A Vindication of the Rights of Woman


Nature versus Nurture in Mary Wollstonecraft

June 17, 2019 by Essay Writer

The centuries-long debate over the influence of nature versus nurture is not only a prominent theme in psychology, but also the historic roots of modern day feminism. Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of famous author Mary Shelly and wife of prominent anarchist William Godwin, was also the first liberal feminist theorist to propose that women should be regarded on equal footing as men. In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Wollstonecraft asserts that if a woman is not prepared by education to become the companion of man or a competent mother, she will impede the progress of knowledge and virtue in society. This paper will first establish the context of Wollstonecraft’s nature versus nurture argument and then use a contractarian model of analysis to identify some of the merits and demerits of the old and new social contract dictating marriage and family rights. Maintaining that gendered behavior was a learned experience rather than a natural occurrence, she proposes a model of marriage as friendship that holds certain expectations for both men and women to mollify arbitrary power dynamics within the domestic and social sphere. Further, these expectations are manifested in the form of duties that promote equality in the family and are mutually agreed upon in a reformed social contract. This paper will argue with reference to Mary Wollstonecraft that while the state of nature sets the foundation for gender inequality, it is nurture from a flawed social contract that perpetuates gender distinctions. Further, it will examine Wollstonecraft’s newly proposed contract for its beneficial efforts to overcome blind submission, untapped potential, and arbitrary power as well as its potential shortcomings in addressing sexual desire and the dilemma of motherhood.

Wollstonecraft asserts that the distinction between genders is a socially created phenomenon that can be overcome by adopting a new social contract that promotes marriage as a friendship. As Wollstonecraft indicates, men and women “must be educated, in a great degree, by the opinions and manners of the society they live in.”[1] Indeed, the social norm at the time of Wollstonecraft’s writing was for women to be raised to be married to and economically dependent on men. And upon marriage, often relegated to menial household tasks. That is to say, girls are usually assigned the role of “gate-keepers” or “homemakers” and men the “breadwinners” in society. The division of labour was originally viewed as efficient, with men better suited for hunting and warfare, and women better suited for gathering, cooking, and caring for children near camps. Moreover, roots of patriarchy based on physical barriers were further consolidated with the growth of industry and mining under industrial capitalism, with women’s weaker frames deemed inappropriate for heavy lifting. However, these social roles are also dependent on social and economic contexts. For example, few denied women’s ability to contribute to the war effort in factories during WWI and WWII, yet once total war ended women were encouraged to return to their domestic roles so that men could resume their ‘natural’ employment patterns. Hence, while biological factors from ‘nature’ may set the foundations, social and historic forces under ‘nurture’ often have greater influence in determining the outcome of this inequality.

Embedded within Wollstonecraft’s new social contract is the idea that women are not mentally inferior to men, but have equal rational potential that has not yet been realized. Wollstonecraft argues that because “knowledge of the two sexes should be the same in nature” women should not be treated as half beings but instead educated by the same means as men to achieve their full potential.[2] As Laura Brace notes, the old social contract under Rousseau offered women protection in return for obedience.[3] Yet, Wollstonecraft counters Rousseau’s idea that men were born with a degree of perfection in mind, by noting early debauchery in society as well as the weakness and caprice of men who are inundated by flattery and ego service often required of women. She notes, “if the blind lead the blind, one need not come from heaven to tell us the consequence.”[4] That is to say, the tendency for women to degrade themselves and act like they are in need of protection, all while offering unconditional support and adulation for men leaves humankind in not only a childish, but also dangerous state. Thus, similar to the divine right of kings, the “divine right of husbands” should also be challenged to promote a return to equality.[5] While gender inequality was an appropriate solution for problems at the time of its inception in the Bronze Age, it is no longer relevant to our times. However, the gender division of labour persists in modern societies due to the socialization of ideas about certain roles and employment most appropriate for men and women. This can be seen through the concentration of women in personal service or “caring” industries, with jobs as nurses, maids, teachers and personal secretaries, while men are more likely to be doctors, managers, professors, or higher level executives. Meanwhile, Wollstonecraft offers a forward looking solution to overcome structural inequalities through the marriage as friendship model, which emphasizes equality, free choice, reason, mutual respect and concern for the other’s morality.[6] This new social contract promotes a certain degree of interdependence that deepens bonds through the appreciation of one another’s character and individuality, thus favouring integration and social progress.

Both sides stand to benefit from the new social contract as it promotes a sense of stability by limiting the pursuit of arbitrary power. Wollstonecraft explains that, “Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and, roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.”[7] Women’s education comprised of training in the art of pleasing, yet with the goal of seeking attention and admiration from men, they become “alluring mistresses” instead of “affectionate wives and rational mothers.”[8] This emphasis on appearances and games not only promotes infidelity due to the transient nature of looks and habit of flirting, but also poor mothers who feel the tendency to compete with their daughters once their beauty is jaded and feelings of insecurity takes over. Strict gender roles under the previous social contract neither supported the right conditions for women to carry out their duties as educators nor serve in their family’s best interests. As Ruth Abbey summarizes, when they are “refused power in any larger sense, women become tyrants in small matters.”[9] That is to say, because women aren’t permitted legitimate rights, they are forced to obtain power indirectly through illegitimate avenues such as deception and seduction. Hence, when women are taught to value beauty over smarts, they are unable pass down rationality to the next generation. Husbands are also disadvantaged in this arrangement as they are unable to find common topics with their spouse, thereby widening the gap and increasing the likelihood of an unhappy marriage.[10] However, if men and women were to marry by choice and for companionship, there should be fewer affairs, as husbands are more likely to be at home and serve as better fathers to their children. Hence, Wollstonecraft’s new social contract underscores the importance for women to be educated in a way that prepares them to carry out educative duties as parents and allow them to cooperate with men in this role. By changing the definition of a good wife, good mother and good daughter, not only will the family prosper but also society at large.

Although the liberal notion of equality is promoted within the new social contract to allow both men and women to reach their full potential in public and private domains, Wollstonecraft’s new social contract fails to account for the passion between male-female relationships and the dilemma of motherhood. While Rousseau believes love should to be the foundation of marriage and family life, Wollstonecraft believes that love is too fleeting and emphasizes the importance of friendship in reaching equality and a mature relationship between married partners.[11] However, Wollstonecraft fails to fully address corporal intimacy and sexual desire in her marriage as friendship solution, this is largely due to the fact that the higher friendship she envisioned was in the image of a relationship “traditionally thought of as existing between men only.”[12] That being said, she does not completely ignore or shun the sexual dimension of personality but simply advocates moderation to focus on fulfilling familial duties. Thus, Wollstonecraft assumes priorities in the social contract between men and women by picturing marriage as an arrangement that allows love to drop to a healthy lukewarm temperature. Hence, there are some rights that must be given up in promotion of the greater good, that is to say, strong feelings of affection. Still, some may argue that the co-existence between friendship and sexual desire is difficult, especially when humans are more driven by desires than rationality in the pursuit of companionship. Moreover, society has not yet evolved to favour level-headedness and long-term planning in lieu of short-term passion and stimulus. As Abbey rightly observes, had Wollstonecraft not died while giving birth to Marry Shelly, her continued marriage with William Godwin might have been able to offer deeper insights and reflections on the place of sexuality in friendly marriages.[13] However, a noticeable flaw still exists in Wollstonecraft’s newly proposed social contract of equality, and that is the gap between equality and difference that drives Carole Pateman’s description of Wollstonecraft’s Dilemma.[14] In essence, Wollstonecraft’s dilemma is the double-edged argument that women must be granted rights of humanity to then fulfill traditionally feminine duties of motherhood. However, assuming women’s biological destiny and natural calling to motherhood risks confining them to the private sphere. This is an issue unaddressed by Wollstonecraft that reverberates in modern debates over work-life balance and the timing of marriage and childbirth. Thus, there exist both physical and psychological barriers in the attempt to bridge feminist rights and motherhood. While society should make women capable of fulfilling the role of motherhood through equal opportunity, men also have an obligation to marriage and fatherhood. However, workplace representation, the glass ceiling and gender wage gap are indicators that women still cannot have the best of both worlds, and subsequently men too. Hence, barriers between the public and private sphere are often borne by nature, but engrained by nurture.

Wollstonecraft’s ideas about nature versus nurture and gender embody a very modern sense of gender identity for her time. She was one of the first to suggest the extension of the social contract into the private sphere by highlighting the idea that everyone is born equal, and that oppression from one’s environment is what creates inequality. Under the old social contract of patriarchy, women were not only required to be dependent on men but also beautiful and emotionally vulnerable. Moreover, Wollstonecraft highlights the need for a change to women’s education for dependence by uncovering the thoughtlessness behind submitting to the will of another fallible being as well as the inevitability of arbitrary power relations on both sides. Nevertheless, because men and women create social contracts out of self-interest, redefining those interests leaves considerable room for reform to the original agreement. In other words, what we value, is ultimately up to us. As liberal values of freedom, reason, and consent diffuse, women will be able to overcome their subordinate positions and achieve equality and independence in the household. Additionally, friendship based on choice, complementarity, mutual respect and concern for the other’s character will not only help wives but also husbands in fulfilling their duties of a stable and happy marriage as well as education of the next generation. Not only does Wollstonecraft note the false dichotomy between nature and nurture, she devises a new interpretation of gender relations and identity to aid both men and women in reaching their full potentials. Ultimately, Wollstonecraft’s work is fundamental in highlighting the importance of addressing the political nature of family relations before liberal political theory may progress.


Abbey, Ruth. “Back to the Future: Marriage as Friendship in the Thought of Mary Wollstonecraft.” Indiana University Press Journals 14, no. 3 (1999): 78-95.

Brace, Laura. “’Not Empire, but Equality’: Mary Wollstonecraft, the Marriage State and the Sexual Contract.” The Journal of Political Philosophy 8, no. 4 (2000): 433-455.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects. London: J. Johnson, 1792.

[1] Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects (London: J. Johnson, 1792), 21. [2] Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 35. [3] Laura Brace, “‘Not Empire, but Equality’: Mary Wollstonecraft, the Marriage State and the Sexual Contract,” The Journal of Political Philosophy 8, no. 4 (2000): 434. [4] Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 22. [5] Ibid., 36. [6] Ruth Abbey, “Back to the Future: Marriage as Friendship in the Thought of Mary Wollstonecraft,” Indiana University Press Journals 14, no. 3 (1999): 79. [7] Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 39. [8] Ibid., 10. [9] Abbey, “Back to the Future: Marriage as Friendship,” 86. [10] Ibid., 82. [11] Ibid., 85. [12] Ibid., 87. [13] Ibid., 88. [14] Brace, “Not Empire, but Equality,” 436.

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A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

April 24, 2019 by Essay Writer

During the early years of the French Revolution, England became a place of new beginnings, where the idea of the individual emerged, the world of literature was reborn and authority was thoroughly questioned and often uprooted. Great poets and philosophers were awakened, and the ‘war of pamphlets’ began, proclaiming revolutionary theories, arguing social and political change, and urging self-examination. Mary Wollstonecraft, “pioneer of feminist thought” (Jane Moore, 1999) in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was the first to bring the subordinate attitude that society had towards women into the open, arguing that women were men’s intellectual equals and therefore affirming a woman’s right to a full education. “A profound conviction that the neglected education of my fellow-creatures is the grand source of the misery I deplore.” (Page166) Continuing on from this radical observation, Wollstonecraft states, that through the education of women, relationships between husbands and wives will be better and the children, future of society will receive a better education. By including the children into these benefits, Wollstonecraft appeals to the men, who at that time considered “females rather as women than human creature; have been more anxious to make them alluring mistresses than affectionate wives and rational mothers.” Wollstonecraft continues to say that women are elevated, acknowledging the “homage” that men pay to women, yet this “homage” is purely directed towards purile qualities rather than noble. She argues that this elevation does nothing but weaken the women. Wollstonecraft’s preferable woman figure is a rational and useful citizen.It is not only the attitude of men towards women that Wollstonecraft directed her arguments against. Much of her criticism was aimed at the women’s perception of themselves and their own abilities. Wollstonecraft claims in chapter two, page 170, that the only education women receive is that which is taught by their mothers, “softness of temper, outward obedience and a scrupulous attention to a purile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of man…” Who, “…try to secure the good conduct of women by attempting to keep them always in a state of childhood.” (Page 170-171) Wollstonecraft continues throughout her book to refer to the “wife” as being an “overgrown child.” In connecting the way women are treated to how children are treated, emphasis is placed on the fact that as children are dependant on adults, (men), for intellectual guidance, so to do women rely on men, rather than becoming responsible for their own intellectual growth.Keeping these views of women in mind, Wollstonecraft’s ideas were revolutionary. They were the beginnings of emancipation for women.Wollstonecraft argues that men may well be more virtuous in their bodies, yet when it comes to the virtue of one’s nature, she defies any idea of virtue being different for men or women; “in fact how can they, if virtue has only one eternal standard?” (Page 176) This is one of her main objectives that woman’s physical inferiority has led to false assumptions about her intellectual ability. By including God in the argument, Wollstonecraft dares to confront the church, a leader power of the time, and its opinion that it is only men who have certain Godly qualities.She alludes once again to the Christian teachings, yet this time backing up her point by using the Old Testament. In this case she is against Dr Gregory in his “Legacy to his daughters,” that girls should “give lie to her feelings, and not dance with her spirit…”continuing to advise the restraint of speech lest it make her seem immodest. Wollstonecraft fights back by quoting “the wiser Solomon” saying that the heart should be pure, abundant and natural, out of this state the mouth would speak true knowledge. Thus the heart is more important than trivial ceremonies placed on women and children, because even people with vice in their heart can perform such actions. This is a very confrontational approach, as both men and women partook of church ceremonies for no other reason than to heighten people’s opinion of themselves.Throughout the Vindication, Wollstonecraft makes clear her position that to be a good mother and responsible citizen the woman must be equal with her husband, “and not the humble dependant” (page 178) the only way to achieve this is through friendship, and a natural understanding that both are “creatures of reason.” Wollstonecraft does not however deny the passion that is felt in a marriage, she says that when this passion should subside, there should be a friendship in which to educate children and form strong morals on which society can move forward. To have a strong friendship with one’s wife would be an absurd idea to many men at that time, but because of the revolutionary awakening occurring, Wollstonecraft was able to try and change this constraining idea which men had.Rousseau is another poet that she fights against to prove her point. While he is concerned about power plays and feeling lacking in some way, Wollstonecraft states “I do not wish them to have power over men; but over themselves.” (Chap 4, page 187) This is her main point, equality, and understanding of ones self. She is encouraging women to educate themselves, push past the false limitations which society has placed on women and begin to cultivate rationality, understanding and peace of mind. (Page 181) None of her arguments seek to make women higher than men, they are rather encouraging woman to embrace this time of new beginnings.BibliographyMoore, J Mary Wollstonecraft UK (1999)Wollstonecraft, M A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, (1792) in Norton Anthology of English LiteratureNew York (2000)

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A Flaw-Ridden Marriage

March 29, 2019 by Essay Writer

One may read between the lines to conclude the Bennets’ marriage in Pride and Prejudice was an act of convenience, lacking love. As a result of this incompatibility, their relationship is fraught with flaws. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813), many of Mary Wollstonecraft’s sentiments expressed in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) are expressed through Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s relationship—as seen in Mr. Bennet’s finding humor in his wife’s actions, Mrs. Bennet’s failure to charm her husband, and the Bennets’ indifference to one another in place of love.

In A Vindication of the Rights of WomanWollstonecraft states: “[Woman] was created to be the toy of man, his rattle, and it must jingle in his ears whenever, dismissing reason, he chooses to be amused.” In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet finds humor in his wife’s fickle emotions and foolish actions. Mr. Bennet’s use of his wife can be seen in this excerpt: “I wish I could say…the establishment of so many of her children, produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life; though perhaps it was lucky for her husband, who might not have relished domestic felicity in so unusual a form, that she still was occasionally nervous and invariably silly” (Austen 295). This statement conveys the joy Mr. Bennet gleans from observing his wife’s insensibility. He could have easily left the house if he so wished, but instead he often casually played with Mrs. Bennet’s emotions to enjoy her reaction. Mr. Bennet’s toying with his wife’s naïve feelings in Pride and Prejudice is an example of Wollstonecraft’s sentiments expressed in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

In Pride and Prejudice, Austen characterizes Mrs. Bennet as a woman with few, if any, redeeming qualities. The false sense of emotion that was once evoked from Mr. Bennet is no longer present, and she lacks charm. Wollstonecraft explains the situation: “The Woman who has only been taught to please will soon find that her charms are oblique sunbeams, and that they cannot have much effect on her husband’s heart when they are seen every day, when the summer is passed and gone.” One may assume there was some semblance of emotion from either party in the Bennets’ relationship at one time, or else they wouldn’t have married. Time has rendered Mrs. Bennet quite unattractive to her husband now that she is not as young and green as she once was. Austen candidly relates the cause of their incompatibility: “Her father captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour, which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind, had early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her” (180). Once the wedding vows were said, Mr. Bennet had undoubtedly dug his grave. Wollstonecraft knew that a marriage based on physical attributes does not result in happiness, which the reader sees in Pride and Prejudice. The absence of romance and charm in Mr. and Mrs. Bennets’ relationship is justly explained by Wollstonecraft’s remarks in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

The Bennets’ marriage can be summed up in one phrase from Wollstonecraft: “Friendship or indifference inevitably succeeds love.” Austen clearly depicts the indifference Mr. and Mrs. Bennet feel towards each other. Mr. Bennet’s character is described: “Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve and caprice, that the experience of three and twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character” (3). This description is a stark contrast to the picture the reader is given for Mrs. Bennet: “She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented she fancied herself nervous” (3). These clashing personalities result in very little effort from either individual to breed romance. Over the course of twenty-three years, the Bennets’ have learned to live with each other, and to deal with their spouse’s respective faults. The Bennets’ choice to remain indifferent to one another is condensed by the simple choice given by Mary Wollstonecraft “Friendship or indifference.”

Overall, the reader can infer the various causes of the tense Bennet relationship as aligning with Mary Wollstonecraft’s observations. Wollstonecraft remarked, quite accurately, on the fickle nature of relationships and the frivolous upbringing of women. One may assume that Austen drew from these same concepts when characterizing Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Thus, in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, many of Mary Wollstonecraft’s sentiments expressed in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman are expressed through Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s relationship—as seen in Mr. Bennet’s finding humor in his wife’s actions, Mrs. Bennet’s failure to charm her husband, and the Bennets’ indifference to one another in place of love.

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Rhetorical Comparison of Wollstonecraft and Douglass

March 12, 2019 by Essay Writer

Aristotle’s triangle of rhetoric: ethos, pathos, and logos, is often regarded as the basis for a rhetorical argument. The argument must employ each edge of the triangle in order to be persuasive. However, sometimes it can be beneficial to purposely omit or emphasize one edge of the triangle in order to appeal to an audience. Frederick Douglass and Mary Wollstonecraft were both heroes of moral and social reform, and fought for the rights of slaves and women, respectively. Douglass’ autobiography and Wollstonecraft’s philosophy both convey their radical ideas through strong rhetorical devices, which persuade the reader of their radical views. Although both Douglass and Wollstonecraft employ parts of the Aristotelian rhetorical triangle in order to successfully convey their controversial messages, both works have distinctly opposite tones due to the time period in which they were written and which points of the triangle were emphasized. Wollstonecraft wrote her piece during the Enlightenment, when the importance of logic was emphasized in all forms of intellectual expression. Because women of Wollstonecraft’s time were thought of as irrational, Wollstonecraft purposely leaves out the pathos, or the emotional appeal of her argument, in order to prove to her audience that women can detach from emotion and be rational thinkers. She focuses on logos, and maintains a strict argument employing cause and effect examples, giving her piece an assertive, matter-of-fact, and sometimes ironic tone. In contrast, Douglass writes his autobiography during the Romantic Period, when emotions were looked at with new value. He takes on a strong expression of pathos, and appeals to his readers’ emotions through vivid imagery and heartfelt, painful personal anecdotes. This gives his autobiography an impassioned and emotive tone. The intentional use of these tones makes these authors’ works very successfully persuasive and appealing to the audience, allowing their message to be received with an open mind.

Wollstonecraft emphasizes logos and ethos in her argument for women’s’ rights, which enables her to appeal to her Enlightenment audience and prove her credibility as a woman. By purposely omitting the use of pathos, Wollstonecraft appeals to her Enlightenment audience who valued the use of logic and reason and did not find value in emotion, and who also believed that women were illogical because they were overcome with emotion. Her use of logos to create a cause and effect argument gives her piece an assertive and matter-of-fact tone. Wollstonecraft opens her introduction of her most famous work, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, by stating her argument that because women do not receive adequate education, they are unable to rise to their full potential as rational thinkers. But before she does this, she tells her audience that she has “turned over various books” (697), alluding to the fact that she is well-studied and credible, demonstrating ethos. By doing this, Wollstonecraft ensures her audience that she has authority in stating her argument. She writes, “The neglected education of my fellow creatures is the grand source of the misery I deplore,” stating that because women are not given education, they act irrational and are valued only to please men. By stating that lack of education is the cause of women’s behavior, Wollstonecraft presents a clear cause and effect argument using logos, which supplies her audience with a solution to the problem at hand. Throughout A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Wollstonecraft puts aside emotional attachment to this issue and instead emphasizes logic and reasoning to prove her argument. In addition, she offers her inquisitive and speculative Enlightenment audience concessions, by anticipating their objections to her argument. She writes, “In the government of the physical world, it is observable that the female in point of strength is, in general, inferior to the male. This is the law of nature” (698). By acknowledging the role of nature in her argument, Wollstonecraft appeals to the logical, Enlightenment thinkers of her audience, who were most likely male. By offering the opponents of her argument a concession, Wollstonecraft is able to create an even more persuasive argument. In addition, the tone created from such a logical argument is very assertive and matter-of-fact which, coming from a woman, would captivate an audience of Enlightenment men. By excluding any emotion from her argument, Wollstonecraft demonstrates that women can be rational thinkers.

Douglass’ use of ethos, pathos, and logos, allows him to successfully argue that slavery is dehumanizing. His strong use of pathos appeals to the emotional side of his audience, revealing the hardships of slavery through moving personal anecdotes and gory, vivid imagery. His credibility, ethos, is clear from his life experience as a slave. Douglass’ use of logos, where he creates an argument with multiple supporting examples, his own personal anecdotes and stories, makes it clear that slavery is a dehumanizing force to both slaves and slaveholders. This form of argument gives his autobiography an emotive, impassioned tone, which appeals to his audience of the Romantic Period. Douglass essentially “re-humanizes” slaves by proving that they have deep feelings and they are abused in slavery. He vividly describes what it was like to be sold and for families to be divided to different slaveholders. He writes, “Our fate for life was now to be decided…A single word from the white man was enough-against all our wishes, prayers, and entreaties-to surrender forever the dearest friends, dearest kindred, and strongest ties known to human beings” (266). Douglass paints a picture of the terrible emotional abuse that slaves underwent, and therefore appeals to his Romantic audience by emphasizing emotion. While working for Mr. Covey, the plantation Douglass lived on was very near the Chesapeake Bay, where he often watched the sails on the water and yearned for freedom. Overcome with emotion, Douglass describes his thoughts while watching the boats, employing a powerful metaphor comparing sailing to freedom: “You are loosed from your moorings, and are free: I am fast in my chains, and am a slave!…left in the hottest hell of unending slavery…there is a better day coming” (279-280). In this passage, Douglass expressions a deep yearning to be free, creating a highly emotionally charged tone that reflects this hope. By employing emotion, Douglass is able to appeal to his Romantic audience. Douglass’ ethos, or credibility, is clear throughout his autobiography. His experience has a slave makes him the best source to make a statement about slavery, having experienced it firsthand. By employing all three corners of the Aristotelian triangle, but with an emphasis on pathos, Douglass is able to present his powerful argument against slavery by appealing to his Romantic audience’s emotions.

Although both Douglass and Wollstonecraft employ ethos in their arguments, Wollstonecraft’s lack of pathos and Douglass’ emphasis on pathos give the pieces distinctly different tones. Wollstonecraft’s tone is assertive and logical, with little emotion, while Douglass’ tone is both poignant and shocking. The use of pathos, or lack thereof, allows both authors to present extremely persuasive arguments concerning human rights for their own kind. Wollstonecraft lived during the Enlightenment, when people valued logic and reason. By utilizing a cause and effect argument without pathos, she crafts writing that is extremely persuasive to her audience. By stating that women are only incapable because they are not educated, Wollstonecraft arrives at a solution to the problem derived from evidence. Like Wollstonecraft, Douglass had a strong grasp of who his audience was: Romantic thinkers, who valued emphasis on emotion. By using powerful personal anecdotes and dramatic, emotive tone, Douglass creates an equally efficient argument, but with a very strong emphasis on pathos.

Both authors manipulate the Aristotelian triangle to suit the needs of their audience. Douglass does this by emphasizing pathos (emotion) and appealing to his Romantic audience, while Wollstonecraft omits emotion and instead emphasizes logos with a strong cause and effect argument. This gives each piece a distinct tone. When reading Douglass, it is easy to be pulled in by his vivid, gory imagery and powerful personal anecdotes. In contrast, Wollstonecraft’s piece can seem less exciting to us, even though she was one of the most revolutionary people of her time with her ideas on women’s rights. To many, Wollstonecraft’s argument raised just as much controversy as the idea that Douglass emphasizes: the immorality of slavery. Both Douglass and Wollstonecraft demonstrate the power of written prose and rhetoric to advocate for human rights, whether it be during the Enlightenment, Romantic Period, or today.

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Wollstonecraft on Women’s “Slavery”: Perspectives from the Enlightenment and Modernity

January 10, 2019 by Essay Writer

Mary Wollstonecraft obviously wrote with the intention of raising awareness for women’s rights. She did so unflinchingly and, at times, with language that’s even shocking to us today. During Romanticism, her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman absolutely required attention. She was writing in response to the educational reforms of 1791 that only called for Enlightenment reforms to men’s education (Mellor, 33). Wollstonecraft’s comparison of the plight of women to slavery may sound exaggerated, until one looks at the facts of the time and can see how the rigid gender roles in society enslaved women to the men they were controlled by. Wollstonecraft was disgusted by the idea that the ideas of the Enlightenment were meant only for men to take advantage of. She felt that if the Western world was going to change its rhetoric to one of equal opportunity and dignity for all persons, women should be included in that category.

As Wollstonecraft states, “If women are by nature inferior to men, their virtues must be the same in quality…their conduct should be founded on the same principles and have the same aim.” (Wollstonecraft, 91). She begs the question that even if women are inferior, why do they not have the same principles and virtues guiding some kind of inferior education? Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman doesn’t just argue that women deserved education. It also argues that women were not naturally inferior, but that they had been forced into a kind of slavery, whether it be to marriage or to virtue, that had systematically made them weak and unintelligent. One of Wollstonecraft’s first critiques is of the system of marriage in the 18th and 19th centuries. She is often quoted saying: “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, till they become enlightened citizens, till they become free by being enabled to earn their own subsistence, independent of men; in the same manner, I mean, to prevent misconstruction, as one man is independent of another.” (Wollstonecraft, 250). Wollstonecraft makes it clear that within the constructs of marriage, a woman has no independence or autonomy. She urges for a change in the way that women are chosen for marriage, and explains that if women are constantly focusing on making themselves physically desirable, they will have little time to focus on their education. A woman should choose a husband who is interested in a partnership, not a position of power. Wollstonecraft acknowledges that all women are oppressed in some way, but that they should not use their repression as a reason to be harsh towards their husbands and children. Wollstonecraft is not calling for any kind of harsh or violent revolution, rather, she’s calling for a reform to society’s oppressive structures.

Ann Mellor’s book Romanticism and Gender paints a picture of how truly revolutionary Wollstonecraft’s ideas on marriage were. When it came to choosing husbands, women often chose men whom they found physically desirable. Wollstonecraft is adamant about the importance of an “egalitarian marriage” and tells women that choosing marriage based on sexual desire is bound to end in an unhappy relationship (Mellor, 35). Wollstonecraft’s own marriage was one of mutual respect, hence the extensive arguments she has on how oppressive a marriage can be without that. As a product of a equal partnership, Wollstonecraft understood that the arguments from the other side were ill-advised, and she sought to educate young women with logic and reason, just as the Enlightenment had taught her to. A common counter-argument from the other side was that a woman in a relationship that did not force her to be submissive would be unvirtuous.

Mary Wollstonecraft’s perspective on feminine virtue was unlike anything people had heard before. While most contemporary feminists would fight for sexual freedom, Wollstonecraft urged women to be modest. She knew that leading a life of sexual promiscuity was just another way for a man to enslave a woman; if she gets pregnant, then she’s responsible for the child and does not have the opportunity to go to school and become an educated citizen (Mellor, 364). “…for that the unchaste man doubly defeats the purpose of nature, by rendering women barren, and destroying his own constitution, though he avoids the shame that pursues the crime in the other sex.” (Wollstonecraft, 219). Wollstonecraft acknowledges that in situations that women are impregnated outside of marriage, the “shame” is only reflected on one party. She also recognizes that when women choose to act and dress in a seductive way, they give themselves up to the slavery that Wollstonecraft is so insistent about. Ann Mellor also breaks down Wollstonecraft’s argument on sexuality and modesty in her essay “Sex, Violence, and Slavery: Blake and Wollstonecraft”. Mellor describes the “female psychological dependence” that Wollstonecraft has no problem labeling as slavery (Mellor, 364). The history of women using sexuality to gain power was well known, but what few people really understood was how easily those women were knocked from their pegs of power and forced into the years of enslavement that was single motherhood. These women dealt with similar plights to the colonial African slaves of the time, being forced to bear children of the men who controlled them. However, Wollstonecraft’s middle class has a way out, and that was through a reform of education.

The real reason that Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was as a response to the misogynistic education reforms of 1791. They focused entirely on the education of boys and the employment of Enlightenment ideals on that education. Wollstonecraft, an avid supporter of equal education, begins her vindication with the same Enlightenment ideals being kept from young women and girls. She utilizes logic and reason to explain that the only reason women appear to be “naturally” inferior has to do with the fact that men have been systematically weakening them in order to oppress them. “Women are told from their infancy, and taught by the example of their mothers, that a little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience, and a scrupulous attention to a puerile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of man; and should they be beautiful, everything else is needless, for, at least, twenty years of their lives.” (Wollstonecraft, 84). Wollstonecraft calls for a complete reform of this idea. She argues that women, just as much as men, need all kinds of education, both intellectual and physical. If the Enlightenment and its principles are going to be applied to British society, then they have to be applied to all citizens of that society, as is inherent in their makeup. If they were kept from those citizens who were by Wollstonecraft’s new definition, not naturally inferior, the reasoning behind colonial slavery being acceptable, then those citizens were being wrongfully enslaved.

Though she was not the only person arguing for the rights of women, Mary Wollstonecraft was one of the very first to use the exact same rhetoric as those arguing against her. By proving the potential of women through her own skill at reforming and writing, she was the pinnacle of the kind of intelligent and involved citizen that her reforms planned to produce. All that was left for her opponents to say was that they were afraid to lose the power that they had to women, and in turn, admit that they were not actually followers of this new egalitarian philosophy that they had so widely supported. Part of Wollstonecraft’s genius was her likening of the plight of women at the time to slavery, something done by plenty of Enlightenment thinkers and writers. By way of logic and reason, Wollstonecraft was able to pull the curtain on the horrors of female enslavement and oppression in the Romantic Age.

Works Cited

Ferguson, Moira. “Mary Wollstonecraft and the Problematic of Slavery.” Feminist Review, no. 42, 1992, pp. 82–102. Mellor, Anne K. “Sex, Violence, and Slavery: Blake and Wollstonecraft.” Huntington Library Quarterly 58.3 (1995): 345-70. Print. Mellor, Anne K. Romanticism and Gender. London: Taylor and Francis, 2013. Print. Walker, Eric C. Marriage, Writing, and Romanticism : Wordsworth and Austen After War. Stanford, Calif. : Stanford University Press, 2009. Print. Wollstonecraft, Mary. “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.” A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and A Vindication of the Rights of Man. Ed. Janet Todd.Oxford University Press, 1994. 63-283. Print.

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