Mary Wollstonecraft: a Selection from A Vindication of the Rights of Women Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein   As your textbook notes, human rights was the defining issue of the Age of Enlightenment, but it took a woman to make women's right a real issue. The source of Wollstonecraft's feminism was her own intellectualism combined with genteel poverty. (She was the mother of the famous author of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley.) Wollstonecraft begins by confessing herself saddened at the current state in which she finds women, and says either civilization has been only limited to men, or else nature has set up a great difference between the genders. Women's education has been sadly neglected. They are often too much like hothouse flowers in too rich soil, that die before they've had a chance to mature. One cause of this is that men consider women fit as mistresses, and value them for their allure; they do not, however, value them as affectionate wives and rational mothers. Ergo, women want to be sex objects rather than intellects. Men, of course, are the ones who write the instruction books on how women should behave. And men are physically stronger than women, a fact that cannot be denied. However, by men's general attitude toward women as sex objects, the status of women is rendered even lower, for women are overcome by the attention men give their beauty and do not ask for more self-development. She observes that women in this time did not generally dress like men. She would, however, like to see women grow more "masculine" in attainment of talents and virtues. Women share with men the fact that they are human creatures, who are placed on the earth to "unfold their faculties," meaning they have just as much right to self-development as do men. She notes that "ladies," meaning women of the upper classes, have had more attention in education than other women. She will address the women of the middle class. Also, she notes that upper class women have false refinement, and live only to amuse themselves, but she says it isn't healthy to train women in this kind of weak artificiality because it undermines society. Women can be rational and should endeavor to strengthen their bodies and minds. They should forego the desire for admiration by men for their "feminine" virtues. She notes she will avoid flowery and even highly polished speech because her intent is to be useful and to express the unadorned truth. Attitudes toward women view them via a stereotype, but in part this is because in childhood they are encouraged to focus on their beauty and to rise in the world only through marriage. So how can anyone expect them to behave in a rational adult manner when they've been trained to remain as perpetual children? When women are educated only to be sex objects, and when their bloom of beauty is past, they have no more reason for being. She observes that those women who have been bred to artificial weakness may be prone to tyrannize those around them and use cunning to get they way, because that is what works. However, she observes that those women who have more sense then their male relatives will likely rule the family without degrading themselves, because intellect will always take the reins of power. Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily