Study Guide

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Summary

By Mary Wollstonecraft

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Summary

Wollstonecraft doesn't waste a whole lot of time in getting to the point in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman . She says from the get-go that humanity's greatest gift is its ability to reason. And since men and women are born with the same ability to reason, women should enjoy just as much education, power, and influence in society as men do. The only reason women don't seem as smart as men, she says, is because they aren't given the same education. The one thing she's willing to admit is that men might have an advantage in physical strength. But in a modern civilization, this advantage shouldn't really mean anything. For a gentleman living in Wollstonecraft's time, there were very few (if any) occasions in life where he would be called upon to use all of his strength.

Once she gets into her argument, Wollstonecraft goes after some writers who have claimed that women's education should focus solely on making young women pleasing to men. In other words, popular opinion in Wollstonecraft's time states that women shouldn't busy themselves with too much reading or studying. They should focus on dressing nicely and being quiet.

Wollstonecraft tears these arguments to shreds, saying that they end up causing a lot of social problems. For example, how can people expect a woman to raise children well if she has no education and no ability to reason? Further, how can women be moral and virtuous if all they're ever taught is how to look moral and virtuous? This kind of education focuses only on appearances and makes women totally superficial.

As the book continues, Wollstonecraft argues that education should be available equally to both boys and girls regardless of how wealthy their families are. That's why she thinks that there should be a national public school system that is free for children up to a certain age. That probably sounds familiar; it's a lot like today's public school system.

Wollstonecraft closes the book with one last flurry, summing up all the arguments she's made and showing once and for all that there's no possible way to support the oppression of women without being a bully and a tyrant. In the end, Wollstonecraft states that a future with educated women will be much brighter than a future without them.

  • Introduction

    Introduction

    • Wollstonecraft begins Vindication by saying that she's been feeling depressed lately. After looking at the history of humanity, she has decided that men and women are either very different or history has been extremely unfair to women.
    • In the end, she decides that the lack of good education for women is the biggest cause of misery in the world.
    • For the most part, Wollstonecraft believes that women's poor education teaches them to be superficial and ignorant, which only makes life more miserable for their future husbands and children.
    • Wollstonecraft admits that it looks as though men are physically stronger than women. But she insists that in a modern civilization, physical strength shouldn't count for much.
    • Women should therefore be treated just as well as men because they have just as much intelligence.
    • She already knows that men will criticize her argument by saying that giving women the same education as men will make them too "manly." Wollstonecraft argues that reason and logic don't favor one gender over the other, though.
    • Wollstonecraft warns her female readers that she's going to speak to them directly and rationally, which might offend some women who are used to being addressed with all kinds of silly politeness.
    • Wollstonecraft admits that women's education has become a more widely discussed topic in her time. But she's disappointed that this education always focuses on making women as pleasing as possible to men instead of developing their rational minds.
    • It is clear to Wollstonecraft that women have been unnaturally stunted in their development by a society that tries to keep them as weak and ignorant as possible. In the end, she's confident that rational argument will prove that it's in everyone's interest for women to receive better education.

  • Chapter 1

    The rights and involved duties of mankind considered

    • If we're going to make a solid argument for anything, Wollstonecraft says, we need to begin at the very beginning at look at our most basic assumptions.
    • Her first (and most important) assumption is that the power of Reason (and Reason alone) is what places humankind above the rest of the natural world.
    • Her second biggest assumption is that virtue and moral goodness are what make one human being better than another.
    • Her third and final assumption is that God gave us passions and temptations so that we could gain knowledge by struggling against them. Therefore, the qualities of Reason, Virtue, and Knowledge are our starting points.
    • Reason is supposed to help us overcome our prejudices by looking at things more objectively. Unfortunately, most men use reason to justify prejudices instead of overcoming them.
    • Europe is especially bad when it comes to prejudices.
    • A quick look at the society of Wollstonecraft's time would show you an irrational and unfair world, where a small group of people was rich and powerful simply because they'd been born into the right family (like kings, queens, and other royalty). This is the very reason why people were trying to agitate for democracy all over the world while Wollstonecraft was writing Vindication.
    • Wollstonecraft mentions Jean Jacques Rousseau as an example of someone who became so fed up with the injustice of the modern world that he turned away from it and lived in solitude. Pay attention to this part of the book, because Wollstonecraft is going to have lots to say about Rousseau as we go on.
    • Wollstonecraft disagrees with Rousseau's belief that humans should return to their natural state and start acting more like animals again. She insists that God gave humanity reason and civilization in order to improve life, though she admits that many humans have abused these gifts.
    • Wollstonecraft doesn't just disagree with tyranny in government. She also disagrees with any part of life where one person demands blind obedience from another. That includes schools and workplaces. In other words, a teacher or a boss always needs to be able to justify their decisions to their students and workers. As you can imagine, there are a lot of teachers and bosses out there who don't feel the same way.
    • At the end of the day, every human being should have the power to question the decisions of another human being on rational grounds. It is never okay for one person to tell another: that's just the way it is, so do what you're told.
    • Wollstonecraft suspects that in the early days of humanity, the biggest and strongest people tended to rule over the others. But now we've evolved into the age of reason, which means that brute strength is no longer a valid basis for power. People need to get people to agree with them through rational arguments.

  • Chapter 2

    The prevailing opinion of a sexual character discussed

    • There are many men who have argued over the ages that women don't have enough mental strength to become morally good on their own: they need the guidance of men. But Wollstonecraft believes that if women have souls, then they must have the same rational powers as men. The only other option is for men to claim that women don't have souls, which even the worst misogynists in the world would hesitate to argue.
    • The biggest challenge to women's education seems to be the belief that women should be kept innocent like children and taught nothing other than the skills for pleasing their future husbands.
    • Wollstonecraft agrees that to some extent, young children should be kept innocent. But the same can't be said for women. There comes a time for all human beings when they should be encouraged to think for themselves.
    • She thinks that parents should prepare their children for the day when they begin to think for themselves. But she also admits that to some extent, people are always products of the societies they live in. So all education should strive toward making the individual as independent a thinker as possible.
    • Wollstonecraft blames the men of her time (especially Jean Jacques Rousseau) for promoting a type of education that makes women completely useless as members of society.
    • Rousseau thinks that men are so perfectly rational that women should follow their guidance. But Wollstonecraft argues that many (if not most) men are just overgrown children.
    • In the current system, women are only able to learn about the world by looking at the surfaces of things. They are never taught how to figure out larger patterns from individual observations, so they all just end up being superficial and shallow. The same is true of military soldiers, who are taught only how to follow orders and who don't have any core reason or virtue guiding what they do. They live on the surface of life, according to Wollstonecraft.
    • Wollstonecraft brings us back once again to the decision we have to make. Either women are so weak that they need to be guided completely by men, or they are rational people who are capable of thinking for themselves.
    • Here, Wollstonecraft wants to clarify that she doesn't want to reverse the order of things and place women above men. She just wants women to have the independence they need to develop their minds fully.
    • Even though it might anger some men, Wollstonecraft believes that women were made for something more than making men fall in love. Yes, there's a time for thoughtless love when a person is young. But those years should also be spent preparing for the more important and mature years of life, when reason is most important.
    • Wollstonecraft next critiques the work of a guy named Dr. Gregory, who has written a book on how he chooses to raise his daughters.
    • For starters, Dr. Gregory instructs his daughters to learn how to dress nicely. This actually seems like the most important thing in his books. Wollstonecraft finds it strange that Dr. Gregory thinks that liking dresses is "natural" for women, since this presupposes that the soul (a completely intangible thing) somehow possessed a love for dress before it entered a human body.
    • The truth is that women like to dress nicely because looking good is where they get their power in society.
    • The second piece of advice Dr. Gregory gives his daughters is for them to hide their true emotions whenever they can. It's a woman's duty not to let her frustrations show.
    • The truest bond between men and women, according to Wollstonecraft, is not love. It's friendship. Love is something Wollstonecraft connects to sex and romance. But friendship is a bond between two people who respect one another's intellects. Besides, the shine wears off on love fairly quickly, but friendship lasts a lifetime.
    • If we went nowhere after we died, then Wollstonecraft would agree that the only point of life is to pursue pleasure. But she believes in an afterlife, and therefore thinks that we have to spend our time on Earth doing the right thing.
    • If Dr. Gregory's advice is right, then a woman's purpose in life ends the moment she gets married and has children. There is nothing left for her to accomplish.
    • The truth is that we won't really know what women are capable of until we offer them all of the same social respect and education that we offer to men. In Wollstonecraft's time, society was still a long way from achieving this goal.
    • If men are truly superior to women, then let them prove it by giving women an equal playing field. In a worst case scenario, you're still going to wind up with a bunch of women who are better than they used to be.
    • Men have about as much right to oppress women as kings have to oppress men. And when Wollstonecraft was writing this text, men were definitely turning against the idea of political oppression. Notice here how she's capitalizing on a political movement for democracy by applying the same logic to women's rights.
  • Chapter 3

    The same subject continued

    • Wollstonecraft opens this chapter by saying that bodily strength is so unnecessary in modern society that people have even started to look down on it. After all, we all know the stereotypes about how body builders are a bunch of dumb meatheads. Wollstonecraft wants to point out how unfair this kind of judgment is, though. Wollstonecraft is actually a big supporter of exercise, and she'd like to see it extended to women.
    • It is even fashionable in Wollstonecraft's world for women to boast about how physically weak they are, because this is supposed to be a sign of delicacy. But Wollstonecraft wants women to have more access to exercise because she thinks that the body and the mind must be developed together. She's willing to admit that there are a lot of scrawny smart dudes out there, but she doesn't believe that developing the mind and the body together is therefore impossible.
    • Once again, Wollstonecraft admits that men might have a natural advantage over women in terms of physical strength. But in terms of reason and intelligence, she's confident that both genders are equal.
    • Besides, even if women are physically weaker than men, why do we value social customs that make them even weaker?
    • Writers like Jean Jacques Rousseau always like to play the nature card when making their ridiculous arguments about women, saying that women are naturally gentle or that they naturally care about fancy dresses. But where do we draw the line, then? Is it natural for humans to use toilet paper (or toilets, for that matter)? Is it natural for us to work indoors? People tend to use "nature" as the basis for an argument whenever it's convenient for them.
    • It's true that some women take pride in how weak they are and how small their appetite is. But this is all an empty sense of pride. They're like birds that feel proud for putting decorations on the cage that imprisons them.
    • Just as men need to break the bonds of their slavery through education, so too do women. Let's not allow men to oppress women using the same arguments that kings and aristocrats have used to oppress common men for centuries.
    • In case she's been subtle up until now, Wollstonecraft comes out and says that "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).
    • At this point, Wollstonecraft turns to a more practical question. What will happen to a woman whose husband dies and leaves her with young children and no income? Without a good education (or another husband), this woman is completely doomed, since she has no resources or skills to fall back on.
    • Wollstonecraft is also worried that women are more likely to hate each other when they're constantly competing for the attention of men. She uses this logic to explain why women are often so mean to other women.
    • On the other hand, Wollstonecraft can think of a woman who has an excellent education and who has some hope of supporting her family after her husband has died.
    • Wollstonecraft's main point in these pages is that truth doesn't have a gender. Truth is truth regardless of whether a man or a woman is speaking it.
    • Feminine "softness" and poor education tend to drag humanity down. Wollstonecraft thinks that wealth does much of the same. For her, excessive wealth makes a person lazy and immoral. Being a woman, similarly, confines a person to do nothing except sit around and look pretty.
  • Chapter 4

    Observations on the state of degradation to which woman is reduced by various causes

    • Some men will argue that women shouldn't be educated because they'll start striving for things society will never give them. But this is the same argument given for why common people shouldn't be allowed to vote in an election—because this'll make them want more power in society and they should just shut up and know their place.
    • When it comes to the powers of reason, every human being is a world unto itself.
    • Just to be clear: when Wollstonecraft talks about "reason," she means specifically the power to take a bunch of individual observations and to figure out general rules from them.
    • Many women in Wollstonecraft's world don't actually want equality because they have a lot of power already simply because they're beautiful. If the world suddenly expects them to be educated, they'll lose their power.
    • Some men will argue that men actually put women on pedestals and worship them like goddesses. In this logic, women actually have all the power. But even though you might be admired, there's no power to be found in being turned into an object of beauty for people to stare at.
    • Sometimes, men actually take it too easy on women, considering it is impolite to contradict a woman in public. But how else are women supposed to learn how to reason?
    • When men are young, their education prepares them for their future profession, and marriage is just a byproduct of having a good job and reputation. For women, though, marriage is the be-all and end-all of life.
    • Many men think that women are deceptive and manipulative. But Wollstonecraft asks how it could possibly be different when manipulating men is the only way for women to gain power in society?
    • Let's say for a second that most women are going to grow up to be wives and mothers. Wollstonecraft wants to know how these women will be good mothers if they have absolutely no intelligence or education?
    • Some people say that women reach maturity earlier than men, which is the reason why men later overtake them and become smarter in later years. Wollstonecraft uses examples to prove this idea wrong and to show that there is hardly any different in the natural intelligence or maturity of men and women.
    • As part of a sidebar, Wollstonecraft argues that polygamy isn't necessary in Europe because there are just as many men as women. In cultures where men are scarcer, polygamy might make sense. But not in Europe. Uh, okay then.
    • Wollstonecraft feels a lot of pity for young women whose reputations are ruined by having sex before marriage or becoming pregnant out of wedlock. This was a huge taboo in Wollstonecraft's time, and something that would make the offending young woman an outcast for the rest of her life.
    • There are some who would say that sex and passion is the main bond between a man and a woman, but Wollstonecraft is skeptical about how long two people can stay sexually attracted to one another. She believes that a good marriage is more like friendship than romance.
    • Unfortunately, women will never learn to exercise their reason while they're still encouraged to worry about their social appearance. Men are only too happy to let this be the way, since they just want women to look good and not to think too much.
    • All in all, Wollstonecraft decides that the main problem affecting women is the way society encourages them to think only about their appearance and their immediate pleasure instead of focusing on moral goodness and the use of reason. Men have of course contributed to this by complementing women for their appearance more than their reason, but it's time for a change.
  • Chapter 5

    Animadversions on some of the writers who have rendered women objects of pity, bordering on contempt

    • Wollstonecraft tells us that she's going to devote this chapter of Vindication to examining and critiquing all the wrong things that men have written about women and women's education in her time.
    • She'll start her critique by looking at her #1 enemy, Jean Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau believes that women should be weak and passive, and that education should make them as weak and passive as possible. Oh yeah, and he also thinks that the whole point of a woman's life is to be pleasing to men, especially her husband.
    • Rousseau says that we can clearly see how different boys and girls are from a young age. Boys like to play rough sports while girls like to sit and play with dolls. But Wollstonecraft insists that this is only because parents give their daughters dolls and tell their sons to play more active games. She also tells us that Rousseau writes what he does because in France (where he's from), people care about appearances way more than substance. Wollstonecraft would like to think that the English have a little more faith in substance.
    • Rousseau goes on to say that young women should be taught how to restrain themselves. If a young girl really loves to play with her doll, she must learn not to play with it. If she loves to run around the house, her parents must stop her from doing so. It's only by resisting every desire that a young woman can become a lady.
    • Rousseau tells men to be aggressive and commanding with their wives. Otherwise the wives might get uppity and start acting like they run the show.
    • Wollstonecraft warns people who agree with Rousseau that it isn't this easy. Women will become frustrated if men keep them in a cage, and one of the most common ways for women to express their frustration is to have an affair.
    • Rousseau concludes by saying that the way things are is the way they're supposed to be.
    • Wollstonecraft finds this nonsensical, since all of the rest of Rousseau's work talks about how people should change their behavior and change the world by returning to nature.
    • Rousseau also thinks that girls talk too much when they're young, to which Wollstonecraft answers, "Good."
    • Wollstonecraft once again points out all of the ways that women could be more useful to society if they were educated. They could have better conversations with their husbands and could give a better education to their children.
    • Eventually, Rousseau advises women not to give their husbands too much sex or affection in the beginning of the marriage. They have to pace themselves or else their husbands will get bored of them too quickly. In either case, once the romance wears off (which it will, according to Rousseau), a husband and wife will be kept together by sheer habit. Children are also great for keeping couples together after the husband and wife stop loving each other.
    • In short, all of Rousseau's advice on how to educate young women is calculated only to make them pleasing to men for a short time. Wollstonecraft wants to replace this kind of thinking with an education that can make women valuable their entire lives.
    • Rousseau was already dead when Wollstonecraft was writing this book, and she claims she doesn't want to speak ill of the dead—only of his opinions.
    • Wollstonecraft's next target for critique is a guy named Dr. Fordyce, who apparently wrote a bunch of sermons instructing young women how to behave. Her main beef with Fordyce seems to be that the guy teaches women to look and act graceful instead of teaching them the grace that really matters—the one you develop on the inside. Like Rousseau, Fordyce obsesses over the way women appear to men more than they way women are on the inside.
    • At one point, Fordyce even instructs young women to look as angelic as possible when they're praying to God. To Wollstonecraft, this is a huge insult to religion and to God, because women's minds should be on God when they're praying, not on how good they look to other people.
    • Fordyce goes on to say that he is often offended when women get mad at their husbands for ignoring them. Fordyce thinks that more often than not, this lack of attention is the women's fault. Maybe if women tried harder to encourage their husbands, overlook all of their husbands' mistakes, and submit to their opinions in every way, their husbands would pay them a little more attention.
    • For Wollstonecraft, it might be time for men to get over themselves. What Dr. Fordyce is essentially saying is that men should never have to admit they're wrong about anything. Wollstonecraft doesn't accept this argument. If it were true, how would anyone ever improve?
    • The next dude on Wollstonecraft's chopping block is Dr. Gregory, the same dude who instructs his daughters to be nothing more than pleasing objects for men.
    • Once again, Wollstonecraft's main objection is that Dr. Gregory's text is obsessed with appearances and totally silent on the topic of women's true inner feelings. For Wollstonecraft, nothing will ever improve until women are changed from the inside out.
    • Dr. Gregory even advises women to hide their knowledge of things whenever they can. No one likes a know-it-all, he says, and it's important for a woman never to make a man feel like she knows more than him. But Wollstonecraft says that women should become as smart as possible and then show it to the world. It's not up to women to hide their intelligence; it's up to men to get over themselves and become better people.
    • In the end, Wollstonecraft insists that it's better to have a husband's respect than his sexual attraction. At the end of the day, people need to let go of their egos and not be afraid of improving themselves through knowledge.
    • After finishing with Dr. Gregory, Wollstonecraft returns to her general points about how men have acted like tyrants over women and how nothing good can ever come from dominating people by force. That's why she wants her readers to reason through the issue of women's rights with her, calmly and respectfully.
    • One writer named Mrs. Piozzi argues the women are willing to hear their intelligence insulted way more than their appearance. Wollstonecraft thinks this is an empty claim, since it's impossible to know what women really think because they've been trained their whole lives to hide their feelings.
    • One lady named the Baroness de Stael praises the work of Rousseau and says that he has helped women learn to avoid acting like men and to be content with their natural role, which is to be beautiful objects for men to worship. Wollstonecraft can't criticize this view enough, since she thinks it's silly to argue that women have power over men by being dumb and weak. She doesn't want women going through life this way; she wants equality between the sexes, plain and simple.
    • There is also a woman named Madame de Genlis who Wollstonecraft disagrees with. Breaking News: Wollstonecraft disagrees with a lot of people. Genlis argues that children should always obey the authority of their parents the way a commoner would obey a king. Wollstonecraft says that this kind of upbringing will never produce an independent thinker.
    • While discussing the importance of reason, Wollstonecraft mentions a writer named Mrs. Macaulay, who she admires very much because Macaulay shows just how much a woman can understand good sense and reason.
    • Wollstonecraft knows that she has pinned a lot of her arguments on her idea of reason. But she knows that if she's going to be convincing, she needs to go into deeper discussion of what she means by "reason" and what humanity can hope to gain by it.
    • One thing Wollstonecraft knows for sure is that men tend to improve their intelligence more than women because they're allowed to make more mistakes (and thus learn from those mistakes) than women. Regardless of their gender, young people should be allowed to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes.
    • It's true, though, that sometimes the mistakes we make are too big and have an impact on the rest of our lives. But Wollstonecraft repeats that any knowledge worth having can't be attained without hard work and sorrow. For this reason, she can't stand it when she's at a party and people won't contradict each other because they think it's rude.
    • For Wollstonecraft., you must devote yourself either to a life of moral goodness or a life of shallow opportunism. You can't have it both ways in her mind.
  • Chapter 6

    The effect which an early association of ideas has upon the character

    • This chapter deals mostly with the disastrous effects that a bad early-life education can have on women. Wollstonecraft was smart enough to know that the first years of life tend to be the ones that form our character. That's why she wants to make sure that we use these years to give every child the best opportunity to develop.
    • Women tend to be stunted by early education because they're taught from the earliest age to be ladylike and never taught anything after that. This education keeps them in a childlike state for their entire lives. They end up only knowing things that they've memorized by rote, but they don't understand the deeper principles beneath anything.
    • A lack of proper early education is one of the main reasons why women are so easily seduced by "rakes" (sexually promiscuous men). All they've ever learned is to chase after compliments, so they're in heaven as soon as a man starts complimenting them.
    • Every day, women are seduced and "ruined" by men because these women haven't learned how to think for themselves and to recognize deception when they see it. Wollstonecraft would like for society to turn this pattern around by giving women a good education from day one.
  • Chapter 7

    Modesty—Comprehensively considered, and not as a sexual virtue

    • What would a book about the rights of women be without a chapter about modesty? During Wollstonecraft's time, modesty was one of the greatest qualities a woman could have, since society was fond of women who kept quiet when men were talking. Wollstonecraft wasn't too happy about that, though.
    • For starters, Wollstonecraft thinks there's a big difference between a person who acts modestly and a person who truly feels humble before God and has a realistic understanding of their own limitations. Unfortunately, women are only taught the first kind.
    • Any woman who dedicates her life to intellectual pursuits instead of sensual ones (like flirting and playing) will automatically have a purer mind than other women. This purer mind will also make her a morally better person in Wollstonecraft's mind.
    • A big part of making women properly modest will be to get men to stop hitting on them all the time. Constant flirting pumps up women's egos, and men only do it because they're looking for sex.
    • Wollstonecraft also thinks that young women tend to get bad habits from nurseries and boarding schools where they sleep and wash in the same rooms as other women. Sometimes, women from the middle and upper classes mix with women from the lower classes, and the lower-class women end up infecting these "better" women with bad habits. In general, Wollstonecraft finds that young women are a little too "familiar" and candid with each other when no parents are around.
    • Wollstonecraft's ultimate point here is that there's no human quality that women should focus on more than men. Moral virtue doesn't have a gender, and if women need to learn modesty, so do men.
  • Chapter 8

    Morality undermined by sexual notions of the importance of a good reputation

    • This chapter is all about people who look after their public reputations more than their souls. This is something Wollstonecraft finds in both genders, not just women.
    • Wollstonecraft is disgusted by how many women think that having a good reputation is the same thing as being a morally good person.
    • One of the reasons women focus so much on their reputation (especially their sexual reputation) is because in Wollstonecraft's world, there's no getting your reputation back once a person has "ruined" herself by having sex out of marriage. In this case, even a rumor can ruin a person's life forever, so it makes sense that women focus more on their reputations than anything else.
    • Wollstonecraft is willing to admit that reputation is usually a pretty good indication of a person's character, but she still thinks people focus on it too much instead of the person inside.
    • While talking about sexuality and reputation, Wollstonecraft argues that there should be a law forcing men to take care of the women they have seduced and had sex with.
    • It's total hypocrisy that men get to run around having all the sex they want while women are completely shunned for having sex before marriage. Nothing will ever improve for women unless men are willing to improve, too.
  • Chapter 9

    Of the pernicious effects which arise from the unnatural distinctions established in society

    • In this chapter, Wollstonecraft attacks all the social problems that come from inequality in society and from wealth. For her, people who have a lot of wealth get a lot of respect that they don't really deserve. Only people who have virtue should get respect.
    • Wollstonecraft insists that unless there is more equality in society, there will never be morality. Plus it is impossible to expect virtue from women until they achieve some sort of independence from men.
    • According to Wollstonecraft, wealth tends to make women selfish, especially when they become mothers. Most wealthy mothers just pass their children off to babysitters and don't think about them again. They're too busy counting their jewels.
    • The only way to help women develop as individuals is to give them the means they need to take care of themselves financially. Women must not depend on men for their food and shelter, but must be able to provide it for themselves.
    • How is it, Wollstonecraft asks, that poor mechanics still pay taxes to help maintain the royal palace when they have barely enough to eat on their own?
    • Wollstonecraft makes a pretty bold statement for her time when she insists that women should be allowed to train as doctors and healers of all sorts. They should also be allowed to study politics.
    • In order for women to use their private goodness to help the public, they must be given some sort of public life, either through jobs or public political positions.
    • If men would only take the chains off of women, they would find that women are great friends and partners in life. Women would probably be more affectionate, too, if they were given more independence.
  • Chapter 10

    Parental affection

    • Wollstonecraft thinks that a parent's affection for their children is actually just a blind form of self-obsession. In other words, parents who think their kids are perfect are thinking, deep down, that they are perfect. Mary also refers back to her earlier argument about parents being like tyrants, demanding blind obedience without ever wanting to justify themselves.
    • Wollstonecraft also thinks that parents are extremely selfish when it comes to their kids, because once they have kids, they don't care about anyone else in the world. Family actually breaks down community more than it supports it.
    • The fact is that a good mother has to be able to think for herself and be somewhat self-aware of how she raises her kids. Otherwise she'll just become another overindulgent mother who raises her kids to think that they're the center of the universe.
    • At the end of the day, there has to be a good relationship between parents if the children are going to learn how to properly treat others. And the bond between parents must be based on friendship and not just sexual attraction, because the second one will wither over time.
  • Chapter 11

    Duty to parents

    • For some reason, says Wollstonecraft, humanity is prone to laziness when it comes to thinking. No one likes to have to justify any decisions. They just want to act on habit, tradition, and authority so they won't have to think too much about anything.
    • Many parents are not willing to earn their children's respect. They demand it, and this creates a model of tyrannical authority that will poison a child's thinking for the rest of its life.
    • Wollstonecraft blames bad parents for a lot of bad that exists in the world.
    • Wollstonecraft thinks that young girls suffer from parents' tyranny even more than boys do. But in a good world, parents would calmly sit their children down and explain to them why they (the children) should follow the parents' advice until they (the children) have the ability to judge for themselves.
    • Everyone knows that it's easier to give a command than to give a reasoned argument for something. But then again, it's easier to eat pizza than broccoli, too. But the second is much better for you in the long run.
    • Giving commands also teaches people the terrible habit of governing according to moods. In other words, parents are more likely to punish kids based on what mood they're in instead of handing out punishments that are rational and appropriate.
    • Wollstonecraft angers a lot of her readers when she says that children should be taught to see and acknowledge their parents' shortcomings and insecurities. It's not until children and parents can speak to each other as rational beings, blending love and esteem, that future societies will be filled with better people.
  • Chapter 12

    On national education

    • Wollstonecraft firmly believes that the government should create some sort of public school system where children from all walks of life come together and learn. She would turn out to be pretty right-on about this, because what she's describing here is a blueprint for our modern school system.
    • Wollstonecraft doesn't approve of private schools because by their very nature, they teach children to think of themselves as different from the children who can't afford to go. She also doesn't approve of homeschooling, since the absence of other children leads the student to think that she or he is the most important person in the world.
    • One thing that Wollstonecraft thinks is horrible for society is the fear of change and innovation. She constantly mourns the fact that schools still teach children to memorize and nothing else. What can we possibly expect of kids when school is nothing more than a contest where the prize goes to the best memorizer?
    • Wollstonecraft takes an opportunity here to jab at Catholicism, saying that this religion is based completely on groundless authority (i.e. the Pope). Protestantism, she says, is based on the idea that anyone can read the Bible and judge for themselves what it says.
    • We live in a culture where everyone's goal is to rise one class above whatever class they're in.
    • Many people might argue that social inequality is a good thing because it allows the most talented people to thrive. But Wollstonecraft is certain that there's no point in sacrificing the majority in order to produce a select group of brilliant people.
    • Family life and early education isn't necessarily bad. It can be used to create compassionate and brilliant people. It just needs to have the right mix of independent thinking and social responsibility.
    • How much time do we waste getting kids to recite formulas and historical events that they do not understand? A true public school system would focus on the how of knowing, not the what. Unfortunately, society is just filled with a bunch of parents who want their kids to get gold stars and to beat the other kids. Knowledge isn't the priority.
    • By this point, it might seem as if Wollstonecraft has gone a bit off topic, considering that this book is supposed to be specifically about the rights of women. Now she brings us back by saying that all of the awful things about the current education system affect girls worse than boys.
    • So here comes a really radical suggestion. Wollstonecraft thinks that boys and girls should attend the same schools. Gasp. The horror! Wollstonecraft is convinced that the only way to create equality and respect between men and women is to socialize them together from a young age.
    • Educating women differently couldn't possibly have a bad effect on them, since in Wollstonecraft's mind, there's no possible way anyone could make them weaker than their current education already does.
    • Wollstonecraft thinks that educating boys and girls together would also have the added benefit of creating early marriages. She tends to think that the earlier two people get married, the better.
    • Above all else, women must learn self-respect, and they can only learn self-respect by learning to think for themselves. Then they won't spend their lives using seduction and other tricks to get men to give them what they want.
    • And here's a funny idea. Wollstonecraft wants punishments in the school system to work the same way that punishment for adults does. Any time a student does something wrong, they will have to be put on trial in front of a jury made up of other students.
    • Wollstonecraft wants stronger laws preventing cruelty to animals, because it's this same cruelty (this same lust for power over another creature) that leads many young people to become cruel adults, too. That said, she has known women who loved their dogs very much and barely paid attention to their children.
    • In order to be good people, both genders have to act according to the same moral principles. There isn't one set for boys and one for girls.
    • Not only does society need to educate women and help them become more rational, but it also needs to stop insulting women who do manage to show a little reason. Wollstonecraft herself got called a "hyena in petticoats" by a politician named Horace Walpole because he thought her style of argumentation was "unladylike." Even today, an opinionated and assertive woman might get called "bossy" for doing stuff that would get a man lauded as being "a leader."
  • Chapter 13

    Some instances of the folly which the ignorance of women generates; with concluding reflections on the moral improvement that a revolution in female manners may naturally be expected to produce

    • Wollstonecraft decides that she wants to close Vindication with a discussion of some of the faults that are most common to women. As you can imagine, she attributes most of these faults to a lack of education.
    • Here, Wollstonecraft directly accuses her women readers of being the cause of their own oppression, because so many of them try to gain an advantage in life by acting as "ladylike" as possible. But these women don't realize that their actions reflect on their entire gender and have an impact outside their personal lives.
    • She especially goes after women who like to visit quack doctors who use magnets and crazy things to cure diseases. Wollstonecraft thinks these quacks should all be arrested, and she blames gullible, uneducated women for making quackery such a thriving industry in England.
    • Another common fault that Wollstonecraft sees with women is that their ideas about life are way too influenced by the romance novels they read. Women grow up thinking that Prince Charming will ride up on his horse and sweep them away. To be fair, Wollstonecraft thinks that some reading (even of romance novels) is better than no reading at all. But she thinks there are better things women could be putting their minds to.
    • The best way for people to deal with novels is to point out (for their daughters) all of the things in a novel that are silly or nonsensical. This might seem kind of harsh, but Wollstonecraft is more interested in producing good citizens than women who think that life is one big romance.
    • One of the things that Wollstonecraft dislikes most about women is how judgmental they are toward other women, especially when it comes to appearances.
    • Society tends to make a big deal out of how compassionate women are compared to men. But this compassion usually stems from ignorance, and women are often compassionate toward people who don't deserve it. They're just as likely to feel compassion for a murderer as for a poor person because they haven't got the education to know any better.
    • On top of all the other faults, women are often too harsh with their servants, especially in front of their own children. What kind of message does it teach your child when you're mean to those who are worse off than you?
    • In closing, Wollstonecraft says that she has no interest in excusing the faults of women. She simply thinks that these faults wouldn't be so bad if women were given a better education and a more equal place in society.