Sexuality and Feminine Virtue in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman addresses the intricate interplay between sexuality and feminine virtue in the context of the Eighteenth Century. In this essay, we will delve into the core elements of Wollstonecraft's argument, exploring her radical perspective on the transformation of women to be more productive members of society. We will also examine the significant role that education plays in reshaping feminine virtue and sexual dynamics, shedding light on the profound impact of Wollstonecraft's feminist thought on the course of history.

The Quest for Virtuous Marriage

Wollstonecraft posits that women, if more rationally educated, could embrace a broader perspective on life and love. She argues that they should be content with loving once in their lives and, after marriage, allow passion to evolve into a deeper friendship. Such a virtuous marriage, according to Wollstonecraft, requires effort from both partners. However, her primary focus is on the husbands' role in controlling and repressing their passions in exchange for intellectual stimulation.

Get quality help now
Sweet V
Sweet V
checked Verified writer

Proficient in: Feminism

star star star star 4.9 (984)

“ Ok, let me say I’m extremely satisfy with the result while it was a last minute thing. I really enjoy the effort put in. ”

avatar avatar avatar
+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

Wollstonecraft acknowledges the inherent sexuality of women, but she also emphasizes that men are equally sexual beings. Consequently, she contends that female chastity and fidelity, vital for a stable marriage, necessitate male chastity and fidelity as well. Both men and women are expected to prioritize duty over sexual pleasure, forging a connection between their emotions and intellectual faculties. Wollstonecraft's ethical vision revolves around harmonizing feelings and thoughts, and she maintains that only through equal freedom and shared responsibilities can genuine freedom be achieved.

Education as the Key to Feminine Virtue

Central to Wollstonecraft's argument is the pivotal role of education in empowering women to embody feminine virtue.

Get to Know The Price Estimate For Your Paper
Number of pages
Email Invalid email

By clicking “Check Writers’ Offers”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related email

"You must agree to out terms of services and privacy policy"
Write my paper

You won’t be charged yet!

She believes that women must be liberated from domestic constraints to pursue education and personal development. Virginia Sapiro aptly notes that Wollstonecraft's work exposes the inherent flaws in contemporary social relations and laws, unveiling the unnatural distinctions rooted in society, including those predicated on gender.

Wollstonecraft's critique of the prevailing gender norms goes beyond exposing their shortcomings; it serves as a foundation for reform. She contends that feminist virtue and sexuality should be held sacred, and by highlighting the deficiencies in women's roles, she underscores the imperative need for change. In dismantling the constraints on women, Wollstonecraft sought to dismantle the entire system of privilege and hierarchy that perpetuated gender disparities.

In her critique, Wollstonecraft systematically dissects the concepts of sexual virtue and the education of women, exposing the absurdity of Rousseau's theories. Her criticism is grounded in the belief that all individuals are born with the potential to become strong and virtuous. To deny this right based on gender, in her view, is irrational and illogical. Wollstonecraft's stance sharply contrasts with Rousseau's view of women as incapable of reason, asserting that both men and women deserve equal treatment and respect.

While Rousseau propagated the idea that women lacked reason and were unfit for citizenship, Wollstonecraft challenged this notion, asserting that women were equal to men and deserved dignity and recognition. Her seminal work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, set a precedent for feminist thought and paved the way for a profound shift in societal perceptions of women's roles and rights.

The Revolutionary Impact of Wollstonecraft's Ideas

Mary Wollstonecraft's legacy extends far beyond her lifetime. Her work left an indelible mark on Eighteenth-Century society and continues to influence feminist writers and thinkers to this day. By advocating for the liberation of female thought and the education of women, she challenged prevailing gender norms and helped reshape the discourse on women's roles in society. Her radical perspective on gender roles and the importance of education as a means of empowerment was groundbreaking for her time.

As Christine Stansell aptly observes, Wollstonecraft's Vindication introduced a revolutionary proposition: that the critique of absolute power and its detrimental effects on human character could be applied to relations between men and women. While society had long dictated how women should think and behave, Wollstonecraft boldly asserted that these expectations were rooted in male despotism and female subservience, serving as a system of privilege as corrupt as any monarchy.

Her work faced both praise and criticism, with conservatives denouncing her as a threat while liberal-minded individuals embraced her ideas. Mary Wollstonecraft challenged the status quo and championed the rights and equality of women at a time when such notions were met with resistance.


In conclusion, Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman represents a powerful feminist and political commentary that explores the intricate relationship between sexuality and feminine virtue in the Eighteenth Century. Wollstonecraft's argument is centered on the transformation of women into more productive members of society and better wives, emphasizing the containment of sexual desire and the imperative need for women's education. Her critique of gender norms and societal expectations laid the groundwork for a transformative shift in how women were perceived and treated.

Wollstonecraft's assertion that men and women are born with equal potential and deserve equal rights challenged the prevailing views of her time. Her legacy endures in the annals of feminist thought, inspiring subsequent generations to continue the fight for gender equality and the recognition of women's rights. While Wollstonecraft's work may have been deemed "slapdash, repetitive, and circular," its central idea—that women are rational beings deserving of equal rights—remains a beacon of inspiration for all those striving for a more just and equitable society.

Updated: Nov 07, 2023
Cite this page

Sexuality and Feminine Virtue in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

Sexuality and Feminine Virtue in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman essay
Live chat  with support 24/7

👋 Hi! I’m your smart assistant Amy!

Don’t know where to start? Type your requirements and I’ll connect you to an academic expert within 3 minutes.

get help with your assignment