Maria, Audrey, Lizzie Wollstonecraft 2, 2/5/2014

1. What is the nature of the argument?

- or more loosely, how is the author trying to make his/her case?    

I think it is fair to say that this is targeted towards men, because Wollstonecraft is engaging with the existing male idea that women are inferior- “is it surprising that women everywhere appear a defect in nature?” (Beginning of The Effect).

It continues to address middle class women.

2. Who/What is the argument against?

- identify the targets, other authors or systems of thought that this author is bent on challenging.

Rousseau-- “a truly benevolent legislator always endeavors to make it the interest of each individual to be virtuous; and thus private virtue becoming the cement of public happiness, and orderly whole is consolidated by the tendency of all the parts towards a common centre. But, the private or public virtue of woman is very problematical; for Rousseau, and a numerous list of male writers, insist that she should all her life be subjected to severe restraint, that of propriety. Why subject her to proprietary--blind propriety, if she be capable of acting from a nobler spring, if she be an heir of immortality? (144).  Rousseau--doesn’t want women to be educated like men because he doesn’t want women to have power over man, but Wollstonecraft says she doesn’t want that either (or does she…?)

Dr. Gregory--he encourages women not only to cultivate a love for dress (something he claims is "natural,") but to learn to dissemble and lie about their feelings.

For Wollstonecraft women should seek to purify their hearts and hold the graces that due in fact adorn beauty not to satisfy men, but to satisfy themselves.  135-137.

3. What is the argument?

The Effect--women are disadvantaged because they use their emotions and senses to have impressions of things: “If such be the force of habit; if such be the bondage of folly, how carefully ought we to guard the mind from storing up vicious associations; and equally careful should we be to cultivate the understanding, to save the poor wight from the weak dependant state of even harmless ignorance” (121).

- Women should strive to improve their understanding, and their wider compassion, and this will lead, via "purity of mind", to modesty. Worrying about love and their emotions again will not have happy results.. (137).

ii. ethics: how does ethics figure in the argument?  

Wollstonecraft focuses on the difference between perceived and actual morals in her chapter on Undermining Morality, rebuking women who are secretly immoral in their marriages much more strongly than young women who have done immoral acts.  She thinks that teaching women to worry about their reputation and not about their morality has led to the undermining of morals.  

**friends first, lovers second. Companionate relationships.

Modesty-- “sacred offspring of sensibility and reason!” (121). Modesty is not humility, but it is the act of not being vain and thinking more of yourself than you ought, “soberness of mind, which the exercise of duties, and the pursuit of knowledge, alone inspire” (131).

Morality undermined-- Women tend not to have moral subsistence because they have been reared to put more time and emphasis on how they are perceived visually. Also, a woman’s chastity must is all important, “if the honour of a woman, as it is absurdly called, be safe, she may neglect every social duty; nay, ruin her family by gaming and extravagance; yet still present a shameless front--for truly she is an honourable woman!” (137).

 iii. politics: what should the purposes of politics be?    

She does not speak of politics, but it does make one wonder what she would think of women in the political arena, but does she does mention that friendship is the ultimate form of a civic relationship.

The personal is intensely political. proper liberal democratic system is not possible if we are to go up in an authoritarian system. Micro relationships are still political. ones.

(147) representation of female interests, not giving the vote, but functional, distinctive representation.


3a. What does the author regard as the distinctive problems and possibilities in the Modern Age

- on what are they focusing?

Women not fulfilling their family roles as well as their role as citizens-- “Would men but generously snap our chains, and be content with rational fellowship instead of slavish obedience, they would find us more observant daughters, more affectionate sisters, more faithful wives, more reasonable mothers--in a word, better citizens” (150).

Women being unable to earn her own bread and become independent of the man: “proud of their weakness, however, they must always be protected, guarded from care, and all the rough toils that dignify the mind...sweetly to waste ‘life away’...” (149)

Concerned about women becoming commodities, the objectification of women where the male is the consumer (Kant: don’t treat people as means). Women will bear the brunt of objectification/commodification; women will become toys.


3b. How does the author address liberty, equality, and fraternity?

- how does the author define, conceptualize, and operationalize each concept?   

I think it is safe to argue that Wollstonecraft is not entirely searching for equality in where women and men are equal in every aspect. She is looking at equality in where women can have more freedom to grow as human beings in their roles as mothers and wives.

- how does the author prioritize them.

-Wollstonecraft has largely ignored the idea of fraternity (community and interdependence) in the first few chapters, and here it can be seen that she actively advocates for women being more independent of each other as well as of men.  In Modesty she advocates against women growing up among one another and prefers that they have “personal reserve” so that they can gain “strength and modesty.”  

-To further this idea, Wollstonecraft believes that because women are socialized to rely only on their beauty they become unpleasant human beings for others to notice. Thus, her argument of women needing to become more modest and independent to attain purity of mind (137).

4. what are the strengths of the author's argument?

Women could have real careers to then propel themselves into society: “How many women thus waste life away prey of discontent, who might have practised as physicians, regulated a farm, managed a shop, and stood erect, supported by their own industry, instead of hanging their heads surcharged with the dew of sensibility…” (149).

-Gender by being a social construct, it has resulted in problems such as separating gender from nature and reason.

The social standards of beauty create weak women.

5. what are the weaknesses of the author's argument?

How can we know which areas (besides the ones mentioned in this book) she considers to be classified as equal for men and women? What about politics?  

One thing that continues to make Wollstonecraft's argument not be completely persuasive is her approach on equality. The ambiguity of her argument on calling for equality on only certain areas in life continue to confuse the reader, she doesn’t explicitly say that women and men are equal.

She does not think girls in the same environment is a good thing, but she doesn’t think that co-educational will work either. What does she want?

Rhetorically has to reassure her audience that she won’t take her argument too far.