A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Animadversions on Some of the Writers Who Have Gradual drawing for children 7 9 Women Objects of Pity, Bordering on Contempt. THE opinions speciously supported,in some modern publications on the female character and education, which have given the tone to most of the observations made, in a more cursory manner, on the sex, remain now to be examined.
I SHALL begin with Rousseau, and give a sketch of the character of women, in his own words, interspersing comments and reflections. Sophia, says Rousseau, should be as perfect a woman as Emilius is a man, and to render her so, it is necessary to examine the character which nature has given to the sex. I have quoted this passage, lest my readers should suspect that I warped the author’s reasoning to support my own arguments. I have already asserted that in educating women these fundamental principles lead to a system of cunning and lasciviousness. Supposing woman to have been formed only to please, and be subject to man, the conclusion is just, she ought to sacrifice every other consideration to render herself agreeable to him: and let this brutal desire of self-preservation be the grand spring of all her actions, when it is proved to be the iron bed of fate, to fit which her character should be stretched or contracted, regardless of all moral or physical distinctions. It being once demonstrated,’ continues Rousseau, ‘that man and woman are not, nor ought to be, constituted alike in temperament and character, it follows of course that they should not be educated in the same manner.
Whether I consider the peculiar destination of the sex, observe their inclinations, or remark their duties, all things equally concur to point out the peculiar method of education best adapted to them. Woman and man were made for each other, but their mutual dependence is not the same. For this reason, the education of the women should be always relative to the men. To please, to be useful to us, to make us love and esteem them, to educate us when young, and take care of us when grown up, to advise, to console us, to render our lives easy and agreeable: these are the duties of women at all times, and what they should be taught in their infancy.
Girls are from their earliest infancy fond of dress. Whencesoever girls derive this first lesson, it is a very good one. Each sex has also its peculiar taste to distinguish in this particular. Here then we see a primary propensity firmly established, which you need only to pursue and regulate. Rousseau is not the only man who has indirectly said that merely the person of a young woman, without any mind, unless animal spirits come under that description, is very pleasing. Rousseau’s observations, it is proper to remark, were made in a country where the art of pleasing was refined only to extract the grossness of vice. He did not go back to nature, or his ruling appetite disturbed the operations of reason, else he would not have drawn these crude inferences.
In short, they were made like women, almost from their very birth, and compliments were listened to instead of instruction. These, weakening the mind, Nature was supposed to have acted like a step-mother, when she formed this after-thought of creation. And why is the life of a modest woman a perpetual conflict? I should answer, that this very system of education makes it so. The common attachment and regard of a mother, nay, mere habit, will make her beloved by her children, if she does nothing to incur their hate.
Considering the length of time that women have been dependent, is it surprising that some of them hug their chains, and fawn like the spaniel? Addicted in every thing to extremes, they are even more transported at their diversions than boys. The answer to this is very simple. Slaves and mobs have always indulged themselves in the same excesses, when once they broke loose from authority. The being who patiently endures injustice, and silently bears insults, will soon become unjust, or unable to discern right from wrong. People of sensibility have seldom good tempers.
Of what materials can that heart be composed, which can melt when insulted, and instead of revolting at injustice, kiss the rod? It is unfair to infer that her virtue is built on narrow views and selfishness, who can caress a man, with true feminine softness, the very moment when he treats her tyrannically? But this partial moralist recommends cunning systematically and plausibly. I should not be displeased at her being permitted to use some art, not to elude punishment in case of disobedience, but to exempt herself from the necessity of obeying. It is not necessary to make her dependence burdensome, but only to let her feel it. Whatever is, is right,’ he then proceeds triumphantly to infer.
It is a solemn truth with respect to God. The inference that follows is just, supposing the principle to be sound. Let us then, by being allowed to take the same exercise as boys, not only during infancy, but youth, arrive at perfection of body, that we may know how far the natural superiority of man extends. For what reason or virtue can be expected from a creature when the seed-time of life is neglected? Beauty cannot be acquired by dress, and coquetry is an art not so early and speedily attained. For my part, I would have a young English-woman cultivate her agreeable talents, in order to please her future husband, with as much care and assiduity as a young Circassian cultivates her’s, to fit her for the haram of an eastern bashaw.
To what purpose are you talking? How will your discourse be received? As the conduct of a woman is subservient to the public opinion, her faith in matters of religion should, for that very reason, be subject to authority. Absolute, uncontroverted authority, it seems, must subsist somewhere: but is not this a direct and exclusive appropriation of reason? The rights of humanity have been thus confined to the male line from Adam downwards.