In this excerpt from A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft expressed her discontentment with the status of women in 18th-century British society. In her time, the main goal for most women was to get married. Before matrimony, she would do all that she could to please men and, afterward, her self-worth was determined by the amount of attention her husband gave her.
Wollstonecraft did not believe a woman should center her life on her husband, for she said that women who act in such a way will “fade”, having lived their vane ambition for a short time, rendering the rest of their lives meaningless and pointless.
For, like the flowers which are planted in too rich a soil, strength and usefulness are sacrificed to beauty,” she wrote. “And the flaunting leaves, after having pleased a fastidious eye, fade, disregarded on the stalk, long before the season when they ought to have arrived at maturity. ” However, Wollstonecraft realized that the reason so many women had this mentality was because of the way men – the leading sex in society – treated them.
She was willing to recognize man as her fellow, “but his scepter, real, or usurped,” she wrote, “extends not to me. ” Wollstonecraft understood that man was given a stronger frame by nature, but he held an unjust authority over the opposite sex. She believed their superiority to women did not extend past physical strength, for the purpose of her document was to “persuade women to endeavor to acquire strength, both of mind and body,” although she made emphasis on that of the mind.
Many women of the time created their own weaknesses by succumbing to every compliment a man gave them, thus contributing to their inferior position in society. Wollstonecraft, however, did not think it should be so, “Weaknesses may excite tenderness, and gratify the arrogant pride of man,” she wrote. “But the lordly caresses of a protector will not gratify a noble mind that pants for and deserves respect. “
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