Thursday, September 6, 2007

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)― Chapter 2 and 3 of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

Partly a response to Book V of Emile, in which Rousseau describes his vision of the ideal woman Sophie― a submissive and subordinate girls who cultivates her charms in accordance to the likings of men― Wollstonecraft's feminist critique A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) addresses Rousseau's more sexist assertions, and contends that the standards and expectations for women should be equal to those of men. In Chapter II, she responds to the Rousseau's claim that women should be educated only for the pleasure of men:

“In what they have in common, they are equal. Where they differ, they are not comparable. A perfect woman and a perfect man ought not to resemble each other in mind any more than in looks, and perfection is not susceptible of more or less. In the union of the sexes each contributes equally to the common aim, but not in the same way. From this diversity arises the first assignable difference in the moral relations of the two sexes. One ought to be active and strong, the other passive and weak. One must necessarily will and be able; it suffices that the other put up little resistance. Once this principle is established, it follows that woman is made specially to please man.”

To this, Wollstonecraft responds:

"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. He carries the arguments, which he pretends to draw from the indications of nature, still further, and insinuates that truth and fortitude, the corner stones of all human virtue, should be cultivated with certain restrictions, because, with respect to the female character, obedience is the grand lesson which ought to be impressed with unrelenting rigor.

What nonsense! when will a great man arise with sufficient strength of mind to puff away the fumes which pride and sensuality have thus spread over the subject! If women are by nature inferior to men, their virtues must be the same in quality, if not in degree, or virtue is a relative idea; consequently, their conduct should be founded on the same principles, and have the same aim."

Finally, on a side note, in Chapter 3 Wollstonecraft sounds as if she were explicitly addressing the girls of Tokyo.

“I once knew a weak woman of fashion, who was more than commonly proud of her delicacy and sensibility. She thought a distinguishing taste and puny appetite the height of all human perfection, and acted accordingly. I have seen this weak sophisticated being neglect all the duties of life, yet recline with self-complacency on a sofa, and boast of her want of appetite as a proof of delicacy that extended to, or, perhaps, arose from, her exquisite sensibility: for it is difficult to render intelligible such ridiculous jargon.”

No comments: