A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

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A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
Table of Contents
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Moral and Political Subjects (1792), by Mary Wollstonecraft, is one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy. In it, Wollstonecraft responds to the educational and political theorists of the eighteenth century who wanted to deny women an education. She argues that women ought to have an education commensurate with their position in society and then proceeds to redefine that position, claiming that women are essential to the nation because they educate its children and because they could be "companions" to their husbands, rather than mere wives. Instead of viewing women as ornaments to society or property to be traded in marriage, Wollstonecraft maintains that they are human beings deserving of the same fundamental rights as men.

Wollstonecraft was prompted to write the Rights of Woman by Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord's 1791 report to the French National Assembly which stated that women should only receive a domestic education; she used her commentary on this specific event to launch a broad attack against sexual double standards and to indict men for encouraging women to indulge in excessive emotion. Wollstonecraft wrote the Rights of Woman hurriedly in order to respond directly to ongoing events; she intended to write a more thoughtful second volume, but died before she was able to complete it.

While Wollstonecraft does call for equality between the sexes in particular areas of life, such as morality, she does not explicitly state that men and women are equal. Her ambiguous statements regarding the equality of the sexes have since made it difficult to classify Wollstonecraft as a modern feminist, particularly since the word and the concept were unavailable to her. Although it is commonly assumed now that the Rights of Woman was unfavorably received, this is a modern misconception based on the belief that Wollstonecraft was as reviled during her lifetime as she became after the publication of William Godwin's Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1798). The Rights of Woman was actually well-received when it was first published in 1792.

Excerpted from A Vindication of the Rights of Woman on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

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Title page from the first edition of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
  • To M. Talleyrand-Périgord late bishop of Autun
  • Introduction
  • Chapter I The rights and involved duties of mankind considered
  • Chapter II The prevailing opinion of a sexual character discussed
  • Chapter III The same subject continued
  • Chapter IV Observations on the state of degradation to which woman is reduced by various causes
  • Chapter V Animadversions on some of the writers who have rendered women objects of pity, bordering on contempt
  • Chapter VI The effect which an early association of ideas has upon the character
  • Chapter VII Modesty – comprehensively considered, and not as a sexual virtue
  • Chapter VIII Morality undermined by sexual notions of the importance of a good reputation
  • Chapter IX Of the pernicious effects which arise from the unnatural distinctions established in society
  • Chapter X Parental affection Speaker Icon.svg
  • Chapter XI Duty to parents
  • Chapter XII On national education
  • Chapter XIII Some instances of the folly which the ignorance of women generates; with concluding reflections on the moral improvement that a revolution in female manners might naturally be expected to produce
This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.