Mark's Reviews > A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
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's review
Jan 09, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: philosophy, feminism

Wollstonecraft’s prose is an absolute pleasure to read. Though couched in the didactic terminology of enlightenment moralising, it is easy to see the bravery behind the rhetoric and the anger that must have pushed her principled views to the level of publication. It is sad when reading such a historic volume to learn that much of it is still relevant in today’s feminist thinking. The emphasis of the document is on the treatment of women being in confluence with slavery, and the holding down of the “fairer sex” by removing from them the rights given to reasoning individuals. The lack of formal education and the encouragement to seek pleasure in the dainty construction of pretty clothes, and admiration of one’s contemporaries by the same standard draws similarities with today’s cultural significance of celebrity magazines and gossip rags. Other, more serious areas of concern are the subtle hints at sexual violence which have, if anything multiplied from the days of Wollstonecraft. The man assumes right over the body of the female sex as he assumes the right over his personal clothing to do with as he pleases, how deep is the change? The thrust of her argument is one of liberty. The ability to give women the access to the same tools of thinking as men (gentrified men that is, she also draws on giving workers the same access as their class superiors, showing minor Marxist credentials before Marx was a man, let alone a platitudinous concept), and once given, if women continue to spurn the value of reason and education once shown their benefits, then she will support every possible degradation of them. The shadow of the French Revolution hangs heavy over the text, with many references to Rousseau as dominant, patriarchal, Gallic enlightenment figure he was. It caused middle class revulsion at the time and it’s not difficult to see why, given the moralistic tone from a woman who mothered bastard children. With the benefit of a few hundred years, the importance of this call to arms cannot be disregarded due to any unfortunate parental circumstances, or any other more specious claims against the author. It is a beautiful (though I may not be thanked for giving it such a term) and vital document that may not have ushered in change immediately, for the wheel of revolution turns slowly in England, but it got the wheel moving, however leisurely and gave succour to many more women of the time, and inspiration to feminist thinkers today.

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