Mary Wollstonecraft

To the disappointment of some of my classmates, Mary Wollstonecraft focuses her arguments for women's rights in the selection we read from A Vindication of the Rights of Woman on how such advancements will benefit men. If a woman be educated, then she will make a better wife and a better mother. While her lot may be improved, her status would remain that of a servant simply by virtue of her sex.

To me, that kind of argument was playing to her audience. She schemed, if you will, to get men to accept women's education by framing her argument directly to men. And, once women begin to be educated, then what is to stop them from clamoring with yet a louder voice for more rights? Perhaps she had faith that when the educated woman was no longer the exception, they could expand their arguments to include those benefits which would be exclusively woman's.

And yet, she did also argue that it was not only for the benefit of men that women should be educated, but for the betterment of society as a whole. "[Y]et the gangrene [of the uneducated, oppressed women], which the vices engendered by the oppression have produced, is not confined to the morbid part, but pervades society at large" (105). This comparison of the whole of society to a living being allows Wollstonecraft to subtly push for not just educational equality, but more than that. It leaves an opening for further arguments of equality to be made each time women gain any small bit, for how shall society be healthy if its members are unequally restricted?

Calling a conclusion obvious is a rhetorical device designed to gain agreement from an audience, and Wollstonecraft uses that to her advantage. And yet, she also uses obvious to pull that female apology maneuver by calling her suggestions for education "obviously hints" (101). Although Wollstonecraft is able to argue for the cause in which she believes, she is still constrained to argue as a woman in a culture that favors men.

And although her demands seem quite modest from the perspective of today's culture, at the time, simply asking for education was a large step. She must strike a delicate balance between claiming rights for women and not seeming to be asking that men give up rights. And that seems to be similar to present day feminist concerns. When women ask for equality, it seems to men that they demand a concession - a change of the natural order which would leave them deficient.

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