To A Vindication of the Rights of Women

My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational
creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and
viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood,
unable to stand alone. I earnestly wish to point out in what true
dignity and human happiness consists. I wish to persuade women to
endeavour to acquire strength, both of mind and body, and to
convince them that the soft phrases, susceptibility of heart,
delicacy of sentiment, and refinement of taste, are almost
synonymous with epithets of weakness, and that those beings who are
only the objects of pity, and that kind of love which has been
termed its sister, will soon become objects of contempt.


Dismissing, then, those pretty feminine phrases, which the men
condescendingly use to soften our slavish dependence, and despising
that weak elegancy of mind, exquisite sensibility, and sweet
docility of manners, supposed to be the sexual charac- teristics of
the weaker vessel, I wish to show that elegance is inferior to
virtue, that the first object of laudable ambition is to obtain a
character as a hurnan being, regardless of the distinction of sex,
and that secondary views should be brought to this simple
touchstone.


This is a rough sketch of my plan; and should I express my
conviction with the energetic emotions that I feel whenever I think
of the subject, the dictates of experience and reflection will be
felt by some of my readers. 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.


These pretty superlatives, dropping glibly from the tongue, vitiate
the taste, and create a kind of sickly delicacy that tums away from
simple unadorned truth; and a deluge of false sentiments and
overstretched feelings, stifling the natural emotions of the heart,
render the domestic pleasures insipid, that ought to sweeten the
exercise of those severe duties, which educate a rational and
immortal being for a nobler field of action.


The education of women has of late been more attended to than
formerly; yet they are still reckoned a frivolous sex, and
ridiculed or pitied by the writers who endeavour by satire or
instruction to improve them. It is acknowledged that they spend
many of the first years of their lives in acquiring a smattering of
accomplishments; meanwhile strength of body and mind are sacrificed
to libertine notions of beauty, to the desire of establishing
themselves–the only way women can nse in the world–by marriage.

And this desire making mere animals of them, when they marry they
act as such children may be expected to act,–they dress, they
paint, and nickname God’s creatures. Surely these weak beings are
only fit for a seraglio! Can they be expected to govern a family
with judgment, or take care of the poor babes whom they bring into
the world?
If, then, it can be fairly deduced from the present conduct of the
sex, from the prevalent fondness for pleasure which takes place of
ambition and those nobler passions that open and enlarge the soul,
that the instruction which women have hitherto received has only
tended, with the constituion of civil society, to render them
insignificant objects of desire — mere propagators of fools! –
if it can be proved that in aiming to accomplish them, without
cultivating their understandings, they are taken out of their
sphere of duties, and made ridiculous and useless when the
short-lived bloom of beauty is over,1 I presume that rational men
will excuse me for endeavouring to persuade them to become more
masculine and respectable.


Indeed the word masculine is only a bugbear; there is little reason
to fear that women will acquire too much courage or fortitude, for
their apparent inferiority with respect to bodily strength must
render them in some degree dependent on men in the various
relations of life; but why should it be increased by prejudices
that give a sex to virtue, and confound simple truths with sensual
reveries?
Women are, in fact, so much degraded by mistaken notions of female
excellence, that I do not mean to add a paradox when I assert that
this artificial weakness produces a propensity to tyrannise, and
gives birth to cunning, the natural opponent of strength, which
leads them to play off those contemptible infantine airs that
undermine esteem even whilst they excite desire. Let men become
more chaste and modest, and if women do not grow wiser in the same
ratio, it will be clear that they have weaker understandings. It
seems scarcely necessary to say that I now speak of the sex in
general. Many individuals have more sense than their male
relatives; and, as nothing preponderates where there is a constant
struggle for an equilibrium without it has naturally more gravity,
some women govern their husbands without degrading themselves,
because intellect will always govern.