Study Guide

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Slavery

By Mary Wollstonecraft

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.