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 January 23, 2019, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Vindication-of-the-Rights-of-Woman/.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman | Introduction | Summary



  • Wollstonecraft believes a lack of quality education is responsible for many of the differences between people. The pitiful education provided to women troubles her the most. She describes women "like the flowers which are planted in too rich a soil" and blames a "false system of education" for their state. She acknowledges men are physically superior, but says poor education renders women even weaker than they might otherwise be.
  • Wollstonecraft focuses on middle-class women "because they appear to be in the most natural state," but she acknowledges women in different ranks of society have a different "moral character."
  • Wollstonecraft uses the word "women" rather than "ladies," saying, "My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures." She admits she gets emphatic about this issue and says she will not "cull my phrases or polish my style" because she wants to be "unaffected." She plans to avoid "flowery" language and addresses the "bugbear" of being called masculine, asserting she does not want women to hunt and shoot like men, but only to be allowed more courage and permitted to be rational.


In late 18th-century Europe and North America, the question of the "rights of man" was a hot topic of debate and discussion. The American Revolution and the French Revolution lifted these topics from the theoretical to the practical and political. Wollstonecraft was the first to apply these ideas to women.

She makes her core argument in this introduction: women's faults are largely a result of poor education. If a woman is given a proper education she could contribute more to her family and to society. As an educator of women and a woman herself, Wollstonecraft felt uniquely positioned to make this argument.

Wollstonecraft does not demand full equal rights for women. For that reason, scholars have debated whether her book is truly feminist. Wollstonecraft's argument focuses primarily on the idea that women can contribute better in their established feminine roles as wives and mothers if society grants them an improved, expanded education.

At the same time, Wollstonecraft clearly rejects some of the predominantly sexist attitudes of her time. At the time all political and religious leaders, scholars, and men with power believed and propagated the myth that women were too emotional and ill-equipped to make logical decisions. She emphasizes women can certainly be quite "rational" and "unaffected" and plans to demonstrate her rationality through the competent use of language and argument in her book.

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