Richard Price and Thomas Paine in her Vindication of the Rights of Men against the attack of Edmund Burke in his Reflections on the Revolutions in France, she now turned her attention to the injustice that presented itself in this revolutionary program for universal education in France. The context of the Vindication of the Rights of Woman was written as a response to Rousseau's immensely influential book Emile, which laid out Rousseau's vision of how boys should be educated. In the process Rousseau created a character; a female associate for Emile named Sophie and in the process slighted the education of women. In this essay we would explore that how successfully Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women is expressing the ways in which women could improve themselves and how society would benefit from this in 1790s and how affected the impact on patriarchal oppression and on the feminism as a whole.

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J.J Rousseau primarily claimed that we are inherently good, but we become corrupted by the evils of society. We are born good and that is our natural state. Through attending to nature we are more likely to live a life of virtue. In Emile, which is Rousseau's influential book, he was able to dramatize his ideas and reach a very wide audience. He made, it can be argue, the first comprehensive attempt to describe a system of education according to that he saw as nature. In his educational theories Rousseau attempted to preserve nature's pure state. His concept of negative education allowed a child to discover for himself and to be punished by the nature he sought to defy. The tutor must not try to reason with the child or show authority. Books would not be forced on the child; at twelve Emile would hardly know what to do with a book. Positive education, or direct instruction, would only begin at approximately the age of adulthood, and then the studies would be based on the student's natural curiosity. Rousseau stressed utility, the need for teaching things with practical applications. This concept of negative education as applicable to women was totally inconceivable to Rousseau.

Rousseau outlines his theories for the ideal education for the women in chapter V of Emile. He viewed women's options as entirely limited to the roles of wife and mother. What need would there be to allow her to determine for herself when nature had already physiologically dictated her destiny Rousseau demanded a reversion to primitivism in the education of women, offering minimal vocational training while insisting on her inability to reason and her inferiority to man. "A woman's education must be planned in relation to man".[S]he will always be in subjection to a man, and she will never be free to set her own opinion above his."(Rousseau p:176). He stresses freedom of movement and physical exertion for Emile, asserting that weak bodies contain weak minds. At the same time he discourages Sophie from too much physical activity and uses her weakness as another proof of her inferiority. "The object of that cultivation is different. In the one sex it is the development of corporeal powers; in the other, that of personal charms," (Rousseau:pp.322) The power a woman have in Roussseau's poltical doctrine is dependent on the power allotted them by nature. And that power can be reduced to a simple law of nature.

For nature has endowed woman with a power of stimulating man's passions in excess for man's power of satisfying those passions, and has thus made him dependent on her goodwill, and compelled him in his turn to endeavor to please her, so that she may be willing is superior strength. Is it weakness which yields to force, or is it voluntary self-surrender? This uncertainty constitutes the chief charm of the man's victory, and the woman is usually cunning enough to leave him in doubt. (Emile: 387)

Rousseau emphasized the fundamentally different roles of men and women, he considers men and women complimentary to each other , women roles is to nurture and essential if men free to take on public roles and warrior and politicians. In Emile,Sophie is his sexual identity. Rousseau considers a man's union with a woman a debasement of his nature. Rousseau has a view of marriage apparently quite traditional in many respects, but he does not defend that arrangement traditionally. Rousseau's Emile makes the wife responsible for keeping the man at home and she is to maintain in him a sense of his freedom and yet at the same time use all sort of feminine charms and intelligent deceptions to make sure that he wants to stay at him, still free but also fulfilling his parental duty. Rousseau considers wife's job, simply put, is to deceive the man into staying at home by sustaining for him the illusion of his freedom, by serving his need for such a psychological state, that point is discussed by Wollstonecraft that if Sophie has to play complicated role of such a smart understanding wife, she has to know the men traits and nature, psychology of men to deal with them. Rousseau anticipates this stance and argues against it, making the case that if women seek to compete with men by defining themselves in terms of male virtues, then they will foster a state of society in which they are even more than before the servants of men. Men are better at being men than women are, Rousseau claims. Rousseau explains that Sophie's education needs to be different because she is to be future mother, and women are designed by nature for motherhood. While insisting on the importance of motherhood, he stumbles on women's role as mothers. In addressing mothers in Book I of Emile, he acknowledges their primacy in the education of youth. By denying women the ability to reason he denies them the ability to raise children, which Mary Wollstonecraft later attempts to prove.

Mary Wollstonecraft applauded Rousseau's scheme for Emile but deplored the neglect of Emil's perfect wife, Sophie in her book The Vindication of the Rights of Woman written in response to Rousseau. Wollstonecraft seeks to find a rational explanation for the state of her sex. She questions whether women are really created for the pleasure of men. She initiates her attack on patriarchal oppression in the first page of the introduction explaining how men have created books `considering females rather as women than human creatures, have been more anxious to make them alluring mistresses than affectionate wives and rational mothers' (P:11): then on Sophie's garb " simple as it seems, was only put in its proper order to be taken to pieces by the imagination." To this she retorts, "Is this modesty ? Is this a preparation for immortality?" she accuses Rousseau of depicting not a wife and sensible mother, but a pleasing mistress. She challenges Rousseau's depiction of men having superior strength and free will to do experiences.

Let us then , by being allowed to take the same exercise as boys, not only during infancy , but youth, arrive at perfection of boys, that we many know how far the natural superiority of man extends.

She firmly endorses the nothing of the public space in which people can compete, she says, in effect, give women access to this public space, and if we can not hold our own , then let's concede that women are not the same as men and change things accordingly. But let us first give women a chance.

In the period prior to the enlightenment women were legally and socially inferior. One example of this is in crime: a man convicted of murdering his wife would be hanged, but a woman convicted of murdering her husband would, by law, be burned alive (Misenheimer,1981:p21). They were also unequal in financial and property rights, women were uneducated and taught to be 'pure' and respectable so they could gain a husband and a home and the legal position of most women totally dependence on their husbands (Mill,1878). It's quite clear that Wollstonecraft's world did have considerable oppression and it was within this context that her attack on male dominance of society was based. She expresses how women are `legally prostituted,' attacking marriage and the power men have through marriage (P:75). She attacks that women can only advance through marriage explaining how it's the only security of public freedom and universal happiness (P:18). She also argues heavily against the "socially constructed'" position of women, which has been forced upon them by men. This is possibly her strongest argument against male dominance which conforms to the ideas of what is natural and what has been created by man; similar to the ideas of Thomas Paine, Rousseau. The idea is that the subjugation of women is unnatural and obviously goes against rational, enlightened and more important moral society. Wollstonecraft argues that if marriage is strongest institution and cement of society then men and women should be educated equally regardless of their sexes and marriage never can be held sacred till women, by being brought up with men, are prepared to be their companions rather than their mistresses.

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Wollstonecraft proposes that education should be accessible through national establishments as private education is confined to only elite class. She proposes her radical idea of educating girls with boys and that girls should be taught anatomy and medicine to make them rational nurses of their infants, parents and husbands. As living in men's society Wollstonecraft realized that her suggestions can cause a stir, hence the major pitch of her appeal for the rights of women might be seen as a call to extend to women the same educational opportunities as those extended to men. She cautions that she has no desire to breed a generation of independent and unattached women like herself, but that she seeks to develop wiser and more virtuous mothers. She believes that children's characters are formed before the age of seven; hence it is very necessary to raise a child by an educated mother rather than by addle-headed mother. Wollstonecraft trying to make the male society of her time to realize that present education of women focuses far too much on attempts to please and tease men , which is no good basis either for the development of a morally responsible personality , longer lasting marriages or good mothers. And if we educate our women as equal to men, society can really benefit and if they continue to be excluded, society will suffer, it will not progress. Without stressing independence she believes that once women gain intellectual equality, they should be given political and economic equality as well.

A Vindication of rights of Woman was a vital piece of work for the Feminists, however it did not really get appreciated among the women of 18th century. It is quite clear that her thoughts were revolutionary for her period and were more suited to the society of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth century, when feminists would reintegrate Wollstonecraft's work into their movements. But Rousseau's point is still being made by those who think that a good deal of mainstream liberal feminism, for all its impressive record of social and political achievements, is demanding that women live by a standard foreign to them, that they become like men rather than developing fully as women. Those who, like Wollstonecraft, deny the classification of men and women as different, and this debate between Rousseau and Wollstonecraft is still very much alive in modern arguments about feminism. The present fierce arguments between and within various men's and women's groups indicate that the question is not yet off the table. These arguments manifest themselves, among other things, in modern concerns about the rising frequency of divorce and of men abandoning their families, of super-moms, of teenage pregnancies, of the need for men to be in control of the family, and so on, all of which remind us that two hundred years after Wollstonecraft's important contribution this great debate, the conversations continue with no loss of urgency.


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