Course Hero. "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Study Guide." Course Hero. 29 Nov. 2017. Web. 14 Nov. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Vindication-of-the-Rights-of-Woman/>.
Course Hero. (2017, November 29). A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Vindication-of-the-Rights-of-Woman/
(Course Hero, 2017)
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/.
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/.
Wollstonecraft presents her ideas on the purpose of education. She talks of drawing conclusions and generalizing ideas with an eye toward continual improvement of the individual, aiming for perfection. At the time education for men rarely met those standards, and education for women never did. Instead, both boys and girls were often trained for their societal duties rather than the topics or skills a modern student might expect. The goal of feminine education was to prepare the young woman to be a good companion to her future husband.
Wollstonecraft repeatedly uses logical arguments from Enlightenment thinkers and transfers those arguments to her topic of women's education. She ties women to the "rich," asserting neither really contributes to society but spends time and energy on being "ornamental." She is quick to assert, however, that women may remedy that if they are given an appropriate education. To those who claim women can't handle it, Wollstonecraft has a ready answer: prove it. Allow women to try and if they fail, they will have proven themselves too weak.
Wollstonecraft makes the revolutionary claim that women deserve a good education because they are human beings, but she also strategically supports her argument with hypothetical examples to illustrate her point. The widowed mother, for example, demonstrates how an inadequate woman's education could damage an entire generation of both men and women. Her strictures on the fate of unmarried women, polygamists, and "marriage with the left-hand" represent her desire to address a wide range of potential situations for women.
Why the focus on marriage? Wollstonecraft objected to the reality that women's education was solely to train them to be good wives. She puts a strong emphasis on logic and friendship in selecting a mate, rather than beauty or fortune. Keep in mind that in 1792 Wollstonecraft was an unmarried young woman who was supporting herself. She may have had personal experience with the challenges of men who rejected an intellectual woman. Shortly after the publication of Vindication of the Rights of Woman, she would meet and begin a sexual relationship with Captain Imlay. Later she would also have a sexual relationship out of marriage with William Godwin. Wollstonecraft experienced "marriage with the left-hand" as she calls it, but at the time of this writing, she seems to be relatively naïve about the reasons why a woman might pursue love and passion instead of marrying for friendship. Also, Wollstonecraft was not immune to some of the other prejudices of her day, as shown by her citation of pseudo-science on polygamy in Africa and other far-off countries.
Wollstonecraft focuses primarily on middle-class and upper-class women. But poor women in 1792 would get virtually no education and would have far more to do than just pleasing their husbands. Wollstonecraft, like Charles Dickens and many other late 18th- and early 19th-century writers, believed the poor may be more virtuous than the rich if only because of a lack of options.