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The Prevailing Opinion of A Sexual Character Discussed

Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) should be regarded as a pioneer work in feminism for its advanced ideas. Her grasp of the essential problems of women and recommendations are far ahead of any eighteenth century thinker. In the second chapter of Vindication, she attributes the roots of women’s degradation to her faulty education and the double standards of a patriarchal society. She blames the traditional upbringing as the main source of women’s bondage.

She has also challenged the wisdom of Milton, Rousseau and Dr. Gregory which encourage “confinement and false notions of modesty” and thereby stunt the unfoldment of their potential. She aggressively demands equal education for women for their all round growth and independence which is a modern concept. The chivalrous men whom she calls the “sensualists” are more harmful as they treat women as sex objects and worship them on the pedestal.

She comes up with a bold remedy for this age-old conditioning, “Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience;”. Women have to struggle hard to break this chain as the dominating romantic males try to keep them in ignorance and treat them as slaves and playthings. For her originality, incisive analysis and courage to champion women’s causes, Wollstonecraft should be regarded the first architect of feminism, though the word ‘feminism’ was coined in 1895, a century later,.

Like Simone de Beauvoir in Le Deuxieme Sexe (1949) she attacks the contemporary male society for treating women as object of beauty and charm – an apparently innocent shackle that retards her intellectual growth. She finds a parallel to women’s exploitation in the military life: soldiers are kept obedient and ignorant to serve the purpose of the state and like women “they were only taught to please and they only live to please. ” It was a daunting task for Wollstonecraft to castigate intellectual giants of her age like Milton, Rousseau and Dr.

Gregory for their male chauvinism which “render women more artificial, weak” . She believes that it is the lovers, whom she disparagingly calls “sensualists” and “most dangerous enemy”, who are responsible for women’s backwardness. After criticizing Rousseau’s character Sophia as “grossly unnatural” she moves a step forward by attacking the “foundation of her character”. It was these male authorities who kept the women dependent and subservient to the “superior” male – “alluring object of desire, a sweeter companion to men”.

Even after two centuries, this romantic image ensures success at box office. Wollstonecraft even blasts the Bible and its prophet Moses for insinuating the idea that woman was created for man and therefore cannot have any independent existence of her own. The life of a single woman amounts to sin. She observes how man “from the remotest antiquity, found it convenient to exert his strength to subjugate his companion”. In her opinion the way to women’s emancipation lies in discarding the “false refinement” and demanding an equal education to acquire masculine qualities.

She goes to the extent of treating female education as a sort of male conspiracy and proclaims, “my objection extends to the whole purport of those books, which tend, in my opinion, to degrade one-half of the human species, and render women pleasing at the expense of every solid virtue. ” In a hard hitting satire she mocks the male protectionism that asks women to depend on his understanding like the graceful ivy clasping the male oak for support and sustenance. She argues that the guidance of the immature male can have only disastrous consequences.

In the present age when women have access to equal education and enjoy equal job opportunity, the contribution of Wollstonecraft who fought for these causes single-handedly cannot be overestimated. She traces women’s regress to romance which she dubs as slavery to love and lust in favor of the male partner. She exposes the vanity of female “mistaken education” which only teaches pleasing manners, dissimulation and docility at the cost of their intellectual development.

Referring to history she points out that none of the outstanding women were the most beautiftiful or the most gentle of their sex. She portrays the ideal woman as “the woman who strengthens her body and exercises her mind will, by managing her family and practicing various virtues, become the friend , and not the humble dependent of her husband;” The second chapter of A Vindication appropriately highlights the faulty education and social conditioning of women as the root causes of their bondage.

Work Cited

Pilcher, Jane and Whelehan, Imelda. Fifty Key Concepts in Gender Studies. London: Sage   Publications.2004

Wollstonecraft, Mary. A vindication of the Rights of Women. Harmondsworth: Penguin.1792. Reprint, 1978.

Website: All quotations are from the second chapter of e-text of A Vindication of the Rights of Women.

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