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A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Third Edition) (Norton Critical Editions)

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A book by Mary Wollstonecraft

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Author: Mary Wollstonecraft
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
1 review about A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Third...

The first feminist

  • Oct 17, 2009
This was required reading for a graduate course in the Humanities. Wollstonecraft is not easy to read however, she makes a compelling argument. Mary Wollstonecraft viewed the institution of marriage simply as legal prostitution. She believed this to be the case for several reasons. First, the marriage laws in Britain at the time gave men legal rights over their wives including their property. The law also gave men custody of their children in event of divorce, and a woman could not even obtain a divorce without their husband's consent. For women divorce meant having to leave everything of importance in their lives behind. Thus, Wollstonecraft observed that Britain's laws left women in the unenviable position of being treated as mere chattel by their husbands. Second, Wollstonecraft argued that women's downtrodden position in society was not the cause of religious or moral teachings. She was emphatic in her assessment that it was women's denial of the same educational opportunities that men received that made them seem weak and inferior to men. Finally, she believed marriage only chained women to a life of drudgery in the home.

Armed with this information, Wollstonecraft set out to propose in her book A Vindication of the Rights of Women the idea, that equal education for women was the only remedy for this grave injustice perpetrated against them, and education for women would actually strengthen the institution of marriage. She made several prescient arguments to support this idea. First, Wollstonecraft believed schoolchildren needed the contact and interaction with other schoolchildren to develop properly. So, she argued against Britain's system of elitist education, especially its private schools and boarding schools. She advocated for the creation of national public schools, funded by the state, and attended by children from the entire socio-economic strata. Second, she thought it was imperative that both boys and girls must be educated together. The reason Wollstonecraft believed in coeducation, was that when both boys and girls get to know one another from an early age they would in turn, build friendships, and learn to respect one another. Therefore, when women get married, they will be able to serve as companions to their husbands and not just as trophy wives or sexual objects. "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." Third, Wollstonecraft asked the question, how society could expect mothers to rear healthy boys capable of functioning as confident and productive men in society if their mothers, who raised them, were uneducated. She was horrified to think of the damage already done to children by uneducated, weak-minded mothers. Wollstonecraft articulates in beautiful fashion her argument for the need to educate women in the following quote. "If marriage be the cement of society, mankind should all be educated after the same model, or the intercourse of the sexes will never deserve the name of fellowship, nor will women ever fulfill the peculiar duties of their sex." This argument only enhances women's roles as wives and mothers. Finally, Wollstonecraft argued that the implementation of her educational reforms would prove to be a key element leading to the improvement of the institution of marriage in particular, and for family life in general. "Contending for the rights of women, my main argument is built on this simple principle, that if she be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge and virtue."

The Norton Critical Edition is the best way to read this book since it has several essays illuminating the work through a modern and postmodern lens.

Recommended reading for anyone interested in history, psychology, philosophy, and feminism, social science, history and, psychology.

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