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Wollstonecraft Essay Questions

manifesto of women’s rights and her most representative legacy. Wollstonecraft’s work includes also a number of reviews, translations (from French and German), and letters. As she rushed while writing the Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Wollstonecraft worried that she did not do the subject justice when she presented the work to her publisher, and indeed, planned on writing a second volume but never did so; she wrote to her friend William Roscoe, “I am dissatisfied with myself for not having done justice to the subject. – Do not suspect me of false modesty – I mean to say that had I allowed myself more time I could have written a better book, in every sense of the word ... I intend to finish the next volume before I begin to print, for itis not pleasant to have the Devil coming for the conclusion of a sheet fore it is written.”In terms of the reception of the work, all early views were largely positive. Many reviewers focused on Vindicationas an educational tract and remarked upon it approvingly. Political concerns were ignored by liberals and conservatives alike. Not all of it was positive, however; some reactions to the essay had less to do with Wollstonecraft's ideas, and more to do with whether the reader felt a woman should be writing at all. Wollstonecraft does not lay any claim to equal opportunity for women, but rather allows for the sort of variation in the roles of the sexes which her successors might now call 'difference feminism'Today, we call the writer Mary Wollstonecraft a feminist. Since that word was not in use during 18th century England, she was called many other things - an "able advocate" for her gender, a "hyena in petticoats," by Horace Walpole (English art historian, man of letters, antiquarian and Whig politician), and the bearer of a "rigid, and somewhat Amazonian temper" by her husband.The later hostility that the work garnered was related to the demise of Wollstonecraft’s reputation in the unflattering light of her husband’s memoirs published about her life and her frequent disregard for traditional 18th-century morality. Her reputation was still problematic throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries but has since been demonstrably less necessary to the analysis of her theories and ideas. Indeed, Vindication of the Rights of Womanstands on its own as a mainstay in university courses on women’s history and feminism, political science, and the history of the 18th century and the Age of Reason. This text has become one of the most influential points of departure in the Western canon.Rhetoric and styleIn attempting to navigate the cultural expectations of female writers and the generic conventions of political and philosophical discourse, Wollstonecraft, as she does throughout her oeuvre, constructs a unique blend of masculine and feminine styles in the Vindication of the Rights of Woman. She utilizes the language of philosophy, referring to her work as a "treatise" with "arguments" and "principles." But Wollstonecraft also uses a very personal tone, employing"I" and "you", dashes and exclamation marks, and "autobiographical references" to create a distinctly feminine voice in the text. The Rights of Womanfurther hybridizes its genre by weaving together elements of the conduct book, the short essay and the novel, genres often associated with women, while at the same time claiming that these genres could be used to discuss philosophical topics such as rights. Although Wollstonecraft argues against excessive sensibility, the rhetoric of the Rights of Womanis at times heated and attempts to provoke the reader. Wollstonecraft herself even comments on this effect. While she claims to write in a plain style so that her ideas will reach thebroadest possible audience, she actually combines the plain, rational language of the political treatise with the poetic, passionate language of sensibility in order to demonstrate that one can combine rationality and sensibility in the same self. Wollstonecraft defends her positions not only with reasoned argument but also with ardent rhetoric.

  • Why does Wollstonecraft think education is central to the rights of women?
  • The essay should include the following:

    • The writer may want to include some relevant historical context in which Wollstonecraft worked:
      • By law and by custom, middle-class English women in her day were thought to be subordinate to men in countless ways.
      • They lived under the weight of a damaging presumption: women exist for the sake of men.
      • Women were denied property ownership, expected to defer to men in important matters, barred from almost all professions, excluded from voting and government posts, deprived of higher education, and judged by different moral standards than those applied to men.
      • Few societies in the rest of the world treated women any better.
    • The writer may want to include some relevant biographical features of Wollstonecraft’s life—for example, that she was a political radical, a social critic with a strong egalitarian bent, and one of the great forebears of feminist thought.
    • Present some of Wollstonecraft’s social criticisms:
      • Women have had their powers of reason obstructed by men who believe that reason is the domain of males and who define women in ways that serve men.
      • Men have ensured that women are uneducated, molded by male expectations, judged by appearances instead of intellect, and obliged to submit to the preferences of men instead of the dictates of reason.
    • Discuss Wollstonecraft’s argument in favor of education for women:
      • Humanity’s true happiness and ultimate perfection lie in the development of reason, virtue, and knowledge. Yet in women, these human capacities have been deliberately stunted, and the result is a deformity of the soul that society must correct. If women have souls just as men do, they can—and should—aspire to possess these same qualities and in the same measure.
  • How does Wollstonecraft criticize male notions of virtue?
  • The essay should include the following:

    • The writer may want to include some relevant historical context in which Wollstonecraft worked:
      • By law and by custom, middle-class English women in her day were thought to be subordinate to men in countless ways.
      • They lived under the weight of a damaging presumption: women exist for the sake of men.
      • Women were denied property ownership, expected to defer to men in important matters, barred from almost all professions, excluded from voting and government posts, deprived of higher education, and judged by different moral standards than those applied to men.
      • Few societies in the rest of the world treated women any better.
    • The writer may want to include some relevant biographical features of Wollstonecraft’s life—or example, that she was a political radical, a social critic with a strong egalitarian bent, and one of the great forebears of feminist thought.
    • Present some of Wollstonecraft’s social criticisms:
      • Women have had their powers of reason obstructed by men who believe that reason is the domain of males and who define women in ways that serve men.
      • Men have ensured that women are uneducated, molded by male expectations, judged by appearances instead of intellect, and obliged to submit to the preferences of men instead of the dictates of reason.
    • A discussion of the following passage from Vindication:
      • “To account for, and excuse the tyranny of man, many ingenious arguments have been brought forward to prove, that the two sexes, in the achievement 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.
        “If then women are not a swarm of ephemeron [short-lived] triflers, why should they be kept in ignorance under the specious name of innocence? Men complain, and with reason, of the follies and caprices of our sex, when they do not keenly satirize our headstrong and groveling vice.—Behold, I should answer, the natural effect of ignorance! The mind will ever be unstable that has only prejudices to rest on, and the current will run with destructive fury when there are not 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 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. .. .”
  • Why does de Beauvoir think the question, “What is woman?” is important?
  • The essay should include the following:

    • Discuss why de Beauvoir thinks the answer to the question is not obvious to men or women:
      • She makes a distinction that has become central to feminist thought: biological sexual difference (male, female) is not the same as gender, which is mostly (or entirely) a socially determined characteristic.
      • So she declares, “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”
      • This socially determined becoming is shaped by male expectations and prerogative.
      • Thus, woman has been defined by a male-skewed society as the Other.
      • Throughout history the male human has been thought of as the epitome of a human, as the embodiment of humanity—the One.
      • Woman, however, has been cast as the Other, a creature defined in relation to man. Women are secondary; men are primary.
  • What is care ethics, and why is it a significant feminist ethical theory?
  • The essay should include the following:

    • A discussion of the basic features of care ethics:
      • A moral perspective that arose out of feminist concerns and grew to challenge core elements of most other moral theories.
      • Care ethics is the moral perspective that emphasizes the unique demands of specific situations and the virtues and feelings that are central to close personal relationships.
    • A discussion of the differences between traditional ethical theories and care ethics:
      • Traditional theories emphasize abstract principles, general duties, individual rights, justice, utility, impartial judgments, and deliberative reasoning.
      • The ethics of care shifts the focus to the unique demands of specific situations and to the virtues and feelings that are central to close personal relationships—empathy, compassion, love, sympathy, and fidelity.
      • The heart of the moral life is feeling for and caring for those with whom you have a special, intimate connection.
  • Does a specifically feminist ethics undermine equality for women?
  • The essay should include the following:

    • A thoughtful response will include features from previous essay questions 3 and 4 as a framework for answering this one.
    • A discussion of the criticism that the feminist perspective is privileged (e.g., better than traditional theories) and that every perspective is both limited and validated by a group’s experiences.

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