A Vindication of the Rights of Woman – Week #2

Week 2 of the Readalong spans chapters 4 & 5 on the topics “the state of degredation to which woman is reduced” and “writers who have rendered women objects of pity, bordering on contempt.”

It looks like I highlighted more quotes in these chapters than in all of the first part. I was especially impressed by chapter 5, where Wollstonecraft responds to opposing views, including those of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  Boy, she cuts him down to size (and reading what he wrote, I don’t blame her). 

I’m not sure I can put together a coherent summary of this section, so instead I’ll go straight to Ruth’s discussion questions (warning, LENGTHY post ahead!!):

Are any of Wollstonecraft’s ideas changing the way you think? Is there anything you disagree with, even some of her comments about minor details that I did not bring up? (She had some odd things to say about polygamy.)
Yeah, the polygamy comments in chapter 4 are… weird.  She quotes somebody named Forster who drew a correlation between polygamy and the ratio of males to females in a population (??).  I didn’t really get that one.

For the most part, though, I find myself nodding along with Wollstonecraft.  I’ve mentioned before, while reading Virginia Woolf, that I consider myself a very moderate feminist, critical of feminism as it is today, while believing men and women are more alike than unalike.  Most of the issues feminism stood for in the 18th century seem like no-brainers. 

Ruth, to your earlier question – where do masculine and feminine traits begin and end? … lately I’ve been reconsidering the related question of male/female roles.  It’s too vast and sticky a subject to delve into fully here, but FWIW, these are some of my current musings from a biblical perspective:

  • While both Adam and Eve sinned, Jesus is compared to Adam in the New Testament.  I think it’s significant that Paul makes a direct contrast between Adam’s failure and Jesus’s victory.  Is it possible there was a different level of responsibility between Adam and Eve?  And if so, is it role-based or trait-based, or both?  Would the difference be specific to those two individuals, or would it apply to humanity as a whole?
  • Men and women are both created in the image of God, so regardless of gender, there is a fundamental likeness to God and to each other.

I could go on, but in a nutshell: I’ve lately started to wonder if the differences (beyond biological) between male and female are greatly spiritual or metaphysical in nature.  Not as it pertains to salvation, of course (in which we are all equal), but in another way, which I’m finding hard to put into words…

Speaking of doctrine – I was really disturbed by Rousseau’s comments that women should meekly follow their mothers’, fathers’, and finally husbands’ religious doctrines without thinking for themselves – and his claim that God is ok with that!  (Ch. 5, Mary quoting his book Emile (1762))

Share a favorite quote.
There were SO many good ones, but this my very favorite:

Friendship is a serious affection; the most sublime of all affections, because it is founded on principle, and cemented by time. (Ch. 4)

One more, for good measure.  This is about society’s need for a good foundational structure, rather than heroes:

…the welfare of society is built not on extraordinary exertions; and were it more reasonably organized, there would still be less need of great abilities, or heroic virtues.

Prior to reading this work thus far, did you know anything about Jacques Rousseau? If so, what was your opinion about him before? Has it changed now? What works of his did you read? Would you be interested in reading anything by him in the future?
I first met Rousseau in 19th Century European History class, but I don’t remember if we read anything by him.  I just knew he was an influential figure in the socio-political movements of the 18th century.

I don’t recall learning he was a terrible misogynist, at least according to the bits Mary quotes.  Dude literally says:

…women have or ought to have, but little liberty; they are apt to indulge themselves excessively in what is allowed them. Addicted in every thing to extremes, they are even more transported in their diversions than boys. (Ch 5)

For all that…I will probably read something by Rousseau when I start my American Revolution reading focus.

What do you think of her argument that love (or lust, I think) diminishes in marriage and why equality should exist so that a woman is her husband’s friend, equal in ability to reason and discern?
Speaking purely from observation here… I think the best marriages are indeed the ones where it’s an equal partnership, including in intellect, and where the couple shares as many tasks as possible together (when it makes sense to do so).

As for love, romance, or lust, I have no idea…from what I’ve heard, it varies. But without friendship as a backbone to the relationship, it seems like passion would grow quickly stale.  Getting WAY out of my scope here.

I don’t think friendship in marriage is the sole reason for equality, but I can see why Mary made that argument – she was talking to a specific audience where marriage was pretty much expected of everyone.  However, as a single person and likely to remain so, I probably benefit as much (or even more) from the gender equality she was pushing for.  It makes me grateful I live now and not back then.