Booked All Week

and next week, too

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, by Mary Wollstonecraft

with 15 comments

I’ve been debating about whether or not I want to write a personal post about each book I read for the Year of Feminist Classics project that I’m taking part in, or just link to the discussion so as not to be redundant. Of course, I’ve decided to do both; though it may be annoying for those of you following both blogs (sorry!), it makes me feel more organized to have my thoughts recorded here in addition to there, in comments.

My reactions to Vindication were very similar to those of some of the other readers, particularly those of Nymeth, Emily, and Iris, whose posts were written long before mine (I’m still a bit behind in my blogging). I urge you to read them, as I fear that at this point I’ll mostly be regurgitating things that they said better and in more depth than I’ll be able to. Lest I give the wrong impression, though, there was quite a difference in opinion about this book expressed in comments that was really interesting and totally valid, so I really recommend reading the thread on the group blog. So go, read those first, if you haven’t already, and then come back!


Vindication was a difficult read. Wollstonecraft rambles, and I got lost a great number of times while reading. It wasn’t always clear where she was going with her arguments, or why, and that was frustrating. At times, reading Vindication became a chore. But, ultimately, I found it worthwhile.

Wollstonecraft was writing in response to, and against, famous rationalist intellectuals of the time, her main point being that women only act like useless, silly creatures because they are taught to act that way, and that if they were to be educated in the same manner as men, they would become more virtuous, influential members of society, which would be of benefit to everyone. She recognized that the biggest differences between men and women were the results of socialization, which remains a central focal point within feminism today. That alone made it a good project-starter, in my opinion. May seem obvious now, but hey, someone had to be among the first to say it–and it was not a common opinion at the time that she did. Hard to imagine, really. She attacks the idea that women exist primarily to please men, an idea that has not entirely been completely removed from public consciousness, and writes angrily of condescension toward women, i.e. male chivalry. These parts were my favorite, and the ones I think are still the most relevant.

Mostly, though, I do find her outdated. She was a radical in her time, no doubt: but she’d never fit the bill today. She remains a staunch gender essentialist who thinks that physical and intellectual exercise for women will lessen the inequality between the sexes but that men will remain just a little bit superior no matter what, that women’s biggest priority in life should necessarily motherhood, and that both these things are so because God has deemed them the way of nature. For example. More examples: she considers only the middle class, regularly bashes on Islam and atheism, and–true to the context in which she was living and arguing, but deeply troubling to me nonetheless–she emphasizes reason over human emotion and passion in every circumstance. Of course, she argues for logic passionately and, as it has been pointed out a number of times at the group blog, she herself did not live according to her own strict proclamations as to reasonable conduct. I’m not really bothered by that last point so much, truth be told, but it was an interesting part of the discussion at the group blog. Actually, I think I’d be more interested in reading biographical material about Wollstonecraft than I was in reading Vindication! I think she’s a very interesting character, though there’s lots to disagree with her about.

So, I found Vindication interesting as a historical artifact, located in a very specific place of time, more than as a text that spoke strongly to me about our current state of affairs. Which is sort of how I expected to feel about it. I was surprised at the number of parts that DID resonate with me now, as a matter of fact. So while it wasn’t always a fun read, and was, indeed, positively annoying at times, I thought it a good place to start our project–not because it was very radical (though it WAS, at the time), but because it effectively put into motion the train of thought–however thin it might seem to us now–that would continue to inspire the development of different strains of Western feminism that I suspect we will continue see in our readings for this year.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the reading this month and helped me to formulate my ideas about this complicated book! Reading everyone’s comments has been awesome and really informed my reading πŸ™‚

Written by Emily Jane

January 20, 2011 at 8:11 pm

15 Responses

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  1. Great thoughts — and an awesome readalong. I’m so glad I participated. πŸ™‚


    January 20, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    • Thanks Jillian! I enjoyed reading your post about it as well. I’m glad you participated to πŸ™‚ Can’t wait to discuss the next book!

      Emily Jane

      January 20, 2011 at 10:22 pm

  2. I was in the same boat with Wollstonecraft being a difficult but worthwhile read. I came out with a deep appreciation for her in the end, but most of your objections were ones I noted as well (especially the bashing on Islam and atheism which seemed extremely prevalent in the first 3 chapters). I’m loving reading everyone’s comments and blog posts, so I’m glad you did both comment and write a post!


    January 20, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    • Thanks dragonfly! Yeah, again, I expected to have some objections, and they didn’t totally ruin the book for me…but I would feel remiss if I didn’t acknowledge them, too. And I know, it’s so much fun seeing what everyone else is thinking about it!

      Emily Jane

      January 20, 2011 at 10:25 pm

  3. About your paragraph in which you say that your post is going to be a less intelligent repeat of the posts of Emily, Ana and me: I disagree. I do understand how you feel. After reading first Emily’s posts and then Ana’s, I felt I should just post something that said: Want to know what I thought, read this & this. But then, I often feel that way about the posts of Ana and Emily. They are always so intelligent! However, Ana said that she always enjoys reading posts on the same books as others and that no matter what, they always contribute. And having read your post, I agree. I do not think it is less intelligent or observant in any way.

    I like your way of approaching this as a text that set a whole process into motion. I would love to read some sort of cultural history about the use of the text through the years. Actually, that would be the most interesting aspect of it, to me.


    January 21, 2011 at 10:12 am

    • Aw, well thanks Iris! *blush* Glad I could contribute to the conversation. And I agree, a cultural history would be very interesting. I love cultural histories!

      Emily Jane

      January 21, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    • Iris! You are so sweet. πŸ™‚ Thanks for the nice words.


      January 21, 2011 at 8:45 pm

  4. I’m glad you took the time to write a post, Emily Jane. I particularly related to this point:

    I found Vindication interesting as a historical artifact, located in a very specific place of time, more than as a text that spoke strongly to me about our current state of affairs. Which is sort of how I expected to feel about it. I was surprised at the number of parts that DID resonate with me now, as a matter of fact.

    which expresses my feelings quite well. I’ve been thinking a lot about my reactions to pieces from 200 years ago or more in light of the conversations around Vindication, and realized that there’s a whole process that takes place in my head when I sit down to read a book from that long ago, that involves much different expectations from sitting down to a book from 2010. I think I’ve had so much “practice” doing this that I no longer notice it’s happening in my brain – so, I’m impressed when I find, say, 20% of an 18th-century philosopher’s points to be compelling, but that same number from a modern writer would land them on the discard pile. One interesting by-product of the conversation has been becoming more aware of that process in my brain.

    Anyway, it’s been a great discussion and I liked your post a lot!


    January 21, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    • Thanks Emily πŸ™‚ Yeah! I definitely go through that same process. Interesting…

      Emily Jane

      January 22, 2011 at 1:55 am

  5. I love reading everyone’s thoughts on this, and it’s definitely not boring or repetitive but great to compare reactions. I especially liked your point about looking at her work as “a historical artifact”.
    I just wish I could participate but uni has taken my brain hostage πŸ˜‰ I will join your project around May though!


    January 21, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    • Thanks Bina! I understand about school, for sure. Looking forward to you joining us later this spring!

      Emily Jane

      January 22, 2011 at 1:57 am

  6. […] So Long a Letter was the second January pick for the Year of Feminist Classics Project, and at just 95 pages of lovely prose, it was one I was very grateful for following my struggle with Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft. […]

  7. This was a really interesting post, thanks for sharing! It helped me alot with my current work on my University Journalism course.

    I’ve been studying Wollstonecraft recently and would be grateful if you could have a quick look at my thoughts on her ‘Vindication of..’ passage.

    Thanks again,


    February 18, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    • Hey Tom! So glad that you got something from my write-up πŸ™‚ Can’t wait to check out your post!

      Emily Jane

      February 21, 2011 at 5:04 am

  8. […] inferior to men. Much as Mary Wollstonecraft would do almost four hundred years later in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, de Pizan argues that it is the way in which society brings girls up differently from boys that […]

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