Study Guide

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Quotes

By Mary Wollstonecraft

  • Women and Femininity

    Rousseau declares that a woman should never, for a moment, feel herself independent, that she should be governed by fear to exercise her natural cunning, and made a coquettish slave in order to render her a more alluring object of desire, a sweeter companion to man, whenever he chooses to relax himself. (2.24)

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau isn't going to win any awards for progressive gender politics. The guy pretty much thinks that women's only strength is their ability to manipulate and deceive men. He also thinks that their only purpose in life should be to look pretty and obey men.

    [Women] were made to be loved, and must not aim at respect, lest they should be hunted out of society as masculine. (2.58)

    Wollstonecraft knows that there's a big stigma against women who become well educated and try to gain power in male-dominated society. They'll get called manly or even the b-word just for demanding the same kind of respect that men do.

    To preserve personal beauty, woman's glory! the limbs and faculties are cramped with worse than Chinese bands, and the sedentary life which they are condemned to live, whilst boys frolic in the open air. (3.12)

    Wollstonecraft compares the limits placed on women's minds to the bandages that Chinese people traditionally wrapped around their daughters' feet to make the feet tiny and pretty. This was an extremely painful thing for the young women who endured it, and for Wollstonecraft, it's just as bad to put "binding" on women's minds by refusing to give them a good education.

    It is time to effect a revolution in female manners—time to restore to them their lost dignity—and make them, as a part of the human species, labour by reforming themselves to reform the world. (3.25)

    Wollstonecraft thinks that the time has come for women to become equal members of society and to receive all of the same social privileges that men do. There is no way this type of change would ever make the world worse. It can only make things better because it will prepare women to contribute more productively to modern society.

    I am fully persuaded that we should hear of none of these infantine airs, if girls were allowed to take sufficient exercise, and not confined in close rooms till their muscles are relaxed, and their powers of digestion destroyed. (4.34)

    Wollstonecraft is certain that women would be much stronger and more active if they were given the same upbringing as men. She also thinks that women wouldn't act like children if they weren't treated like them.

    This is the very point I aim at. I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves. (4.34)

    Wollstonecraft is not arguing for a woman-dominated society. What she wants is for women to be reasonable and intelligent, and there's no way for them to achieve this goal unless they receive the same education as men and learn to control their emotions by using their words.

    In nurseries, and boarding-schools, I fear, girls are first spoiled; particularly in the latter. A number of girls sleep in the same room, and wash together. (7.23)

    Wollstonecraft might be all about women's rights, but she strongly believes that having women hang out together all the time is a bad thing. She thinks that they should be in mixed company as often as possible, because they don't learn anything about the world when they only hang around themselves.

    To say the truth women are, in general, too familiar with each other, which leads to that gross degree of familiarity that so frequently renders the marriage state unhappy. (7.24)

    For Wollstonecraft, women spend too much time in the company of other women, and this familiarity ends up leading to unhappy marriages. Maybe it's because women just hang out all day and talk about their husbands' shortcomings.

    But sense will always preponderate; and if women be not, in general, brought more on a level with men, some superiour women, like the Greek courtezans, will assemble the men of abilities around them, and draw from their families many citizens, who would have stayed at home had their wives more sense. (12.73)

    If society doesn't step up and give women more rights and advantages, all of the smart women will find ways to attract men to them. And the people who'll be truly sorry will be the wives that these men leave behind so that they can be with someone smarter.

    Let woman share the rights and she will emulate the virtues of man; for she must grow more perfect when emancipated, or justify the authority that chains such a weak being to her duty. (13.75)

    There is nothing bad that could come from giving women more of a chance to educate themselves and to share the same civic rights that men have. If they get these rights and prove themselves unworthy, then all they'll do is justify the power that men have over them. Basically Wollstonecraft is saying "If you think women are lesser than men, let's prove it by giving them a chance. What are you afraid of?"

  • Men and Masculinity

    I am aware of an obvious inference:—from every quarter have I heard exclamations against masculine women; but where are they to be found? (I.4)

    Many people argue that women will become too "masculine" if they ask for the same education and the same rights as men. But these claims are always super vague and Wollstonecraft would like to know which women in particular these critics are talking about. Where are these "masculine women," exactly?

    Indeed the word masculine is only a bugbear: there is little reason to fear that women will acquire too much courage or fortitude. (I.14)

    The truth is that there's no reason to worry that women will become too "masculine" if they're given equal rights to men. Sure, they'll have more of an opportunity to speak their minds and to challenge men's opinions. But Wollstonecraft thinks that men should accept this challenge if they're actually confident in their worldview.

    But, alas! husbands, as well as their helpmates, are often only overgrown children; nay, thanks to early debauchery, scarcely men in their outward form—and if the blind lead the blind, one need not come from heaven to tell us the consequence. (2.13)

    Wollstonecraft is sad that so many women are slaves to men, especially since men are often just overgrown children who are used to getting their own way all the time. So how can women possibly improve themselves if their only shot at learning comes from immature men?

    I will allow that bodily strength seems to give man a natural superiority over woman; and this is the only solid basis on which the superiority of the sex can be built. (3.5)

    Wollstonecraft admits that men enjoy an advantage in physical strength over women. The thing is that physical strength doesn't matter all that much in modern civilization: people's brains are what matter.

    Let men prove this, and I shall grant that woman only exists for man. (4.6)

    Wollstonecraft challenges men to prove that women would still be inferior to men even if they had the same education. She insists that this can't be proven until the women are given a chance at equal opportunities and rights.

    Boys love sports of noise and activity; to beat the drum, to whip the top, and to drag about their little carts. [Girls], on the other hand, are fonder of things of show and ornament; such as mirrours, trinkets, and dolls. (5.13)

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau has very clear ideas about the "natural" love that little boys have for violent sports and the natural love girls have for dolls and pretty things. But here's the catch: why should a parent force their daughters to play with dolls if this is supposed to come naturally? This is clearly a contradiction in JJR's thinking.

    I will not call hers a masculine understanding, because I admit not of such an arrogant assumption of reason; but I contend that it was a sound one, and that her judgment, the matured fruit of profound thinking, was a proof that a woman can acquire judgment, in the full extent of the word. (5.126)

    Wollstonecraft can offer several examples of women who have cultivated their minds to the point that they are just as wise and just as men. This fact alone should show why it would be good to educate all women just as much as men.

    [One] reason why men have superior judgment, and more fortitude than women, is undoubtedly this, that they give a freer scope to the grand passions, and by more frequently going astray enlarge their minds. (5.142)

    Wollstonecraft thinks that one of the main reasons men have better minds than women (in her culture) is because men are given much more freedom to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes.

    Men are certainly more under the influence of their appetites than women; and their appetites are more depraved by unbridled indulgence and the fastidious contrivances of satiety. (8.23)

    Many people would argue that women are slaves to their passions, but Wollstonecraft insists that it's actually men who can't control their urges. Men also have much more freedom to indulge these urges than women, which makes them more immoral in the long run.

    When chastisement is necessary, though they have offended the mother, the father must inflict the punishment; he must be the judge in all disputes. (10.7)

    Wollstonecraft insists that mothers should have strong judgment and good sense. But she also thinks that when it comes time to hand out punishment, the father should be in charge. This might seem contradictory to her arguments, but she's willing to throw her male readers a bone now and then just to soothe their bruised egos.

  • Marriage

    It is acknowledged that they spend many of the first years of their lives in acquiring a smattering of accomplishments; meanwhile strength of body and mind are sacrificed to libertine notions of beauty, to the desire of establishing themselves—the only way women can rise in the world—by marriage. (I.12)

    Society's big focus on marriage tends to make women into superficial beings. After all, what can you expect when their only way of getting ahead is to marry a rich guy? Spending all of your time focusing on appearances and trying to look pretty doesn't make for a well-rounded human with a wide variety of interests, guys.

    Let me reason with the supporters of this opinion who have any knowledge of human nature, do they imagine that marriage can eradicate the habitude of life? (2.33)

    Wollstonecraft rejects the idea that marriage can somehow smooth out the conflict that exists between men and women. In Wollstonecraft's world, men are considered to be like masters and women are considered to be like servants. You can't fix something like that by slapping the word "marriage" on it and calling it love.

    I will go still further, and advance, without dreaming of a paradox, that an unhappy marriage is often very advantageous to a family, and that the neglected wife is, in general, the best mother. (2.47)

    Wollstonecraft believes that men are such tyrants to their wives that unhappy marriages can actually be better for a family than a happy one. In an unhappy marriage, a woman doesn't spend all her time trying to please her husband. Instead, she's forced to think for herself and to rely on her own resources, which makes her a better mother.

    Of the same complexion is Dr. Gregory's advice respecting delicacy of sentiment, which he advises a woman not to acquire, if she have determined to marry. (2.50)

    Dr. Gregory teaches his daughters to conceal any sentiment they might have if they plan on getting married. For him, women are only attractive to men if they are completely silent and pretty. Men don't want to confront the fact that women have inner lives.

    To rise in the world, and have the liberty of running from pleasure to pleasure, they must marry advantageously, and to this object their time is sacrificed, and their persons often legally prostituted. (4.23)

    Wollstonecraft is concerned about the way that women dedicate their entire lives to marrying up in society. This focus totally keeps them from ever becoming virtuous people, because their focus necessarily has to be on the superficial things they need to do to achieve their goals.

    Still, highly as I respect marriage, as the foundation of almost every social virtue, I cannot avoid feeling the most likely compassion for those unfortunate females who are broken off from society, and by one error torn from all those affections and relationships that improve the heart and mind. (4.66)

    Wollstonecraft wants her readers to know that she respects the institution of marriage. But she can't help but feel sorry for all of the women who have ruined their lives by marrying badly and committing themselves to horrible men.

    Children, he truly observes, form a much more permanent connexion between married people than love. (5.54)

    Wollstonecraft agrees that in many cases, children keep marriages together more than love does. But if this is the case, what happens once the children get old and move away? For Wollstonecraft, this is why there needs to be true friendship and mutual respect between a husband and wife.

    In the choice of a husband, they should not be led astray by the qualities of a lover—for a lover the husband, even supposing him to be wise and virtuous, cannot long remain. (6.14)

    Wollstonecraft warns women against marrying for love, since she doesn't believe that love (at least the sexual kind) can last more than a year. For her, only respect for a person's mind can sustain a marriage in the long run.

    To say the truth women are, in general, too familiar with each other, which leads to that gross degree of familiarity that so frequently renders the marriage state unhappy. (7.24)

    Wollstonecraft hates the fact that women can't be friends with men, since she feels that too much friendship between women can actually lead to horrible things. She's a little bit vague on what these horrible things are, but oh well. That just gives us lots of room to speculate.

    But in order to render their private virtue a public benefit, they must have a civil existence in the state, married or single. (9.28)

    Wollstonecraft insists that if women are going to have a positive impact on the world, they need to have some sort of presence in the public sphere, whether married or single. They can't just keep spending their whole lives being wives or spinsters and nothing else.

  • Sex

    Passions are spurs to action, and open the mind; but they sink into mere appetites, become a personal and momentary gratification, when the object is gained, and the satisfied mind rests in enjoyment. (2.45)

    It's true that sexual passions can push people into action and even make them do great things. But the truth is that once sexual urges are satisfied, the passion totally evaporates and eradicates all feelings of love.

    Still, highly as I respect marriage, as the foundation of almost every social virtue, I cannot avoid feeling the most likely compassion for those unfortunate females who are broken off from society, and by one error torn from all those affections and relationships that improve the heart and mind. (4.66)

    Wollstonecraft feels sorry for all the women who have ruined their reputations by having sex with some guy who charmed his way into their beds. This social punishment for a woman having premarital sexytimes is way too harsh in Wollstonecraft's mind.

    It does not frequently deserve the name of error; for many innocent girls become the dupes of a sincere, affectionate heart, and still more are, as it may emphatically be termed, ruined before they know the difference between virtue and vice. (4.66)

    Many girls are kept so ignorant of the world by their parents that they have sex and ruin their reputations before they're even old enough to understand how they're supposed to behave. In Wollstonecraft's mind, it's the parents' fault for keeping their daughters in the dark.

    Love, considered as an animal appetite, cannot long feed on itself without expiring. And this extinction in its own flame, may be termed the violent death of love. (4.71)

    When Wollstonecraft says love here, she means sexual desire. She compares sex to a fire that can't burn for very long without going out. That's why you can't base a good relationship on sex alone, according to the wise Ms. W.

    These are all preparations for adultery; or, should the fear of the world, or of hell, restrain her desire of pleasing other men, when she can no longer please her husband, what substitute can be found by a being who was only formed, by nature and art, to please man? (5.31)

    If you only educate women on how to please men, what do you think will happen when habit and routine have made a woman incapable of pleasing her husband? Of course, she's going to look for some other man to please…

    But what serious consequences ensue to rob man of that portion of happiness, which the Deity by calling him into existence has (or, on what can his attributes rest?) indubitably promised: would not all the purposes of life have been much better fulfilled if he had only felt what has been termed physical love? (5.148)

    Men are so obsessed with physical love (or sex) that it practically becomes a religion for them. Pretty much everything they do is directed toward having sex, and many of them believe that their lives could be better if they'd had more sex in their time. They also tend to see sex as an entitlement that God has promised them.

    This regard for reputation, independent of its being one of the natural rewards of virtue, however, took its rise from a cause that I have already deplored as the grand source of female depravity, the impossibility of regaining respectability by a return to virtue. (8.10)

    Wollstonecraft thinks that there is one major reason why women focus more on their reputations than on their inner characters. It's because once you've lost your reputation, you can never get it back. In Wollstonecraft's world, people would never forgive a woman for having sex before marriage. In the eyes of the world circa 1792, that makes a woman "ruined."

    But, with respect to reputation, the attention is confined to a single virtue—chastity. If the honour of a woman, as it is absurdly called, be safe, she may neglect every social duty. (8.20)

    Wollstonecraft is annoyed by how much importance is placed on a woman's chastity (or her virginity). Wollstonecraft hates this focus because it basically tells a woman that she can be a horrible person or a good person and it doesn't much matter; all that matters is that she doesn't have sex.

    Men are certainly more under the influence of their appetites than women; and their appetites are more depraved by unbridled indulgence and the fastidious contrivances of satiety. (8.23)

    Wollstonecraft is convinced that men tend to indulge their sexual appetites much more often than women. In the long run this destroys men's sense of morality and discipline, but they're still allowed to get away with it because they're men.

    I have before observed, that men ought to maintain the women whom they have seduced. (8.30)

    Wollstonecraft believes that if a young man seduces a young woman and has sex with her before marriage, the law should force him either to marry or to take care of this young woman financially. Having sex before marriage would ruin a girl's reputation in Wollstonecraft's time, and she maintains that the young man should be held just as responsible as the young woman.

  • Slavery

    Dismissing then those pretty feminine phrases, which the men condescendingly use to soften our slavish dependence. (I.9)

    Many young women love to be complimented by handsome young men. But many of them don't realize that even compliments can be enslaving, especially when you spend so much time looking for empty compliments that you forget just how poorly you're being treated in other ways.

    Many are the causes that, in the present corrupt state of society, contribute to enslave women by cramping their understandings and sharpening their senses. (2.14)

    Women are enslaved in many ways physically. But it's mental enslavement that oppresses them the most. By not having a good education, women remain ignorant of all the social forces that are constantly working against them.

    Riches and hereditary honours have made cyphers of women to give consequence to the numerical figure; and idleness has produced a mixture of gallantry and despotism into society, which leads the very few men who are the slaves of their mistresses to tyrannize over their sisters, wives, and daughters. (2.21)

    It's true that sometimes men are slaves to their mistresses because these women hold sexual power over them. But there is always a cost to this power, since these men are all the more likely to be unfair and mean to all the other women in their lives.

    The answer will decide the propriety of Dr. Gregory's advice, and shew how absurd and tyrannic it is thus to lay down a system of slavery; or to attempt to educate moral beings by any other rules than those deduced from pure reason, which apply to the whole species. (2.54)

    For Wollstonecraft, there's no such thing as a fair societal inequality that isn't supported by rational argument. Anything else is just tyranny that props itself up with bogus claims to authority.

    If, I say, for I would not impress by declamation when Reason offers her sober light, if they be really capable of acting like rational creatures, let them not be treated like slaves; or, like the brutes who are dependent on the reason of man. (2.64)

    Either women are rational and capable of thinking for themselves or they are nothing more than animals who are dependent on men for everything. Wollstonecraft is convinced that women are just as rational as men, so men's domination over women can only be described as enslavement.

    Educated in slavish dependence, and enervated by luxury and sloth, where shall we find men who will stand forth to assert the rights of man. (3.22)

    Wollstonecraft doesn't think that only women should stand up and fight for women's rights. She also believes that men should stand up for reason and make sure that they live in a fair society by giving women equal education and equal rights.

    Why do they expect virtue from a slave, from a being whom the constitution of civil society has rendered weak, if not vicious? (3.31)

    Wollstonecraft can't imagine why men would expect women to be nice when they spend their entire lives enslaved. Everything about their training and upbringing pushes them toward viciousness and pure self-interest.

    The master wished to have a meretricious slave to fondle, entirely dependent on his reason and bounty; he did not want a companion, whom he should be compelled to esteem. (5.117)

    In many cases, men have no interest in having a companion for life when they get married. They're much more interested in having a pretty girl who is quiet and obedient. They never want to be challenged to become better people. They only want to keep doing what they've always done, whether it's moral or not.

    Women then having necessarily some duty to fulfill, more noble than to adorn their passions, would not contentedly be the slaves of casual lust. (8.25)

    If women were given a more respectable place in society, they would turn their attention to things that are nobler than looking pretty or gossiping about their friends. Unfortunately, society keeps pushing them to think only about their appearance and how to best be pleasing to men.

    Would men but generously snap our chains, and be content with rational fellowship instead of slavish obedience, they would find us more observant daughters, more affectionate sisters. (9.33)

    If only men would be happy with having supportive friends instead of obedient slaves, the whole world would be a better place for women. Further, women would be much more loving and respectful toward men. Unfortunately, men seem more interested in keeping women as slaves and not really listening to their opinions on anything.

  • Appearances

    He advises them to cultivate a fondness for dress, because a fondness for dress, he asserts, is natural to them. (2.37)

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau advises young ladies to dress up and look pretty because a love for dressing up and looking pretty is natural for them. But here's the weird thing: why would they have to be encouraged if this behavior is so natural to them? You don't have to, for example, encourage a person to drink water when they're thirsty.

    It is time to effect a revolution in female manners. (3.25)

    Wollstonecraft thinks that that only way for women to move forward is to demand better access to education, and make men rethink the importance of manners. The focus can no longer be on appearance and nicety. People need to care about higher things like philosophy and morality.

    I do earnestly wish to see the distinction of sex confounded in society. (4.18)

    Many people in Wollstonecraft's time would have thought she was crazy for saying that she'd like to see the lines between men and women blurred. But the truth is that she's sick and tired of the distinction between a "masculine" focus on intelligence and a "feminine" focus on appearances.

    Civilized women are, therefore, so weakened by false refinement, that, respecting morals, their condition is much below what it would be were they left in a state nearer to nature. (4.26)

    Women might actually be more moral if they were totally left alone by society and not educated at all. Traditional female education, though, focuses so much on appearances and superficial things that in Wollstonecraft's mind, it actually makes women worse as people.

    I am fully persuaded that we should hear of none of these infantine airs, if girls were allowed to take sufficient exercise, and not confined in close rooms till their muscles are relaxed, and their powers of digestion destroyed. (4.34)

    Wollstonecraft insists that one of the main reasons women's minds are corrupted is because their bodies are never given a chance to develop properly. From a young age, ladies are kept away from physical sports and taught not to exercise their muscles. Wollstonecraft insists that this lack of exercise and nutrition ends up giving women weak minds.

    But, I will venture to assert that their reason will never acquire sufficient strength to enable it to regulate their conduct, whilst the making an appearance in the world is the first wish of the majority of mankind. (4.77)

    Women will never learn how to properly use their minds if the world won't stop valuing their appearance over everything else. You can still see this kind of tension today in the way that advertisements and fashion spreads still have an insane control over women's self-image.

    Girls are from the earliest infancy fond of dress. Not content with being pretty, they are desirous of being thought so; we see, by all their little airs, that this thought engages their attention. (5.11)

    Young women are fond of dress, but not just because they want to be pretty. The most important thing in the world is for people to think they're pretty. Women are taught to seek out affirmation of their beauty, instead of being content with simply being beautiful.

    It is this system of dissimulation, throughout the volume, that I despise. Women are always to seem to be this and that. (5.96)

    One thing that Wollstonecraft hates is the way women are taught to value seeming above being. If the way people see you is seen as the ultimate accomplishment, you'll never spend any time thinking about who you are on the inside.

    How much more respectable is the woman who earns her own bread by fulfilling any duty, than the most accomplished beauty! (9.30)

    Wollstonecraft states repeatedly that beauty is transient, but a solid skill set is permanent. Furthermore, the "accomplishment" of beauty can never be internalized and can only be understood through outside affirmation. If you're really good at, say, carpentry, you can say to yourself "Dang, I built a really nice cabinet." You can't get the same sense of accomplishment by being a pretty face.

    Ignorance and the mistaken cunning that nature sharpens in weak heads as a principle of self-preservation, render women very fond of dress. (13.42)

    Wollstonecraft thinks that women's obsession with dresses and outward beauty are symptoms of the way society warps their minds. She doesn't believe that women are naturally superficial or shallow. It's society's fault for giving them nothing to think about other than looking pretty.

  • Education

    By individual education, I mean, for the sense of the word is not precisely defined, such an attention to a child as will slowly sharpen the senses, form the temper, regulate the passions as they being to ferment, and set the understanding to work before the body arrives at maturity. (2.9)

    The main purpose of education (for Wollstonecraft) is to strengthen a person's reason so that they can control their emotions. Being able to control our emotions is what separates humans from animals, and the stronger a person's reason is, the better.

    It follows then, I think, that from their infancy women should either be shut up like eastern princes, or educated in such a manner as to be able to think and act for themselves. (3.30)

    Wollstonecraft thinks that there can't be a middle ground. Either women should be shut away from society altogether, or they should be given the mental tools they need in order to engage the world as rational adults.

    The same love of pleasure, fostered by the whole tendency of their education, gives a trifling turn to the conduct of women in most circumstances. (4.24)

    Women are raised to look pretty and to seek out pleasure wherever they can find it. But this lack of discipline keeps them from ever learning to control their emotions. This upbringing leads many of them to become petty and cruel.

    Girls who have been thus weakly educated, are often cruelly left by their parents without any provision. (4.43)

    Sometimes, a young woman's parents will die and will leave her all alone in the world. And without a husband or an education to fall back on, these women basically have nothing to help them survive. Many of them end up on the street or in the poorhouse, when even a little bit of education might have made them fit for a career.

    The management of the temper, the first, and most important branch of education, requires the sober steady eye of reason. (4.55)

    The only thing that can teach people to control their emotions is the power of reason. People need to understand why they do things if they're ever going to resist their basic urges. They also need to consider the consequences of their actions and weigh the pros and cons.

    For this reason, the education of the women should be always relative to the men. To please, to be useful to us, to make us love and esteem them, to educate us when young, and take care of us when grown up, to advise, to console us, to render our lives easy and agreeable. (5.10)

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau believes that God put women on Earth solely for the purpose of pleasing men. That's why he thinks that all women's education should be directed toward pleasing men as much as possible and making their lives easier.

    Besides, how should a woman void of reflection be capable of educating her children? (5.49)

    How can we expect women to make good mothers when we prevent them from sharpening their judgment and developing their minds when they're younger? Let's not forget that in Wollstonecraft's time, children would have spent the majority of their young lives around their mothers and female nannies. In both cases, having uneducated women in these positions will only end up depriving the children of a good upbringing.

    I mean, therefore, to infer, that we ought to have a precise idea of what we wish to attain by education, for the immortality of the soul is contradicted by the actions of many people who firmly profess the belief. (5.140)

    Wollstonecraft thinks that before we argue about education, we need to think carefully about what the goal of education is. For her, it's fairly straightforward. Education is about developing a person's ability to control their emotions and act rationally.

    Nature, in these respects, may safely be left to herself; let women only acquire knowledge and humanity, and love will teach them modesty. (7.35)

    Wollstonecraft thinks that all we need to teach women is knowledge and humanity. Some people might think that educating women will inflate their egos, but Wollstonecraft is convinced that one of the main effects of a good education is modesty, since the more you learn, the more you realize there's a lot of stuff you don't know.

    Would ye, O my sisters, really possess modesty […] ye must acquire that soberness of mind, which the exercise of duties, and the pursuit of knowledge, alone inspire, or ye will remain in a doubtful dependent situation, and only be loved whilst ye are fair! (7.37)

    If women are going to learn true modesty (and not just the appearance of modesty), they need to train their minds to see just how much there is in the world that they don't know. In this case, these women will only be loved and respected while they're still young and pretty. Once they're old, no one will care about them.

  • Religion

    Firmly persuaded that no evil exists in the world that God did not design to take place, I build my belief on the perfection of God. (1.15)

    Wollstonecraft refuses to believe that God would have ever made women weak and deceitful by nature. She claims that it's her faith in God that leads her to believe that it's people, and not nature, that make women the way they are.

    With respect to religion, she never presumed to judge for herself; but conformed, as a dependent creature should, to the ceremonies of the church which she was brought up in. (3.41)

    Many women grow up and never judge the world for themselves. They simply listen to what they're told by their parents and by the church, and they end up never strengthening their judgment.

    It is not impious thus to scan the attributes of the Almighty: in fact, who can avoid it that exercises his faculties? (3.29)

    For Wollstonecraft, it's not blasphemous to question God's motives, since God gave people the power of reason and He no doubt expects them to use it.

    With respect to religion, she never presumed to judge for herself; but conformed, as a dependent creature should, to the ceremonies of the church which she was brought up in, piously believing that wiser heads than her own have settled that business. (3.41)

    Again, Wollstonecraft shows us how many women with natural intelligence never end up developing their minds because they obey their parents and the church. They just go through life figuring that all the world's questions have already been answered.

    More or less may be conspicuous in one being than another; but the nature of reason must be the same in all, if it be an emanation of divinity, the tie that connects the creature with the Creator. (4.3)

    If the power of reason comes directly from God, then it must be the same in all people. In other words, God guarantees that reason has no gender. Therefore, both men and women have the same power of reason and the same ability to strengthen it.

    Yet if love be the supreme good, let women only be educated to inspire it […] and let love to man be only a part of that glowing flame of universal love, which, after encircling humanity, mounts in a grateful incense to God. (4.53)

    Wollstonecraft thinks that physical love is not the be all and end all of life, so she thinks women should learn things like philosophy and science. A more elevated kind of love—that built on mutual respect and a life of the mind—is only possible if both men and women are properly educated. It's only this elevated kind of love that can be considered truly holy.

    I could not believe what my reason told me was derogatory to the character of the Supreme Being: and, having no fear of the devil before mine eyes, I venture to call this a suggestion of reason, instead of resting my weakness on the broad shoulders of the first seducer of my sex. (5.7)

    Frankly, Wollstonecraft doesn't buy the idea that women are all weak because Satan seduced Eve in the Garden of Eden. She thinks instead that God created men and women to be partners in life, and therefore equal.

    If it be merely the refuge of weakness or wild fanaticism, and not a governing principle of conduct, drawn from self-knowledge, and a rational opinion respecting the attributes of God, what can it be expected to produce? (5.161)

    Wollstonecraft can't see any rational purpose behind the oppression of women. It just seems to be a matter of tradition simply for the sake of tradition. You can't say that men are naturally better than women without saying that God created a flawed creature when he created women, and Wollstonecraft argues that this argument is pure blasphemy.

    Most prospects in life are marred by the shuffling worldly wisdom of men, who, forgetting that they cannot serve God and mammon, endeavor to blend contradictory things. (5.162)

    There are lots of men in the world who want to serve God and make lots of money (the weird word "mammon" refers to material wealth). But Wollstonecraft insists that you can't have it both ways. The Bible is very clear when it comes to greed. Greed is a horrible thing and it's immoral for a person to have way more than she or he needs to live.

    Probably you would not understand me, were I to attempt to shew you that it would be absolutely inconsistent with the grand purpose of life, that of rendering human creatures wise and virtuous: and that, were it sanctioned by God, it would disturb the order established in creation. (13.11)

    How can people possibly argue that it is against God and nature to give women a good education? The only way you could argue this is if you claimed that God intentionally messed things up in order for humans to "fix" things by oppressing women. In short, none of it makes sense—and that's what Wollstonecraft wants us to realize.