Quotes from Mary Wollstonecraft’s, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

Quote #1

“The neglected education of my fellow-creatures is the grand source of the misery I deplore; and that women, in particular, are rendered weak and wretched by a variety of concurring causes, originating from one hasty conclusion.  The conduct and manners of women, in fact, evidently prove that their minds are not in a healthy state; for, like the flowers which are planted in too rich a soil, strength and usefulness are sacrificed to beauty; 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. — One cause of this barren blooming I attribute to a false system of education, gathered from the books written on this subject by men who, considering females rather as women than human creatures, have been more anxious to make them alluring mistresses than affection wives and rational mothers” [Introduction; Course Packet 102 ].

Quote #2

“My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone.  I earnestly wish to point out in what true dignity and human happiness consists — I wish to persuade women to endeavor to acquire strength, both of mind and body, and to convince them that the soft phrases, susceptibility of heart, delicacy of sentiment, and refinement of taste, are almost synonymous with epithets of weakness” [Introduction; Course Packet 103-104].

Quote #3

“To account for, and excuse the tyranny of man, many ingenious arguments have been brought forward to prove, that the two sexes, in the acquirement of virtue, ought to aim at attaining a very different character:  or, to speak explicitly, women are not allowed to have sufficient strength of mind to acquire what really deserves the name of virtue.  Yet it should seem, allowing them to have souls, that there is but one way appointed by Providence to lead mankind to either virtue or happiness” [Chapter Two; Course Packet 105].

Quote #4

“The mind will ever be unstable that has only prejudices to rest on, and the current will run with destructive fury when there are no barriers to break its force.  Women are told from their infancy, and taught by the example of their mothers, that a little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness or temper, outward obedience, and a scrupulous attention to a puerile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of man, and should they be beautiful, every thing else is needless, for, at least, twenty years of their lives” [Chapter Two; Course Packet 105].

Quote #5

“Led by their dependent situation and domestic employments more into society, what [women] learn is rather by snatches; and as learning is with them, in general, only a secondary thing, they do not pursue any one branch with that persevering ardour necessary to give vigour to the faculties, and clearness to the judgment . . . the cultivation of the understanding is always subordinate to the acquirement of some corporeal accomplishment; even while enervated by confinement and false notions of modesty, the body is prevented from attaining that grace and beauty which relaxed half-formed limbs never exhibit” [Chapter Two; Course Packet 108].

Quote #6

“Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it and there will be an end to blind obedience; but, as blind obedience is ever sought for by power, tyrants and sensualists are in the right when they endeavour to keep women in the dark, because the former only want slaves, and the latter a play-thing” [Chapter Two; Course Packet 109].

Quote #7

“The most perfect education, my opinion, is such an exercise of the understanding as is best calculated to strengthen the body and form the heart.  Or, in other words, to enable the individual to attain such habits of virtue as will render it independent.  In fact, it is a farce to call any being virtuous whose virtues do not result from the exercise of its own reason” [Chapter Two; Course Packet 107].

Quote #8

Females have been insulated, as it were; and, while they have been stripped of the virtues that should cloathe humanity, they have been decked with artificial graces that enable them to exercise a short-lived tyranny.  Love, in their bosoms, taking place of every nobler passion, their sole ambition is to be fair, to raise emotions instead of inspiring respect; and this ignoble desire, like the servility in absolute monarchies, destroys all strength of character. Liberty is the mother of virtue, and if women be, by their very constitution, slaves, and not allowed to breathe the sharp invigorating air of freedom, they must ever languish like exotics, and be reckoned beautiful flaws in nature” [Chapter Two; Course Packet 116].

Quote #9

“Women, it is true, obtaining power by unjust means, by practising or fostering vice, evidently lose the rank which reasons would assign them, and they become either abject slaves or capricious tyrants.  They lose all simplicity, all dignity of mind, in acquiring power, and act as men are observed to act when they have been exalted by the same means. . . It is time to effect a revolution in female manners — time to restore to them their lost dignity — and make them, as a part of the human species, labour by reforming themselves to reform the world” [Chapter Two; not in packet].

Quote #10

“Were women more rationally educated, could they take a more comprehensive view of things, they would be contented to love but once in their lives; and after marriage calmly let passion subside into friendship — into that tender intimacy, which is the best refuge from care; yet is built on such pure, still affections, that idle jealousies would not be allowed to disturb the discharge of the sober duties of life, or to engross the thoughts that ought to be otherwise employed” [Chapter Six]

“Love, from its very nature, must be transitory. To seek for a secret that would render it constant would be as wild a search for the philosopher’s stone, or the grand panacea: the the discovery would be equally useless, or rather pernicious, to mankind. The most holy band of society is friendship” (Chapter 2; Course Packet 112).

Idealizes a “healthy temperature” rather than “the fever of love” in marriage (Course Packet 112)

Quote #11

“Would men but generously snap our chains, and be content with rational fellowship instead of slavish obedience, they would find us more observant daughters, more affectionate sisters, more faithful wives, more reasonable mothers — in a word, better citizens.  We should then love them with true affection, because we should learn to respect ourselves, and the peace of mind of a worthy man would not be interrupted by the idle vanity of his wife, nor the babes sent to nestle in a strange bosom, having never found a home in their mothers” [Chapter Nine].

Quote #12

“The laws respecting woman, which I mean to discuss in a future part, make an absurd unit of a man and his wife; and then, by the easy transition of only considering him as responsible, she is reduced to a mere cypher” [Chapter Nine].