Plan for This Evening
- Leading Class Discussion with Mae (click here for the origin of Mae)
- Anything from Descartes
- Midterm Mini-Rhetorical Analyses
- Nirvana’s “Been a Son”
Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women
Because this is a longer reading, we can’t get to everything. As I learned in another class, all the planning in the world can still cause a discussion to be saddled. I’m tying to select quotations that will be representative of the versions chapters of the book. The absolute main point I want to get across, though, and it’s related to your Canvas post for this week, is that Wollstonecraft was revolutionary. The idea that women could demand rights or simple argue for men to take notice of women’s concerns was unheard of. This text, although questionably feminist, is one of the foundations of feminist thought in Western civilization and was vitally important for Anglo-American Women’s Suffrage. Let’s see where this leads…
Letter to M. Talleyrand-Perigord (a rather important figure in French history) Talleyrand wrote a report to the French National Assembly (1791) that argued women only needed a domestic education. Wollstoncraft’s essay is her response.
- p. 2: “if she be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge and virtue.”
- p. 3: “the more understanding women acquire, the more they will be attached to their duty–comprehending it.”
- p. 3: ” women cannot, by force, be confined to domestic concerns; for they will however ignorant, intermeddle with more weighty affairs, neglecting private duties only to disturb, by cunning tricks, the orderly plans of reason which rise above their comprehension.”
- p. 4: “men will seek for pleasure in variety, and faithless husbands will make faithless wives”
- p. 4: ” if women are not permitted to enjoy legitimate rights, they will render both men and themselves vicious, to obtain illicit privileges.”
- p. 6: “men…have been more anxious to make them alluring mistresses than rational wives.”
- p. 7: “men endeavour to sink us still lower, merely to render us alluring objects for a moment; and women, intoxicated by the adoration which men, under the influence of their senses, pay them, do not seek to obtain a durable interest in their hearts, or to become the friends of the fellow creatures who find amusement in their society.”
See below for a discussion from Gloria Steinem’s “Why Younger Women are More Conservative” (1979).
CHAPTER 1. THE RIGHTS AND INVOLVED DUTIES OF MANKIND CONSIDERED
- p. 12: “The desire of dazzling by riches…have all contributed to overwhelm the mass of mankind, and make liberty a convenient handle for mock patriotism.”
- p. 15: “all power inebriates weak man; and its abuse proves, that the more equality there is established among men, the more virtue and happiness will reign in society.”
- p. 17: “It is of great importance to observe, that the character of every man is, in some degree, formed by his profession. A man of sense may only have a cast of countenance that wears off as you trace his individuality, whilst the weak, common man, has scarcely ever any character, but what belongs to the body; at least, all his opinions have been so steeped in the vat consecrated by authority, that the faint spirit which the grape of his own vine yields cannot be distinguished.
Society, therefore, as it becomes more enlightened, should be very careful not to establish bodies of men who must necessarily be made foolish or vicious by the very constitution of their profession.”
CHAPTER 2. THE PREVAILING OPINION OF A SEXUAL CHARACTER DISCUSSED
- p. 18: ” 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 of 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.”
- p. 19: “Men, indeed, appear to me to act in a very unphilosophical manner, when they try to secure the good conduct of women by attempting to keep them always in a state of childhood.”
- p. 25: Woman came from man?
CHAPTER 3. THE SAME SUBJECT CONTINUED
- p. 38: “I will allow that bodily strength seems to give man a natural superiority over woman; and this is the only solid basis on which the superiority of the sex can be built. But I still insist, that not only the virtue, but the knowledge of the two sexes should be the same in nature.”
- p. 40: “The divine right of husbands, like the divine right of kings, may, it is to be hoped, in this enlightened age, be contested without danger.”
- Consider this in terms of the French Revolution.
CHAPTER 4. OBSERVATIONS ON THE STATE OF DEGRADATION TO WHICH WOMAN IS REDUCED BY VARIOUS CAUSES
- p. 52: “Women… are degraded by the same propensity to enjoy the present moment; and, at last, despise the freedom which they have not sufficient virtue to struggle to attain.”
- p. 54: “the history of woman; it is sufficient to allow, that she has always been either a slave or a despot, and to remark, that each of these situations equally retards the progress of reason.”
- p. 55: “Pleasure is the business of a woman’s life, according to the present modification of society…. the sovereignty of beauty, they have, to maintain their power, resigned their natural rights, which the exercise of reason, might have procured them, and chosen rather to be short-lived queens than labour to attain the sober pleasures that arise from equality.”
- p. 56: “‘in the noon of beauty’s power.'”
- p. 57: “Mankind, including every description, wish to be loved and respected for something; and the common herd will always take the nearest road to the completion of their wishes.”
CHAPTER 5. ANIMADVERSIONS ON SOME OF THE WRITERS WHO HAVE RENDERED WOMEN OBJECTS OF PITY, BORDERING ON CONTEMPT
Wollstonecraft quotes quite a bit from Rousseau in this chapter, and it’s sometimes difficult to follow what she says and what she quotes, so be aware of what you’re reading and (mis)quoting.
- p. 85: “The being who patiently endures injustice, and silently bears insults, will soon become unjust, or unable to discern right from wrong….men have better tempers than women, because they are occupied by pursuits that interest the head as well as the heart.”
- p. 89: “As they are not in a capacity to judge for themselves, they ought to abide by the decision of their fathers and husbands as confidently as by that of the church.”
- The above quotation follows this footnote: “What is to be the consequence, if the mother’s and husband’s opinion should chance not to agree? An ignorant person cannot be reasoned out of an error, and when persuaded to give up one prejudice for another the mind is unsettled. Indeed, the husband may not have any religion to teach her though in such a situation she will be in great want of a support to her virtue, independent of worldly considerations.”
- p. 97: “[girls] are told…that they are only like angels when they are young and beautiful; consequently, it is their persons, not their virtues, that procure them this homage.”
CHAPTER 6. THE EFFECT WHICH AN EARLY ASSOCIATION OF IDEAS HAS UPON THE CHARACTER
- p. 121: “till women are led to exercise their understandings, they should not be satirized for their attachment to rakes; nor even for being rakes at heart, when it appears to be the inevitable consequence of their education.”
- p. 122: “In the choice of a husband they should not be led astray by the qualities of a lover—for a lover the husband, even supposing him to be wise and virtuous, cannot long remain.”
- Hmmm…dare we go there?
CHAPTER 7. MODESTY. COMPREHENSIVELY CONSIDERED, AND NOT AS A SEXUAL VIRTUE
- p. 125: “The shameless behaviour of the prostitutes who infest the streets of London, raising alternate emotions of pity and disgust….become more audaciously lewd than men….But these poor ignorant wretches never had any modesty to lose, when they consigned themselves to infamy.”
- p. 126: “The woman who has dedicated a considerable portion of her time to pursuits purely intellectual, and whose affections have been exercised by humane plans of usefulness, must have more purity of mind, as a natural consequence, than the ignorant beings whose time and thoughts have been occupied by gay pleasures or schemes to conquer hearts.”
- p. 132: “if men and women took half as much pains to dress habitually neat, as they do to ornament, or rather disfigure, their persons, much would be done towards the attainment of purity of mind.”
- What might she think about today’s fashion industry?
- p. 134: Reject “ignorance and vanity! ye must acquire that soberness of mind, which the exercise of duties, and the pursuit of knowledge, alone inspire, or ye will still remain in a doubtful dependent situation, and only be loved whilst ye are fair!”
CHAPTER 8. MORALITY UNDERMINED BY SEXUAL NOTIONS OF THE IMPORTANCE OF A GOOD REPUTATION
- p. 135: “The greater number of people take their opinions on trust, to avoid the trouble of exercising their own minds.”
- She even foreshadow’s Asimov’s discussion of the cult of ignorance.
- Fortunately, technology today brings us all the knowledge of the world at our fingertips; therefore, we’re all better informed.
- p. 137: “Weak minds are always fond of resting in the ceremonials of duty, but morality offers much simpler motives.”
- Quoting Rousseau: “…but a woman, in behaving well, performs but half her duty; as what is thought of her, is as important to her as what she really is.”
- I believe Rousseau means that the other half of duty is being a model of virtue and not just a follower (which is all men must do).
CHAPTER 9. OF THE PERNICIOUS EFFECTS WHICH ARISE FROM THE UNNATURAL DISTINCTIONS ESTABLISHED IN SOCIETY
- p. 145: “For man is so constituted that he can only attain a proper use of his faculties by exercising them, and will not exercise them unless necessity, of some kind, first set the wheels in motion.”
- p. 145: “It is vain to expect virtue from women till they are, in some degree, independent of men; nay, it is vain to expect that strength of natural affection, which would make them good wives and good mothers.”
- p. 152: “Women, in particular, all want to be ladies. Which is simply to have nothing to do, but listlessly to go they scarcely care where, for they cannot tell what.”
- Maybe she never heard about “nasty women”
CHAPTER 10. PARENTAL AFFECTION
- p. 157: “Natural affection, as it is termed, I believe to be a very weak tie, affections must grow out of the habitual exercise of a mutual sympathy; and what sympathy does a mother exercise who sends her babe to a nurse, and only takes it from a nurse to send it to a school?”
CHAPTER 11. DUTY TO PARENTS
- p. 159: “the absurd duty, too often inculcated, of obeying a parent only on account of his being a parent, shackles the mind, and prepares it for a slavish submission to any power but reason.”
CHAPTER 12. ON NATIONAL EDUCATION
- p. 164: “At school, boys become gluttons and slovens, and, instead of cultivating domestic affections, very early rush into the libertinism which destroys the constitution before it is formed; hardening the heart as it weakens the understanding.”
CHAPTER 13. SOME INSTANCES OF THE FOLLY WHICH THE IGNORANCE OF WOMEN GENERATES; WITH CONCLUDING REFLECTIONS ON THE MORAL IMPROVEMENT THAT A REVOLUTION IN FEMALE MANNERS MAY NATURALLY BE EXPECTED TO PRODUCE
- p. 185: “Women, because they have not been led to consider the knowledge of their duty as the one thing necessary to know, or, to live in the present moment by the discharge of it, are very anxious to peep into futurity, to learn what they have to expect to render life interesting, and to break the vacuum of ignorance.”
- p. 194: “An immoderate fondness for dress, for pleasure and for sway, are the passions of savages; the passions that occupy those uncivilized beings who have not yet extended the dominion of the mind, or even learned to think with the energy necessary to concatenate that abstract train of thought which produces principles. And that women, from their education and the present state of civilized life, are in the same condition, cannot, I think, be controverted.”
Gloria Steinem’s “Why Younger Women are More Conservative”
Gloria Steinem focuses her attention in this essay on young women. She tells us that young women are more conservative–more likely to go along with the status quo–because they are “in the stage most valued by male-dominant cultures” (230). While you’re free to disagree with her argument, let’s try to consider “the rhetoric of young, conventionally beautiful women” in American culture.
Some specific points about Steinem’s article:
- p. 230: “As students, women are probably treated with more equality than we ever will be again. For one thing, we’re consumers.”
- p. 230: Young women “have [their] full potential as workers, wives, sex partners, and childbearers.”
- p. 232: Women “worrying about some aspect of combining marriage, children, and a career” while college students.
- p. 232: Women “are still brainwashed into assuming that [they] are dependent on men for [their] basic identities.”
- p. 233: “Society tries hard to convert women into ‘man junkies’; that is, into people who are addicted to male-approval and presence.”
- p. 233: Young women may “refrain from identifying themselves as ‘feminist.'”
- pp. 235-236: “We have to uproot the sexual caste system that is the most pervasive power structure in society, and this means transforming the patriarchal values of those who run the institutions, whether they are politically the “right” or the “left,” the fathers or the sons.
That last quote is important because Steinem isn’t reducing her argument to a trite Democratic vs Republican argument. Patriarchy pervades both.