written by Mary Wollstonecraft

Historical Context:

1792, during enlightenment during the French Revolution Mary wrote her two vindications as part of a pamphlet war wrote this one in response to Talleyrand-Périgord’s report on national education; dedicates the volume to him

All humans are placed by God so that “passions should unfold our reason”. God made women in his image

Core Argument

women are not inferior to men, but need a proper education to develop their reason and virtue; society moulds women the way they are.

  • neglect of women’s education has caused great misery
  • Women are taught that romance is the primary goal of their lives, and they are not encouraged to develop their reason or virtue
  • bases her argument on the belief that reason is what makes people human, that virtue is what distinguishes people from one another, and that virtue is attained through knowledge
  • rejects the common argument that men and women should aim to acquire different virtues.
  • believes that although men and women generally have different duties in life, they should strive for identical virtues. But because women tend to be given a haphazard education, they are not given adequate opportunity to develop their reason and attain virtue. More often, they’re taught to please men, preparing themselves for only a brief period of life—that is, courtship and early marriage. They aren’t even prepared to build sustainable marriages or to care for their children effectively. they’re allowed to be driven by emotions and delicate sensibilities
  • critique of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who argues that women only need to be educated inasmuch as it prepares them to serve men
  • women have absorbed many of these oppressive standards because they haven’t been taught to distinguish between reason and prevailing prejudices. She also addresses the importance of childhood impressions, the necessity of modesty for both sexes, and the distinction between external reputation and virtue.
  • society pressures women to care primarily about external beauty
  • Women deserve the protection of civil laws
  • She advocates coeducation at every stage, believing this will allow relations between the sexes to develop in more natural and healthy ways; allowing them to be of greater use to society at large
  • calls for a “revolution” for women, reiterating that their subordinate status is due to men’s prejudices and not to any inherent weakness.
  • concerned with unequal relationships between men and women, including in marriage devotes more attention to the inadequate moral training which, she believes, leaves women ill-prepared to find worthy husbands and to build enduring marriages and families. What’s more, she argues that these weak families and unhappy marriages are in fact destructive for society as a whole

”if girls are taught to be preoccupied with physical beauty from a young age, it’s no surprise that they will be preoccupied with frivolous, external concerns as adults"

"Sheltered girls, in other words, become sheltered and ineffectual women”

not only does typical girls’ education have limited utility in later life, but it also sets them up for unhappiness in the marriages inadequate education makes women vulnerable if anything goes wrong in marriage, especially after the early passion of marriage fades

Based on the principles instilled into women all their lives, it makes sense that many women agree to marry immoral men highly vulnerable if she’s left a widow and must act on behalf of dependent children as well; she’s easy prey to suitors who might take advantage of her

the more educated, the more useful these women will be in broader society women, as rational creatures made in the image of God, must develop their reason in order to properly regulate their emotions and, ultimately, to become virtuous Reason is what elevates humanity over animals

“strengthen our minds by reflection, till our heads become a balance for our hearts.”

women “have no other scheme to sharpen their faculties,” and, in fact, they are encouraged throughout their lives to be “ever anxious about secondary things…instead of being occupied by duties.” Even those duties which society views as inherently feminine—like motherhood—suffer as a result of this attitude.

Motherhood, which Wollstonecraft argues is the calling of a majority of women, requires maturity. Maturity doesn’t come naturally, but must instead be cultivated through continual attention to virtue and duty, which most middle-class women are unprepared for

compares women to “flowers which are planted in too rich a soil, strength and usefulness…sacrificed to beauty…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.”

artificial weakness


  • argues not for herself but for the entire female sex

  • makes the case for women’s education

  • she makes it a case of virtues

  • says that women need education to understand why moral virtues are important

  • says there is general diffusion of information, informational intercourse

  • manners should be reflection of morals; but people conflate both; morals are natural

  • she says womankind are retarding due to lack of education

  • she talks about France, says there’s more equality

  • why will a woman cooperate if she does not understand virtues?

  • let freedom strengthen her reason and comprehend her duties

  • more they comprehend their duties, more they will be attached to their duties

  • likens the relationship between a male and a female to the relationship of a master-slave. Even says that it is degrading to the master.

  • says women will neglect their domestic duties and be an obstacle, a hinderance

  • faithless husbands make faithless wives

  • says men have kept women in shackles

  • establishes that reason, virtue, and knowledge as the basis of human dignity, and claims that women should aim for the same virtues as men.

  • Wollstonecraft criticizes the prevailing views of women’s education, which teach them to be pleasing to men, rather than useful to themselves and society

  • Criticism of love: Wollstonecraft argues that love should not dethrone reason or usurp the scepter of virtue. She mocks the lover-like phrases and sexual compliments that flatter women into submission.

  • Denial of sexual virtues: Wollstonecraft challenges the notion that women have different virtues from men, especially modesty. She claims that virtue is based on truth and utility, not on pleasing men.

  • Necessity and virtue: Wollstonecraft asserts that virtue is an acquirement that requires sacrifice and adversity. She laments that women are placed in a torrid zone of pleasure, which prevents them from developing their minds and hearts.

  • Critique of Milton

  • Critique of Fordyce

  • Critique of Rousseau: Wollstonecraft refutes the arguments of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a influential philosopher who advocated for separate education for men and women. says his views are based on prejudice and ignorance, and that they harm both sexes.

  • Compassion for fallen women: Wollstonecraft expresses sympathy for women who are ostracized by society for losing their chastity. She argues that many of them are innocent victims of deception or violence, and that they deserve justice, not charity.

  • Education and independence: Wollstonecraft proposes that women should be educated in the same manner as men, and that they should be allowed to pursue various professions. She believes that this will enable them to become more virtuous, rational, and free.

  • Criticism of education: Wollstonecraft argues that education is not a preparation for life, but a step to perfection. She criticizes the superficial and disorganized education of women, which teaches them to be pleasing rather than useful.

  • Criticism of modesty: Wollstonecraft defines modesty as a soberness of mind that does not think too highly of oneself. She claims that women are not truly modest, but only concerned with their reputation and beauty. She challenges the notion that women have different virtues from men, especially chastity.

  • Criticism of society: Wollstonecraft links the decline of virtue to the disparity between classes and the dependence of women on men2. She argues that women should be independent and educated in the same manner as men, to become more virtuous, rational, and free.

  • Motherhood and duty: Wollstonecraft argues that women need to be educated and independent to fulfill their natural role as mothers. She criticizes women who neglect or overindulge their children, and advocates for breastfeeding and rational household management.

  • National education: Wollstonecraft proposes a system of free day schools for children of both sexes and all classes1. She believes that coeducation will promote equality, friendship, and virtue among the future citizens.

  • Religion and taste: Wollstonecraft attacks the superstition and sentimentality that prevail among women. She urges women to cultivate their reason and judgment, and to develop a taste for literature and fine arts.

  • Women’s rights: Wollstonecraft calls for a revolution in female manners, and demands that women be granted civil and political rights. She believes that this will benefit society as a whole, and prevent further degradation of women’s character.