Vindication of Rights of Women: Fight for Equal Position of Women in the Society

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In a world where patriarchy has always been prominent and dominant, class, caste and sex differences between male and female are explicitly noticed. Women have always been portrayed as inferior to men and as argued by Mary Wollstonecraft in her essay, Rights of Women, censoriously expresses her opinion and rues on the fact that women, though treated as inferior, have always been subjugated. Women, for most of the times, are considered to be dependent on male counterparts and are represented as mere wives, daughters and sisters, are meant to be servile towards them, so that they couldn’t achieve a place equal to that of man in society. The sexualisation and infantalisation of women at various points, lead to their unfair treatment and objectification. Ostensibly, women are (Adam and Eve being the exemplaries) only meant to have been created to fulfill male desires, paradoxically both being the creation of one God.

In a male dominated society, women were for so long refrained from reading and writing and they were debarded from the social spheres as their work was limited to the domestic space, tending the children and their husbands. Women’s writing is a new area of study where one could experience the writings of women, courageous they were to try a hand in the patriarchal society. It could be seen as a bold attempt where one could get the literary works from renowned women writers who simply gain fame and recognition through their works. “Narratives that emerge from a historically disprivileged perspective have greater epistemological validity than knowledge that emerges from a privileged position and perspective. Those in privileged position are unlikely to experience caste, class pr gender based discrimination or oppression as those who have been historically disadvantaged. It is also likely that the writings which emanate from such groups of marginalised and disadvantaged groups will offer new insights into the question of identity”. Women writers adopted and came up with their own form and style of writing, to get equal status and recognition as that of men. At first instance, women were criticised as, metaphorically they didn’t have the ‘pen’, which is associated with masculinity and therefore, they couldn’t produce good works. But gradually, female writers started getting recognition and were praises and admired a large group of females, who then started to realise their own importance.

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“Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘A Vindication Of The Rights Of Women’ (1792) is a landmark treatise that paved the way for many women after her to not only publish their works but also to engage in the overall critical discourse surrounding the issue of women in literature”. Wollstonecraft found the period after the French Revolution to be progressive, where women could get their rights. According to Meenakshi Malhotra, Wollstonecraft demonstrated a consciousness of being a new kind of woman, one of the foremothers of feminism who on one hand got recognition, albeit limited, of her genius and on the other hand, vituperative castigations of her as a ‘hyena in petticoats’ (Horace Walpole). Mary Wollstonecraft could be seen as both a child pf radical revolution and of enlightenment rationality. Suparna Dasgupta valourizes Wollstonecraft’s rationality in her essay where she mentions that Wollstonecraft cites Milton’s Paradise Lost as the classic example of seeking equal rights.

Wollstonecraft, as argued by many, was notoriously criticised for Rights of Women, a tract that launched a powerful attack on the second class status of women. Her Enlightenment concerns involved the faith in the human capacity for improvement, the necessity of rejecting unjust and social and legal structures no matter how well entrenched and above all, the faith in human reason as an equalizing force. Wollstonecraft, being a feminist, occupies an ambivalent position, where on the one hand she persuaded women and demanded political and educational rights for their freedom from the domestic space and the clutches of the atrocities faced at the hands of men while on the other hand, she is seen with a contrasting comment on the sensibility of women. “Cora Kaplan argues that the ‘negative and prescriptive assault on female sexuality’ is a ‘leitmotif’ of the Rights of Woman. For example, Wollstonecraft advises her readers to ‘calmly let passion subside into friendship’ in the ideal companionate marriage (that is, in the ideal of a love-based marriage that was developing at the time). It would be better, she writes, when ‘two virtuous young people marry... if some circumstances checked their passion’.” “According to Wollstonecraft, ‘love and friendship cannot subsist in the same bosom’. As Mary Poovey explains, ‘Wollstonecraft betrays her fear that female desire might in fact court man's lascivious and degrading attentions, that the subordinate position women have been given might even be deserved. Until women can transcend their fleshly desires and fleshly forms, they will be hostage to the body’”. “If women are not interested in sexuality, they cannot be dominated by men. Wollstonecraft worries that women are consumed with ‘romantic wavering’, that is, they are interested only in satisfying their lusts. Because the Rights of Woman eliminates sexuality from a woman's life, Kaplan contends, it ‘expresses a violent antagonism to the sexual’ while at the same time ‘exaggerat[ing] the importance of the sensual in the everyday life of women’”.

She identifies the role of women in society as rational beings like men where, through education they could educate their children and could be ‘companions’ to their husbands, rather than being mere wives. Simply adhering to male world and their desires, women become objects of oppression. Wollstonecraft maintains that women are human beings, deserving the same fundamental rights as men. “While Wollstonecraft does call for equality between the sexes in particular areas of life, such as morality, she does not explicitly state that men and women are equal. Her ambiguous statements regarding the equality of the sexes have since mad eit difficult to classify Wollstonecraft as a modern feminist”.

Women have always been, as noticed and experienced by Wollstonecraft, compared with brutes, but she presents women as being rational, where reason distinguishes and is pre eminent over brute creatures. Women are supposed to be pleasing, gentle, docile and writers like Rousseau and Gregory presents women as weak and useless members of society. Wollstonecraft made a great attempt by trying her hand at the masculine pen and produced major works, for which she was criticised. Sexuality and pleasure causes women to be slaves of libidinous males as pointed by Cora Kaplan in her essay. Rousseau, as noticed by Kaplan, always considered women as objects of male desire and passion which leads to oppression and subjugation of women. Wollstonecraft’s critique of Rousseau comes from his book Emile in which he states that women need to be educated for the pleasure of men. According to Suparna Dasgupta, Rights of Women needs to be read as a supplement of Rights of Man. Women need to be feminine and human, which if applied to Wollstonecraft herself, she considers it to be ‘utopian dreams’.

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