A Vindication of the Rights of Woman | Study Guide

Mary Wollstonecraft

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A Vindication of the Rights of Woman | Quotes


If the abstract rights of man will bear discussion and explanation, those of woman ... will not shrink from the same test.

Mary Wollstonecraft, Note

At the very start of the book Wollstonecraft connects her work to the discussion of the rights of humanity that were taking place in the West at this time, especially in light of the American and French Revolutions. She argues women's rights should be discussed just as men's have been.


My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures.

Mary Wollstonecraft, Introduction

Wollstonecraft repeatedly rejects the idea that women are inherently foolish or incapable of functioning on an adult level. Instead, she claims, this is a result of how society treats and educates them. To prove her point, she insists upon referring to females as "women" rather than "ladies" and emphasizing rationality and reason throughout her text.


It is of great importance to observe that the character of every man is, in some degree, formed by his profession.

Mary Wollstonecraft, Chapter 1

Early in the book Wollstonecraft makes this argument: a man's character is affected by his job. This is an important component of her argument because Wollstonecraft will argue women's "profession" is, in effect, being beautiful and pleasing a man. A woman's job shapes her character, just as a man's job, whether he is a clergyman or a soldier, shapes his.


Women are not allowed to have sufficient strength of mind to acquire what really deserves the name of virtue.

Mary Wollstonecraft, Chapter 2

Wollstonecraft has devout beliefs about God and repeatedly makes the argument that depriving a woman of education and the ability to do her duty may in fact deprive her of the ability to earn a place in heaven. Here she claims a woman is supposed to remain sheltered and naïve, which may prevent the development of virtuous character traits.


The divine right of husbands, like the divine right of kings, may, it is to be hoped, in this enlightened age, be contested without danger.

Mary Wollstonecraft, Chapter 3

Wollstonecraft makes a connection between the divine right of kings—an idea repeatedly rejected in her time—and what she terms "the divine right of husbands." She suggests the unlimited power of husbands needs to be overthrown as the divine right of kings has been.


I very much doubt whether any knowledge can be attained without labor and sorrow.

Mary Wollstonecraft, Chapter 5

Wollstonecraft has strong opinions about the importance of duty and the benefits of hard work. She repeatedly asserts that men do a disservice to women by protecting them from any suffering or hard work. Wollstonecraft argues this may also contribute to women's inability to reason.


Society is not properly organized which does not compel men and women to discharge their respective duties.

Mary Wollstonecraft, Chapter 9

Wollstonecraft is vehemently in favor of people doing their duty, and she feels one flaw in the society of her time was its tendency to allow wealthy men and women to hand off their responsibilities, especially toward children, to servants.


Women ought to have representatives, instead of being arbitrarily governed without having any direct share allowed them in the deliberations of government.

Mary Wollstonecraft, Chapter 9

This is one of Wollstonecraft's more shocking arguments, for that time. She claims women deserve representation in government. This places women in the same context as other oppressed groups of that era; however, women did not gain representation in the British Parliament for over 100 years after Wollstonecraft's book was published.


How much more respectable is the woman who earns her own bread by fulfilling any duty, than the most accomplished beauty.

Mary Wollstonecraft, Chapter 9

Wollstonecraft claims to find more beauty in an independent woman than in one who is only known for her good looks. This goes along with her overall argument about valuing personal characteristics over physical beauty.


The irregular exercise of parental authority ... injures the mind, and to these irregularities girls are more subject than boys.

Mary Wollstonecraft, Chapter 11

Wollstonecraft devotes two chapters to the relationship between parents and children. She makes many sound observations, but perhaps one of her most important ones is this statement that poor parenting has a deeper impact on girls than boys. This is logical because boys would be sent away to school or assigned an apprenticeship, but girls would be kept at home to learn how to be a housewife until they were married off. Thus they could go from their parents' home to their husband's home, constantly under the control of a dominant male figure.


If marriage be the cement of society, mankind should all be educated after the same model.

Mary Wollstonecraft, Chapter 12

Rather than basing her argument solely on equality and fairness, Wollstonecraft also includes practical reasons to educate women. She argues that if society educates boys and girls together the two sexes will have better preparation for lifelong companionship.


Make women rational creatures, and free citizens, and they will quickly become good wives, and mothers.

Mary Wollstonecraft, Chapter 12

Wollstonecraft repeatedly returns to the idea that education could help women become better mothers and wives. This is another one of her practical reasons to educate women. It also connected to other philosophies of the time that argued for universal educational opportunities for all "citizens."


From the tyranny of man, I firmly believe, the greater number of female follies proceed.

Mary Wollstonecraft, Chapter 13

Wollstonecraft blames men for women's weaknesses. Because men limit women's education, careers, and life choices, she holds them responsible for women's mistakes and vanities. She argues that if men want women to stop being so foolish they should give women more choices.


When the mind is not sufficiently opened to take pleasure in reflection, the body will be adorned with sedulous care.

Mary Wollstonecraft, Chapter 13

Wollstonecraft writes repeatedly about women's emphasis on clothes, jewelry, and personal appearance. In the last chapter she makes a devastating comparison between this behavior and the behavior of "savages." She claims decorating one's person is a good way to occupy the mind when there is nothing else to think about. Because most wealthy women's lives at that time were empty of responsibilities, they devoted their time to "ornamentation."


Allow her the privileges of ignorance, to whom ye deny the rights of reason.

Mary Wollstonecraft, Chapter 13

Wollstonecraft concludes her work with a warning to men—do not ask women to behave differently unless you will allow them to expand their minds and become better educated.

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