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Mary Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” is the epitome of her argumentative and persuasive attributes. The work also shows the plight of women is a topic that is deeply entrenched in her mind and the work is therefore a product of passion that Wollstonecraft had for natural rights. In this work, Wollstonecraft focuses on failure to educate the girl child in which case the rights of women are not vindicated (Wollstonecraft 24). Instead, women are oppressed by the very same men who are supposed to encourage them to seize the opportunity of the moment and get educated.
The work is a response to political and educational philosophers of the 18th century who supported ideologies on denying women access to education. She particularly responds to the work to Talleyrand-Périgord, whose 1791 report addressed to the National Assembly of France proposed that the highest level of education to women should have been giving only basic education. Wollstonecraft believed that women should be empowered through education as a way of making them self-reliant.
Contemporary authors such as Barbara Taylor have also contributed to the topic. In her work, Women, Gender and Enlightenment, Taylor focuses on the idea of educating women and enlightening them. Despite the two authors making crucial statements on the education of women, Wollstonecraft’s argument is clearer than Taylors because Wollstonecraft uses rhetoric in her argument.
Wollstonecraft clearly states in pages 8-10 of her work that her aim is to enlighten and convince women to develop strength of body and mind, hence, her use of rhetoric as a language device is meant to create a persuasive appeal.
In general grammar and literature rhetoric refers to the use of questions that are not meant to be answered but provoke the reader to note the writer’s emphasis and concern over certain conduct. She is concerned about provoking women to reason as the strength of mind, character, and virtue are critical attributes of a person with the ability to reason (Wollstonecraft 9).
Rather than writing in a style that rebukes the injustices occasioned on women by men, Wollstonecraft writes in a style that seeks to persuade men to accord women the same opportunities they accord themselves and women to seize those opportunities. A total of 279 rhetorical questions are evident in the work, most of which are not directed to any particular individual but to emphasize her points, question the people she disagrees with, and also to support her arguments. For example, at page 14 of her work she asks the rhetorical question to Rousseau as to why such an “energetic advocate for immorality make inconsistent arguments.” She vehemently disagreed with Rousseau’s arguments on feminism and immorality. Further, at page 148, she asks an elongated rhetorical question regarding the unwillingness of governments to encourage women to fill positions of leadership (Wollstonecraft 148). These questions are persuasive, as much as they are rhetorical.
As a persuasive device, Wollstonecraft keeps her reader engaged, and in active participation. The use of rhetoric is also aimed at the reader. For example, at page 179 of the work, she repeats the phrase “Do you…?” in the accompaniment of such verbs as “rely,” “believe,” and “acknowledge” (Wollstonecraft 179). The use of these questions is persuasive. For example, by asking her readers whether they believe that there is only one God she seeks to persuade them to believe in the existence of one God, His creative powers, and His wisdom. At page 65 she provides further rhetorical questions that can be said to provoke “pity” on people whose bodies and minds are weak and cannot work for themselves. By so-doing, she seeks to persuade the reader to sympathize and empathize with the unfortunate group in the society. This approach is different from the approach taken by Jane Austen whose novels are fictional and the author uses fictitious characters to advance the themes of feminism, morality, and ethics (Butler 34). Austen wrote in the era of enlightenment feminism in which feminists wrote that women have ability to reason just like men (Rigberg 45). Austen “created” hearts and brains for her fictitious characters to advance this theme (Harding 12).
But is Wollstonecraft advancing arguments for the education of women as a result of women not being educated or as a result of extreme thinkers of her time writing against the education of women? Her work is clearly meant to counter the writings of the likes of Rousseau and Talleyrand-Périgord and therefore some empirical analysis of the education of children at the time would have given a better picture to support her arguments. For example, citing that “more than 50,000 women have not received basic education in the last twenty years” would have given the reader an understanding that the society doesn’t value women education. But her work is purely on critique and response to extreme thinkers of her time.
Wollstonecraft also discusses women feeling and sentimentality under the theme of sensibility by stating that sensibility causes women to fall prey to their senses. At page 177, she avers that sensibility makes women weak and inferior because they cannot stand by civilization as they harm it in the same way that they harm themselves. Reason and feeling should complement one another instead of existing as independent attributes. Wollstonecraft appears to be saying that for women to reason at the same wavelength as men, they should avoid letting their feelings take a toll of themselves (Janes 177). Rather, they should ensure that all feelings and sentiments are used to help them to reason and to support sentimentality. Does this mean that women should ignore such feelings as sexual desires, love and affection in pursuit of reasoning and support for civilization? Is it not possible for women to have feelings and at the same time reason just like men reason?
Regarding this question, Kaplan writes that Wollstonecraft might have been misguided to assume that women with sexual desires cannot fight for their rights (Kaplan 33), while Poovey observes that women sexual desires might indeed lead men to stop disrespecting women and that women should be ready to seek their rights first and then feelings will follow (Poovey 76). At page 188, Wollstonecraft notes that women are supposed to be stronger and also have more humanity than men but their ignorance to what happens around them makes their sex inferior to that of men. Women are therefore, to a larger extent, architects of their own subordination by men by allowing sensibility take their toll and by succumbing to feeling and emotion instead of championing for their rights. This is not necessarily true because there is evidence to show that women have been subordinated by men in the past and their attempt to pursue education thwarted. Rousseau’s work is a case in point because he proposes that women should only be educated to as far as men will be pleased with them.
Gender issues manifest in Wollstonecraft treatise either directly or indirectly. For a start, the very fact that she writes for the right of women illustrates that her work has aspects of gender in it since she believes in equality of mankind, bar discrimination on the basis of gender. Her cry is for rights of humankind, regardless of the gender involved. To some extent her work appears to advocate for equality of both genders, although more thrust is paced on encouraging women to roll their sleeves to match men. About marriage, Wollstonecraft appeals to friendship. Whereas men would want a beautiful lady to marry, that should not be the only attribute. The wife should also be a partner, a companion, and a friend. Likewise, a woman doesn’t just need a gallant protector but she also needs a partner and a friend. In the fullness of time, a marriage with the attributes of friendship raises reliable children and contributes to nation-building.
Therefore, marriage is not all about sexual appeal and Wollstonecraft attaches roles for both gender in a marriage. The work has gender connotations, and she makes a valid point by saying that marriage is not just meant to be for companionship but also for comradeship. Both parties to a marriage have roles to play although such roles are not cast on stone. Either party can play the roles of the other when the other party is genuinely not in a position to play them. Could these be the women rights that Wollstonecraft wants vindicated? We note here that it is not clear whether Wollstonecraft was a feminist or not because the term feminism was coined much later after her work had been published. Further, feminism purely involves champions of women rights advocating for the emancipation of such women from yokes of bondage by men. In her work, Wollstonecraft questions women’s role in their lack of education in the same measure that she questions men’s role in failing to educate women.
In her book, Women, Gender and Enlightenment, Taylor presents a collection that combines scholarly discussions of various authors with searching historiographical essays. The volume covers a broad range of issues such as gender, politics, sex, and gender (Taylor and Knott 25). The book gives a diverse, comprehensive, and stimulating account of gender and women in any different eras. It also shows how lack of education has contributed to women being mistreated in the society and gender-based violence. The volume has a cumulative effect since it is stunning, which is attributed to the use of repetitions as well as contradictions to highlight the different manner in which ideas, events, and personalities can be understood and interpreted.
Taylor’s collection contains what could be considered among the most crucial academic works on education for women in the last three decades. What makes the collection outstanding is that it allows the reader to think in a rather precise and detailed manner on the issues which is otherwise important to daily life (Taylor and Knott 45). Taylor shows education for women as key to their enlightenment and empowerment. She argues that without education, it is challenging for women to be enlightened and empowered, something that is synonymous with Mary Wollstonecraft’s argument. Taylor’s argument implies that the society denies women access to education so that women can remain reliant on men.
Mary Wollstonecraft’s has a better approach to the issue compared to Barbara Taylor. Wollstonecraft’s style is philosophical, although she argues that she writes in a plain and pragmatic style. Kelly writes that Wollstonecraft’s work is a treatise and is backed by principles (Kelly 109). She employs a hybrid of short story, novel, philosophy, and conduct book rich in rhetoric and first and second person to put across her major theme: Rational education of women. Wollstonecraft wants women to speak the language of civilization when she questions sensibility on the part of women by stating that women who succumb to emotions and feelings will have authored their own subordination. At pages 259-260, she cautions women not to be slaves to their emotions, while at page 192, she encourages women to let passion lead to friendship. Appropriate language for women should be one of championing for their rights or else they be subordinated by men.
The social issue is not yet solved. The two works also show that the issue has been in existence for several decades now. In some cultures, women are still oppressed and denied equal chance to access education and other rights. This has contributed to women remaining reliant on men, and they are subjected to gender-roles such as remaining as home-keepers. However, human rights groups are fighting for the right and position of women in the society, with positive indicators since women have taken up prominent leadership positions today. Such recent developments would have put a smile on Wollstonecraft’s face, but there is still a lot to be done for the issue to be fully addressed.
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