Study Guide

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Chapter 4

By Mary Wollstonecraft

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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.

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