Monday, April 22, 2019

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Discussion Post #3

Continuing with Chapters 6-11...

Chapters 6

Chapter six was about early education, of which Wollstonecraft recognized as essential to forming a child's character. Unfortunately, early education for girls treated them as "defects in nature," incapable of understanding deep issues. Girls were taught to be self-focused, which encouraged them to seek after attention. Women were consumed with thinking only of love, like they could not live without it.

Chapter 7

This chapter covered modesty, both of behavior and mind. Girls were taught modest outward behavior but not "purity of mind." If a woman's thoughts avoided sensibility, she would naturally behave modestly.
Make the heart clean, let it expand and feel for all that is human, instead of being narrowed by selfish passions...
The author argued that modesty must be maintained by both sexes, not just women alone. And she also talked about discretion, especially of personal privacy, like our bodies and bodily functions.

Chapter 8

In this chapter, Wollstonecraft focused on morality and maintaining a good reputation, which was important, but not when it consumed your every thought, as women were persuaded. Furthermore, according to Wollstonecraft, men were the ones who did not control their appetites; therefore, until men did, things may not become better for either sex.

Chapter 9

Wollstonecraft argued for equality in society and class. Women dependent on men, especially wealthy women, became "cunning, mean, and selfish" because they were more concerned with their personal attentions than their roles as mother.

On the one hand she complained that mothers passed their children off to nurses to raise up their babies, yet she also argued that women should be financially independent of men, able to enter politics and other professional fields. I would like to interject here that today women have these options to enter the workforce, and mothers are still sending their babies off to nurses to be raised; we call it daycare. So how has that helped?

Her point was that if men would "snap our chins, and be content with rational fellowship instead of slavish obedience, they would find us more observant..., more affectionate....., more faithful...., more reasonable..., better citizens."
We should love them with true affection, because we should learn to respect ourselves; and the peace of mind of a worthy man would not be interrupted by the idle vanity of his wife, nor the babes sent to nestle in a strange bosom, having never found a home in their mother's. 
Chapter 10

Wollstonecraft claimed that parental affection was more like self-worship, in which children were perfect mirrors of their parents. She also believed that parental affection led to tyranny because parents expected total blind obedience of their children. And she also reminded us that mothers needed "good sense and independence of mind," not completely dependent on their husbands, to raise up descent children. She needed to autonomously know how to govern her household and manage her children.

Chapter 11

Finally, in this chapter, the author discussed duty to parents. Again, she noted parental tyranny. She believed that people, including parents, should be granted respect because of their virtue instead of automatic submission. Yes, children should be taught to obey parents until they were able to use good judgment themselves; but as soon as possible, they should be taught to obey reason.
The affections of children, are always selfish; they love their relatives, because they are beloved by them, and not on account of their virtues. Yet, till esteem and love are blended together....and reason made the foundation, morality will stumble at the threshold. 
Discussion Questions

1. Have you found any differences of opinions, yet? I had a few, as noted above, especially about raising children.  I am grateful women have choices today; however, it is a difficult balance when it comes to caring for our babies and deciding to continue our education or advance in a profession.

2. What do you think about her ideas in parenting? She believed that natural parental affection was more like self-worship. Do you agree? Why or why not?

3. Do you agree with the author's remarks on modesty, chastity, or discretion? Why or why not?


On a final note, I found the most interesting video, on accident. It uses science to support arguments that men and women are born with different natures, something that Wollstonecraft does not use. Our author believed that girls and women were shaped to think, desire, believe, and behave by outside forces. While she did believe in some male/female distinctions, her observations influenced her opinion that the differences were defined by male dominated views.

This video was really interesting, particularly because several of the examples contradict Wollstonecraft's arguments, especially #10, which claims that female babies of different ages were drawn to feminine toys, like dolls. In other words, this video supports Rousseau's arguments that girls are attracted to dolls. What do you think?

Check it out...

Fifty Real Differences Between Men and Women:


  1. What a coincidence; that video has been on my list of YouTube recommendations! Google must have noticed we're doing this readathon. :P I looked over the transcript and feel I'm perhaps not the best person to comment on it. But, here goes...

    If what they say is accurate, I've always been an outlier - as a kid I happily played with dolls and plastic swords and Legos alike, even though there weren't any boys to play with. I love math and computers, and am a visual learner. Combining that with some negative experiences due to generalizations, it's hard for me to accept 50 generalizations, especially when I can think of other women in my life whom this doesn't quite fit. No one grows up in a vacuum, so I wouldn't underestimate the family culture of the children in the studies (being biracial definitely impacted my childhood). Some of the differences are likely related to environment or just personality (#14, #47, #48).

    But, to return to Mary, here's my post for Week 3:

    1. True. The woman in the video does make a disclaimer that these generalizations have exceptions. I was one of them. While I played with dolls in my elementary years, I also LOVED playing baseball and with my brother's cars, a lot. I wanted to be an architect and plan cities. In fact, men at my college used to give me a hard time for studying architecture and building codes.

      I agree that environment and personality have influence on the designs of a child as they grow up.

      So, I'll go over to your post now...

  2. Honestly, the more I read this book the less I care for it. I really will keep it short this time. Wollstonecraft takes an Aristotelian rationalistic view of the virtue of modesty - that's it. Much of the rest of these chapters are similar to the earlier material so one's left to reflect on her broader contexts and meaning. I still find her confused and contradictory at times. I still find her to be a bit bitter and subtly acrimonious. I still really think she was quite angry and resentful toward her parents. I still think her relationship or lack thereof with Christ was a conflict internally that caused her to blame everything on something or someone else, and education and women's rights were an avenue to deflect her inner miseries. I really feel some sadness for her. She was very well spoken and obviously intelligent. She had much to offer others, but without Christ, those things are just empty words. Thanks again for your indulgence.

    1. Thanks, Anchors...

      You make important suggestions. Her upbringing has a lot to do with her attitudes and experiences while writing this work. It is possible these influences shaped her personal experiences. I agree that her worldview without Christ only limited her ability to understand and identify these issues. I also had some disagreements with her, some conflicts, or as you say, found contradictions, with her arguments.

      However, I do commend her for her boldness, assertiveness, and articulation for confronting the issues. I especially think she makes an essential observation about women (and I do believe women are responsible for teaching this, too) focusing only on their physical presentation, as that was all they were encouraged to do because they lacked more intellectual pursuits. Obviously women were limited in her time. But interestingly, even with the opportunities in modern society, women still focus on their outer beauty. I'm sorry...I think of the Kardasians, and they are just a sample of women who sell themselves based on their beauty.

      So, I think that was a major problem Wollstonecraft wrote about, and, yet, it is still an issue today -- only it is by choice and women become rich by it. Now, I'm all for capitalism...but I think a woman sells herself short when her choice is to use her beauty in obscene ways to make a living. Then we start crossing over into the issues of discretion that Wollstonecraft referenced...and I'll be here forever.

  3. Of course you're right about women focusing on their physical presentation in Wollstonecraft's time period. You're also more than correct in pointing that out in the here an now. I too find it ironic and interesting that the feminist movement has latched onto this book as their instruction manual and yet seem to negate and disregard Wollstonecraft's concern with this very same issue. It seems modern women wishing to find 'success and riches' in today's society want it both ways. Wonderful dialog, thank you.

    1. "the feminist movement has latched onto this book as their instruction manual and yet seem to negate and disregard Wollstonecraft's concern with this very same issue."


      Since when do feminists accept that women should be obsessed with physical appearance? Not in my experience. Not sure where this is coming from.

  4. The thing about gender differences is that many of them are not very dramatic: usually this is a matter of men being slightly more likely to do X and women being slightly more likely to do Y. So... if I think that there are a bunch of differences in the general population, but that most of them are overlapping bell curves, then do I think gender makes a big difference or not?

    My favorite quote from this section:
    "Virtue must be loved as in itself sublime and excellent, and not for the advantages it procures or the evils it averts, if any great degree of excellence be expected. Men will not become moral when they only build airy castles in a future world to compensate for the disappointments which they meet with in this."

    1. Thanks, Beth.

      I think Wollstonecraft supported the idea of social constructs, and I think I struggle with it b/c I understand there are some things that are natural to men and women...though so many issues have exceptions and do overlap, as you suggest. But I wish she expounded more on those ideas b/c I didn't get enough info to understand what specifically she meant.