A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

by

Mary Wollstonecraft

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on A Vindication of the Rights of Woman can help.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Quotes

Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Publications edition of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman published in 1996.
Need another quote?
Need analysis on another quote?
Need analysis for a quote we don't cover?
Need analysis for a quote we don't cover?
Need analysis for a quote we don't cover?
A LitCharts expert can help.
A LitCharts expert can help.
A LitCharts expert can help.
A LitCharts expert can help.
A LitCharts expert can help.
Request it
Request it
Request analysis
Request analysis
Request analysis
Introduction Quotes

The conduct and manners of women, in fact, evidently prove that their minds are not in a healthy state; for, like the flowers which are planted in too rich a soil, strength and usefulness are sacrificed to beauty; and 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. — One cause of this barren blooming I attribute to a false system of education, gathered from the books written on this subject by men who, considering females rather as women than human creatures, have been more anxious to make them alluring mistresses than affectionate wives and rational mothers; and the understanding of the sex has been so bubbled by this specious homage, that the civilized women of the present century, with a few exceptions, are only anxious to inspire love, when they ought to cherish a nobler ambition, and by their abilities and virtues exact respect.

Related Characters: Mary Wollstonecraft (speaker), Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Related Symbols: Flowers
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

Animated by this important object, I shall disdain to cull my phrases or polish my style; — I aim at being useful, and sincerity will render me unaffected; for, wishing rather to persuade by the force of my arguments, than dazzle by the elegance of my language, I shall not waste my time in rounding periods, or in fabricating the turgid bombast of artificial feelings, which, coming from the head, never reach the heart. — I shall be employed about things, not words! — and, anxious to render my sex more respectable members of society, I shall try to avoid that flowery diction which has slided from essays into novels, and from novels into familiar letters and conversation.

Related Characters: Mary Wollstonecraft (speaker)
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 1 Quotes

In what does man’s pre-eminence over the brute creation consist? The answer is as clear as that a half is less than the whole; in Reason.

What acquirement exalts one being above another? Virtue we spontaneously reply.

For what purpose were the passions implanted? That man by struggling with them might attain a degree of knowledge denied to the brutes; whispers Experience.

Consequently the perfection of our nature and capability of happiness, must be estimated by the degree of reason, virtue, and knowledge, that distinguish the individual, and direct the laws which bind society: and that from the exercise of reason, knowledge and virtue naturally flow, is equally undeniable, if mankind be viewed collectively.

Related Characters: Mary Wollstonecraft (speaker)
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

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.

Thus Milton describes our first frail mother; though when he tells us that women are formed for softness and sweet attractive grace, I cannot comprehend his meaning, unless … he meant to deprive us of souls, and insinuate that we were beings only designed by sweet attractive grace, and docile blind obedience, to gratify the senses of man when he can no longer soar on the wing of contemplation.

Related Characters: Mary Wollstonecraft (speaker), John Milton
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

Standing armies can never consist of resolute, robust men; they may be well disciplined machines, but they will seldom contain men under the influence of strong passions, or with very vigorous faculties. And as for any depth of understanding, I will venture to affirm, that it is as rarely to be found in the army as amongst women; and the cause, I maintain, is the same. It may he further observed, that officers are also particularly attentive to their persons, fond of dancing, crowded rooms, adventures, and ridicule. Like the fair sex, the business of their lives is gallantry. — They were taught to please, and they only live to please. Yet they do not lose their rank in the distinction of sexes, for they are still reckoned superior to women, though in what their superiority consists, beyond what I have just mentioned, it is difficult to discover.

The great misfortune is this, that they both acquire manners before morals, and a knowledge of life before they have, from reflection, any acquaintance with the grand ideal outline of human nature.

Related Characters: Mary Wollstonecraft (speaker)
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

I cannot discover why, unless they are mortal, females should always be degraded by being made subservient to love or lust.

To speak disrespectfully of love is, I know, high treason against sentiment and fine feelings; but I wish to speak the simple language of truth, and rather to address the head than the heart. To endeavor to reason love out of the world, would be to out Quixote Cervantes, and equally offend against common sense; but an endeavor to restrain this tumultuous passion, and to prove that it should not be allowed to dethrone superior powers, or to usurp the scepter which the understanding should ever coolly wield, appears less wild.

Related Characters: Mary Wollstonecraft (speaker)
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

I wish to sum up what I have said in a few words, for I here throw down my gauntlet, and deny the existence of sexual virtues, not excepting modesty. For man and woman, truth, if I understand the meaning of the word, must be the same; yet the fanciful female character, so prettily drawn by poets and novelists, demanding the sacrifice of truth and sincerity, virtue becomes a relative idea, having no other foundation than utility, and of that utility men pretend arbitrarily to judge, shaping it to their own convenience.

Women, I allow, may have different duties to fulfil; but they are human duties, and the principles that should regulate the discharge of them, I sturdily maintain, must be the same.

Related Characters: Mary Wollstonecraft (speaker)
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

Necessity has been proverbially termed the mother of invention — the aphorism may be extended to virtue. It is an acquirement, and an acquirement to which pleasure must be sacrificed — and who sacrifices pleasure when it is within the grasp, whose mind has not been opened and strengthened by adversity, or the pursuit of knowledge goaded on by necessity? — Happy is it when people have the cares of life to struggle with; for these struggles prevent their becoming a prey to enervating vices, merely from idleness! But, if from their birth men and women be placed in a torrid zone, with the meridian sun of pleasure darting directly upon them, how can they sufficiently brace their minds to discharge the duties of life, or even to relish the affections that carry them out of themselves?

Pleasure is the business of woman’s life, according to the present modification of society, and while it continues to be so, little can be expected from such weak beings.

Related Characters: Mary Wollstonecraft (speaker)
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

Woman also thus ‘in herself complete,’ by possessing all these frivolous accomplishments, so changes the nature of things—

‘That what she wills to do or say
‘Seems wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best;
‘All higher knowledge in her presence falls
‘Degraded. Wisdom in discourse with her
‘Loses discountenanc’d, and, like Folly, shows;
‘Authority and Reason on her wait.’

And all this is built on her loveliness!

Related Characters: Mary Wollstonecraft (speaker), John Milton
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

Still, highly as I respect marriage, as the foundation of almost every social virtue, I cannot avoid feeling the most lively compassion for those unfortunate females who are broken off from society, and by one error torn from all those affections and relationships that improve the heart and mind. It does not frequently even deserve the name of error; for many innocent girls become the dupes of a sincere, affectionate heart, and still more are, as it may emphatically be termed, ruined before they know the difference between virtue and vice: — and thus prepared by their education for infamy, they become infamous. Asylums and Magdalenes are not the proper remedies for these abuses. It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world!

Related Characters: Mary Wollstonecraft (speaker)
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

I particularly object to the lover-like phrases of pumped up passion, which are every where interspersed. If women be ever allowed to walk without leading-strings, why must they be cajoled into virtue by artful flattery and sexual compliments? — Speak to them the language of truth and soberness, and away with the lullaby strains of condescending endearment! Let them be taught to respect themselves as rational creatures, and not led to have a passion for their own insipid persons. It moves my gall to hear a preacher descanting on dress and needle-work; and still more, to hear him address the British fair, the fairest of the fair, as if they had only feelings.

Related Characters: Mary Wollstonecraft (speaker), James Fordyce
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

The fact is, that men expect from education, what education cannot give. A sagacious parent or tutor may strengthen the body and sharpen the instruments by which the child is to gather knowledge; but the honey must be the reward of the individual’s own industry […] The business of education in this case, is only to conduct the shooting tendrils to a proper pole; yet after laying precept upon precept, without allowing a child to acquire judgment itself, parents expect them to act in the same manner by this borrowed fallacious light, as if they had illuminated it themselves; and be, when they enter life, what their parents are at the close. They do not consider that the tree, and even the human body, does not strengthen its fibers till it has reached its full growth.

Related Characters: Mary Wollstonecraft (speaker)
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

To render chastity the virtue from which unsophisticated modesty will naturally flow, the attention should be called away from employments which only exercise the sensibility; and the heart made to beat time to humanity, rather than to throb with love. The woman who has dedicated a considerable portion of her time to pursuits purely intellectual, and whose affections have been exercised by humane plans of usefulness, must have more purity of mind, as a natural consequence, than the ignorant beings whose time and thoughts have been occupied by gay pleasures or schemes to conquer hearts. The regulation of the behavior is not modesty, though those who study rules of decorum are, in general, termed modest women.

Related Characters: Mary Wollstonecraft (speaker)
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

Weak minds are always fond of resting in the ceremonials of duty, but morality offers much simpler motives; and it were to be wished that superficial moralists had said less respecting behavior, and outward observances, for unless virtue, of any kind, be built on knowledge, it will only produce a kind of insipid decency. Respect for the opinion of the world, has, however, been termed the principal duty of woman in the most express words, for Rousseau declares, ‘that reputation is no less indispensable than chastity. […] as what is thought of her, is as important to her as what she really is. It follows hence, that the system of a woman’s education should, in this respect, be directly contrary to that of ours. Opinion is the grave of virtue among the men; but its throne among women.’

Related Characters: Mary Wollstonecraft (speaker), Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

Cold would be the heart of a husband … who did not feel more delight at seeing his child suckled by its mother, than the most artful wanton tricks could ever raise; yet this natural way of cementing the matrimonial tie, and twisting esteem with fonder recollections, wealth leads women to spurn. To preserve their beauty, and wear the flowery crown of the day, which gives them a kind of right to reign for a short time over the sex, they neglect to stamp impressions on their husbands’ hearts, that would be remembered with more tenderness when the snow on the head began to chill the bosom, than even their virgin charms. The maternal solicitude of a reasonable affectionate woman is very interesting, and the chastened dignity with which a mother returns the caresses that she and her child receive from a father who has been fulfilling the serious duties of his station, is not only a respectable, but a beautiful sight.

Related Characters: Mary Wollstonecraft (speaker)
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

Business of various kinds, they might likewise pursue, if they were educated in a more orderly manner, which might save many from common and legal prostitution. Women would not then marry for a support, as men accept of places under government, and neglect the implied duties; nor would an attempt to earn their own subsistence, a most laudable one! sink them almost to the level of those poor abandoned creatures who live by prostitution. For are not milliners and mantua-makers reckoned the next class? The few employments open to women, so far from being liberal, are menial; and when a superior education enables them to take charge of the education of children as governesses, they are not treated like the tutors of sons…

Related Characters: Mary Wollstonecraft (speaker)
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

I have already animadverted on the bad habits which females acquire when they are shut up together; and, I think, that the observation may fairly be extended to the other sex, till the natural inference is drawn which I have had in view throughout — that to improve both sexes they ought, not only in private families, but in public schools, to be educated together. If marriage be the cement of society, mankind should all be educated after the same model, or the intercourse of the sexes will never deserve the name of fellowship, nor will women ever fulfil the peculiar duties of their sex, till they become enlightened citizens, till they become free by being enabled to earn their own subsistence, independent of men … Nay, marriage will never be held sacred till women, by being brought up with men, are prepared to be their companions rather than their mistresses…

Related Characters: Mary Wollstonecraft (speaker)
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:

The weakness of the mother will be visited on the children! And whilst women are educated to rely on their husbands for judgment, this must ever be the consequence, for there is no improving an understanding by halves, nor can any being act wisely from imitation, because in every circumstance of life there is a kind of individuality, which requires an exertion of judgment to modify general rules ... In public schools women, to guard against the errors of ignorance, should be taught the elements of anatomy and medicine, not only to enable them to take proper care of their own health, but to make them rational nurses of their infants, parents, and husbands; for the bills of mortality are swelled by the blunders of self-willed old women, who give nostrums of their own without knowing any thing of the human frame. It is likewise proper only in a domestic view, to make women acquainted with the anatomy of the mind…

Related Characters: Mary Wollstonecraft (speaker)
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

But, confined to trifling employments, they naturally imbibe opinions which the only kind of reading calculated to interest an innocent frivolous mind, inspires. Unable to grasp any thing great, is it surprising that they find the reading of history a very dry task, and disquisitions addressed to the understanding intolerably tedious, and almost unintelligible? Thus are they necessarily dependent on the novelist for amusement. Yet, when I exclaim against novels, I mean when contrasted with those works which exercise the understanding and regulate the imagination. — For any kind of reading I think better than leaving a blank still a blank, because the mind must receive a degree of enlargement and obtain a little strength by a slight exertion of its thinking powers…

Related Characters: Mary Wollstonecraft (speaker)
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

Were not dissenters, for instance, a class of people, with strict truth, characterized as cunning? And may I not lay some stress on this fact to prove, that when any power but reason curbs the free spirit of man, dissimulation is practiced, and the various shifts of art are naturally called forth? Great attention to decorum, which was carried to a degree of scrupulosity, and all that puerile bustle about trifles and consequential solemnity … shaped their persons as well as their minds in the mold of prim littleness. […] Oppression thus formed many of the features of their character perfectly to coincide with that of the oppressed half of mankind; or is it not notorious that dissenters were, like women, fond of deliberating together, and asking advice of each other, till by a complication of little contrivances, some little end was brought about? A similar attention to preserve their reputation was conspicuous in the dissenting and female world, and was produced by a similar cause.

Related Characters: Mary Wollstonecraft (speaker)
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:
No matches.