A Vindication of the Rights of Woman – Mary Wollstonecraft

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is an early work of the feminist canon. Written in the late 18th century, this work brings out Wollstonecraft’s views and theories on how to improve and cultivate the minds of women so that they could become better citizens. Though the time wasn’t ripe and the society wasn’t ready to receive such ideas pouring from a woman’s mind, nonetheless, it held thoughts that are valuable and worthy to consider.

The whole context of her work is revolved around one goal. That is to expound on how to elevate the minds and persons of women. Wollstonecraft was of the opinion that the present inferior condition of the person and state of mind of women was injurious to society. Women were raised from their childhood with one idea instilled in their minds, and that is to please men. They were taught all the charming trivialities and little domestic duties so they can “catch” a husband. But the question is how are they to hold on to that “catch” to the mutual satisfaction? Without any cultivation of the mind can a woman become the companion or friend of her husband when the initial passion dies? And can a woman even become a good mother and a child’s first teacher, when she is no more than an overgrown child herself? The answer to these questions, says Wollstonecraft, is a big “No”. And to this problem, she provides the following solutions.

If women are to become good wives and prudent mothers, their minds and persons need to be developed in such a manner that they become rational beings, able to reason and judge for themselves and be of strong physical constitution. The only solution to achieve this state in self is to educate women correctly. Theirs shouldn’t be a “sham” education, where only domestic duties and good etiquette are taught. It must be an education that exercises their faculties and make them able to think for themselves, to judge what is right from wrong for themselves without depending on their male counterpart. To achieve the state of the physical self, they need to be allowed some sort of exercise, not vigorous, but suitable for women’s constitution to become strong beings, and not sick weaklings once their youthful bloom is over. All these can be achieved only through a properly guided education. If this is not done, and women continue to be the silly and inferior beings, and they have knowledge only to charm and please men, they will be unfit wives and twice over unfit mothers. The result will be marital disharmony and domestic disorder.

Mary Wollstonecraft’s opinions and theories address the women’s position of her time which is three centuries ago. For this reason, some of her ideas are quite outdated. Yet some of her views, especially on women’s education, still stand true to some extent. Even in the modern-day, we find some inequality in male and female education around the world. I’m not quite aware of how this work was received in her lifetime, but I presume that the time was not right and that society wasn’t ready to receive and concede them. Nevertheless, A Vindication of the Rights of Women is an important piece of literature in the feminine canon. And a crown of laurel must be presented to Mary Wollstonecraft from that half of the human race who benefitted from education for standing up and voicing strongly on women’s education at a time when it was so looked down upon equally by both sexes.

Rating: 4/5

About the author

Piyangie Jay Ediriwickrema is an Attorney-at-Law by profession. Her devotion to literature has taken shape in reading and reviewing books of various genres set in different periods of time. She dabs at a little poetry and fiction of her own and hopes to share her work with the readers in the future.