A Vindication of the Rights of Woman | Study Guide

Mary Wollstonecraft

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Course Hero, "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Study Guide," November 29, 2017, accessed November 14, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Vindication-of-the-Rights-of-Woman/.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman | Chapter 13 : Some Instances of the Folly Which the Ignorance of Women Generates... | Summary



  • The full title of this final chapter is "Some Instances of the Folly Which the Ignorance of Women Generates, with Concluding Reflections on the Moral Improvement That a Revolution in Female Manners Might Naturally Be Expected to Produce."
  • Wollstonecraft says "there are many follies ... peculiar to women ... all flowing from ignorance or prejudice." She plans to identify some of them as further evidence of how women's limited lives and education cause damage.

Section 1

  • She criticizes women who believe in "nativities" (horoscopes), and she asks a series of questions to remind them of their belief in God. She also attacks those who believe in "magnetizers" (mesmerists or hypnotists), saying their stunts lack any support from science. Wollstonecraft blames the men performing these acts because they do their work for money and calls it "little short of blasphemy to pretend to such powers!" She defends Christianity and the traditional religious beliefs of her era.

Section 2

  • Wollstonecraft complains about sentimentality. She blames some of it on poor reading materials, such as novels, which women are encouraged to enjoy. Wollstonecraft recommends weaning someone from a dependence on novels by "judicious" use of "ridicule," pointing out to the reader how overwrought and unrealistic events in the novel are and how they pale in comparison to actual history.

Section 3

  • She addresses women's preoccupation with dressing well and "ornamentation," arguing such behaviors are innate in all human beings. She gives examples of "barbarous states" where men "adorn themselves" and claims that "when the mind is not sufficiently opened to take pleasure in reflection, the body will be adorned with sedulous care." Women obsess about clothes, she says, because society hasn't taught them to use their minds to think of anything else. She concedes that if someone can prove women should be subordinate to men, then focusing on their clothes and how their clothes will please men is natural for women. Because no one has proven it, however, she sees the obsession with image and fashion as a fault in women.

Section 4

  • Although at the time most people believed women were more generous than men, Wollstonecraft says, in her experience women tend to be tightly focused on their own loved ones. She claims the limitations placed on women's worlds mean they have little appreciation for what happens to others outside their restricted scope of experience.

Section 5

  • Wollstonecraft addresses "the rearing of children," which is considered a wholly female domain. She acknowledges the logical reasons for women's involvement but says women are so ignorant they are unintentionally harming their own children. She contrasts a man's knowledge of breeding horses with a woman's lack of knowledge about caring for her own children. She continues the comparison, likening a wild, unmanageable child to a "spirited filly" that can suffer crippling injuries if trained incorrectly.
  • Based on her experience, Wollstonecraft says a child's "moral character ... is fixed before their seventh year," a period of time in which a mother and the servants exclusively care for them. Wollstonecraft objects to the way many mothers treat servants in the children's presence because it teaches the children to demand assistance rather than to do things for themselves. She criticizes mothers who choose to play cards and attend balls, leaving the children with the servants for long periods of time. These mothers, she argues, are a bad example to their children because they do not care for anything except themselves. These faults, she contends, result from a poor education: "For it would be as wise to expect ... figs from thistles, as that a foolish ignorant woman should be a good mother."

Section 6

  • Wollstonecraft makes her concluding argument. She says "the sagacious reader" no doubt already understands her point, but she wishes "to add some explanatory remarks to bring the subject home ... to that sluggish reason, which supinely takes opinions on trust."
  • "To render women truly useful members of society," she says, they need more knowledge and training in rational, critical thinking. This knowledge will make them more virtuous as well. Wollstonecraft claims it is "not to be disputed" that women of her time "are by ignorance rendered foolish or vicious." She reiterates some of her key points about the effects of oppression on the human spirit. She concludes by claiming that if women obtain civil rights and other liberties of citizenship but do not "change their character and correct their vices and follies," women will have proven themselves lesser than men and men can rightfully rule over them. Until that time, she warns men to "allow her the privileges of ignorance, to whom ye deny the rights of reason."


To conclude her publication, Wollstonecraft reviews women's key faults: women are gullible and easily fooled by con men; they are overly sentimental and too obsessed with clothes and "ornamentation"; they are selfish and ungenerous; they are bad mothers. Scholars believe Wollstonecraft may have been specifically thinking of her employer when she was a governess. She was a vain, society woman who did not like Wollstonecraft any more than Wollstonecraft liked her. These faults of women, Wollstonecraft argues, are rooted in the mistreatment of women. She calls on society to better educate women and provide more social opportunities and says that if women fail to improve in such situations, they will have proved themselves less worthy than men.

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