After reading the introduction and first chapter of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft the first thing that popped into my mind was “cabbages and kings.” Yes, that’s a snippet from “the Walrus and the Carpenter” featured in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It is complete nonsense uttered by the Walrus to distract the oysters, but some how that phrase summed up my feelings about where Wollstonecraft begins.
That’s not to say that Wollstonecraft is spouting nonsense. On the contrary, it is my general comment on the society she describes of the time: who has the power, how they get it, and how it corrupts. She talks about the wealth that “inebriates weak men”, and because of this they conspire and commit vile wrongs to keep it or advance further. Sadly enough this idea still persists, that greedy ambition fuels those at the top who should be in a position of leadership, but don’t seem to be setting the best example of the morality and virtue we philosophize as the best attributes of humanity.
And if that weren’t bad enough Wollstonecraft goes on to talk about the sham of an education offered women that keeps them in ignorance of matters that could potentially improve human understanding and focuses solely on the importance of pleasing a man. Young girls and women still feel this pressure today to be pretty. The goal being to present the prettiest bloom, and when the natural bloom begins to fade there is this crazy push for cosmetic enhancement. Wollstonecraft comments in her own way how beauty doesn’t last. I’d add that all flowers fade, including the fake ones–fake ones just last longer and end up looking tacky.
If all that makes a woman of any worth to a man is all the dazzle of beauty and the only other appeal for him is to protect a relatively weak creature to bolster his sense of manhood it’s a wonder any human decency exists. OK, maybe that’s a bit much, but Wollstonecraft does go on at length how young women are further kept from perusing intellectual knowledge and understanding with the over-romantization (I may have made that term up) of love as being only valid if it is a consuming passion. Marriages founded on pure passion are doomed to burn out. She then goes on to talk about the value of friendship, which as a married woman myself I cannot fault. I did find it particularly sad that she’d suggest that an unhappy marriage and a neglected wife were the best things that could happen to a woman allowing her to focus on her duties as a mother.
There was the equivalent of a nuclear explosion in my mind when I read that. As a woman of the twenty-first century, married and a mother, I have mulled over that notion that passion is too highly prized over friendship and respect between couples. And it is hard to reconcile my own desires to be adored by my husband, while also feeling completely devoted to my children. There is this transition of understanding that has been consuming my thoughts that seems even more turbulent as I’m reading Wollstonecraft’s words.
It is difficult not to fall into a ramble. I’m still deep in the reading, and I find it necessary to pause often to ponder what Wollstonecraft is saying. So much has changed since the time she wrote this ground breaking work, yet many of her points are still so pertinent and valid. We struggle as a society and culture to evolve. Humanity, morality, and virtues are not gender exclusive, yet as individuals we struggle to find our identity and see our intrinsic value.
What are your thoughts on A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft? What do you think of the ideas stirred up in my mind? How do women maintain a healthy sense of self, participate in a healthy marital relationship, and be a source of strength and love for their children?
*Photo: Savory cabbage by Nick Saltmarsh, obtained through Flickr.