Monday, April 29, 2019

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: Final Post and Discussion


A Vindication of the Rights of Women
Mary Wollstonecraft
Published 1792

This is the final post and discussion and will cover the last two chapters of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. 

Chapter Twelve

This chapter focused on national education. Wollstonecraft was in support of a national day school, in which children of both sexes and different classes mixed together and learned the same objective, to discover how to "think for themselves."

The author disliked boarding schools or teaching at home, especially because she did not agree with the results: the way students turned out lazy and hardened. She took issue with Catholicism because she believed the customs to be burdensome and empty, but believed students should be encouraged to read God's word for themselves.

She thought public education should teach students to be equally and morally good citizens.
Public education...should be directed to form citizens; but if you wish to make good citizens, you must first exercise the affections of a son and a brother. This is the only way to expand the heart; for public affections, as well as public virtues, must ever grow out of the private character, or they are merely meteors that shoot athwart a dark sky, and disappear as they are gazed at and admired. 
She disagreed with rote memory and recitation. She believed these only encouraged students to exhibit vanity, and it did not teach them to understand what they memorized.

Wollstonecraft wanted boys and girls to go to school together because she believed "females acquired bad habits when they [were] shut up together..." as well as boys in the same situation. She added that if marriage was the foundation of society, so should males and females be educated together. Here is more:
Nay, marriage will never be held sacred till women, by being brought up with men, are prepared to be their companions rather than their mistresses;
So convinced am I of this truth, that I will venture to predict that virtue will never prevail in society till the virtues of both sexes are founded on reason; and till the affections common to both are allowed to gain their due strength by the discharge of mutual duties. 
If males and females were educated together, this would prepare both to be friends, not just lovers. Also, coeducation would promote early marriage. Single people lived primarily for themselves, whereas marriage encouraged selflessness.

Other educational issues the author addressed were strict discipline and school uniforms, which would prevent vanity, especially since girls were distracted by fashion. She also shared an ambitious list of subjects all students should study: botany, mechanics, astronomy, reading, writing, arithmetic, natural history, natural philosophy, gymnastics in the open air, religion, history, anthropology, and politics taught in the socratic form.

Some other quotes from this chapter:
But the sexual weakness that makes women depend on man for a sustenance, produces a kind of cattish affection which leads a wife to purr about her husband as she would about any man who fed and caressed her. 
Make [women] free, and they will quickly become wise and virtuous, as men become more so; for the improvement must be mutual...
Chapter Thirteen

In this final chapter, Wollstonecraft blamed a woman's ignorance on her lack of good education. For that, women did not have proper knowledge about health or their bodies; they believed lies and were superstitious and cheated out of their money to pay imposters to treat them and their children.

The author also complained that women read "stupid" romance novels, corrupting their taste, and giving them a false sense of truth. She also blamed women for desiring to be cheaply entertained so that they did not have to focus on history (or other ideas). Women, she suggested, should "ridicule" these novels and choose to "read something superior."

Wollstonecraft addressed the fashion issue again and said that because women were "situated...to be rivals," they could be petty about how other women dressed. This was also because women had nothing worthy to discuss, unlike men who talked about business and politics.

There were additional short sections: one dedicated to a woman's sensibility and another on raising children. Then she wrapped up her main argument in a final section, that women must be educated...because: "it is obvious that we are little interested about what we do not understand."

Wollstonecraft also wrote that husbands and wives needed common interests and similar pursuits in order for affections to be true, if at all.
Moralists have unanimously agreed, that unless virtue be nursed by liberty, it will never attain due strength - and what they say of man I extend to mankind, insisting that in all cases morals must be fixed on immutable principles; and, that the being cannot be termed rational or virtuous, who obeys any authority, but that of reason. 
Let women share the rights and she will emulate the virtues of man... 
###

Discussion Questions:

Do you agree or disagree with Wollstonecraft's arguments about "stupid" romance novels, in which an author presents perfect images of men and women in love and marriage. (We could even apply this to romantic films.) 

I agree with her stupid romance novels argument because I know from experience that the situations in these stories (books or films) are not realistic. Relationships like those do not portray men and women correctly.  I would go as far as to say romance is a lie and a distraction. As the author warns, set your mind on higher ideals because chasing after romance with a man will only end in utter disappointment. It doesn't exist. (OK, I think I exaggerated that last part.)

What do you think of her suggestion that a benefit of mixed schools would encourage early marriage? That is not the case today. If anything, less people are marrying, or more people are putting off marriage. So what happened (since modern schools have been co-educating for generations)?

Maybe mixed schools did encourage earlier friendships with the opposite sex, which led to earlier unions, but the reasons it has not remained today may be due to numerous factors: women are definitely more independent and self-sufficient now, many want to pursue careers instead of have families, the sanctity of marriage has been destroyed, sex and intimacy are no longer valued, etc.

Are there any arguments throughout the book that you definitely disagree? How would you respond?

This really is not a major argument, but several times the author made negative remarks about women being  ladylike, decorous, or chaste - like, it was foolish and wasteful for women to be taught how to be refined in behavior and speech. Wollstonecraft believed women spent too much time on outward presentation, but I do not see how it would have interfered in obtaining a well-rounded education, as well. I think it is right and good for women to be cultivated. The author even suggested women be discreet, including with other women; I don't see how that is different from being ladylike. Or maybe I misunderstood. 

Look! Like I should talk! I struggle with this myself. I rebelled against lessons in decorum, but I wish I took it seriously. Maybe if women were refined in speech and behavior and rejected ungentlemanly behavior and speech from the opposite sex, maybe it would have caused men to rise to the occasion, just as Wollstonecraft said women would "emulate the virtues of men" if they were given the right. Well, if women raised the bar on behavior and speech, maybe it would have compelled men to raise their own virtues. 

P.S. I also disagree with Wollstonecraft (and today's battle) on men being gentlemanly. The author did not think it was helpful for men to treat women like they were incapable of opening their own doors, etc. I found this argument sensible; however, for cultural reasons, and today particularly, it takes a conscious effort for men to treat women with respect, which is what he is doing when he offers his abilities, and it should be encouraged. It makes up for all the males who treat women like dirt.

Did the author change your way of thinking on any issue?

The issue of physical strength: The author admitted that men are physically stronger than women; true; however, women are physically strong, too. God created us to become physically strong. We may not be able to compete physically with men, but we can do things that require strength. I used to leave that to my husband without even trying; but now I think twice about leaving things for him to do that require my strength. However, when he volunteers to push the grocery cart because it's "too heavy for me," I yield; it makes him feel useful, and he likes that.  

Another interesting point was how women acted weak and feeble, and responded overly dramatic or incapable of handling fright or shock. This is foolishness! How important is it to train up our children (boys and girls) to be brave-hearts, able to face their "fears," instead of yielding to delicacy or terror? So this is something else I am more conscious of now, encouraging especially my girls to be self-controlled in their emotions and capable in their responses.

Now it is your turn. Tell us what you think. You can share in the comments or leave a link to your review and answers on your blog.  

And thank you all who participated and read along with me...even to those of you who are still reading! Let us know when you are done and share your review, too.




9 comments:

Sharon Wilfong said...

Very good commentary. I agree with your answers to the questions. Again, it's hard to know what Wollstonecraft was seeing or how much outside her own elitist enclave she was truly informed about. Personally I hate romance novels and I remember girls in high school, back in the eighties, reading even worse: those pulpy porn novels with the half naked women and men on the cover. I wondered how anyone could develop a realistic view of marriage when they filled their minds with that garbage.

I wonder why Wollstonecraft wrote this book and what effect she hoped to have and I would also like to know if she did have any impact. It seems to me she has a rather elitist attitude by the fact that she wrote a book that sounds so condescending to women.

Marian H said...

Here's my post: https://www.classicsconsidered.com/2019/04/a-vindication-of-rights-of-woman-week-4.html

Once again, thanks for hosting this, Ruth! I honestly learned a lot, and it was fun. :)

Ruth said...

Thank you for joining me!! I replied to your answers on your blog.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Sharon.

Oh, I am so grateful I never had a desire to read those yucky novels. I image the writing is poor quality. And I am sure the plots are completely unrealistic.

Wollstonecraft says she wrote this as a response to (was it Burke?) who wrote a Vindication of the Rights of Man following or during the French Revolution...as a way to preserve traditional roles of men. (I'm sure I just butchered this. Well, I wrote about it on my intro to the Read Along.) Anyway, she wrote it to say, "Hey, don't forget WOMEN! Here is what we need to do for women." And she laid our her ideas. Toward the end of the book, she does sound really frustrated with women and she blames them for some of their problems, which I kind of think she made a point; however, what else could they do? Maybe people are followers and they just do what they are told or live as they know nothing else. But having said that, she could have softened her tone, her approach, and her message to encourage and lead, as oppose to rebuke and chastise.

Beth said...

A favorite quote:

The affections of children, and weak people, are always selfish; they love others, because others love them, and not on account of their virtues. Yet, till esteem and love are blended together in the first affection, and reason made the foundation of the first duty, morality will stumble at the threshold.

I haven't written a review yet, but I will.

Beth said...

Wollstonecraft wrote Vindication of the Rights of Man first (in response to Burke) 2 years before this book. The intro to the version I read calls it the first critique of Burke (Reflections on the French Revolution). I have a book of Burkes writings that mentions her response to Burke in the introduction.

Ruth said...

Yep, I do remember that one!

Ruth said...

Yes, this is it.

I own that book (Reflections on the FR), too, and mean to read it fairly soon. It made it on to a few of my TBRs, but I never got to it. I
d like to read his Rights of Man, also.

Thanks, Beth.

Brona said...

It has taken me all day to finally complete my post about Vindications, sorry I haven't been a full participant, but I've been on this journey with you in spirit :-)

I hope to come back and address some of your questions and comments now that I've caught up on all your posts (but it wont be today - I've now had enough computer time for one Saturday!)

Thank you for hosting this - it would have been a tough to get through without support.

My post