Study Guide

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Chapter 3

By Mary Wollstonecraft

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.

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