Feminist Reader #5 – Mary Wollstonecraft “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”
Vindication is a work that must be valued for its historical significance rather than for its literary qualities. Its content, in its purest sense and form, is what makes the essay worth reading, despite Wollstonecraft’s harsh, convoluted and almost unreadable style. All the points she remarks about women, their rights, and the social impositions upon them are true, for her time and some even for the present. However, the tone Wollstonecraft uses nears that of a demand instead of a sober exposition. Some times, her answers feel rushed, or just as pretexts to attack certain ideology or custom.
Perhaps Wollstonecraft’s aggressiveness was necessary, in order to counter the numerous male interpretations. After all, these positions were usually as radical or offensive as hers. Ranging from Aristotle down to Rousseau, the view of women hasn’t been horrendously unfair, to put it mildly. Women have been labeled as docile, weak, passionately flawed, among other blemishes; just quite enough imperfection to be regarded as inferior to men. Wollstonecraft argues against this old custom, with reasonable statements, as well as with her somewhat challenging and assertive (thus, not ‘feminine’) tone. Also, she discards all the supposed “good traits” of a woman–meaning basically all the feminine stereotypes.
It could be understood after reading Vindication that Wollstonecraft’s ideal of a woman not only defies the conceptions made by men philosophers, but opposes the actual femininity adopted by women of her time. Her vindication, in the end, calls for a less feminine model to be the right woman.