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A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft [Godwin]

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Exercise and cleanliness appear to be not only the surest means of
preserving health, but of promoting beauty, the physical causes
only considered; yet, this is not sufficient, moral ones must
concur, or beauty will be merely of that rustic kind which blooms
on the innocent, wholesome countenances of some country people,
whose minds have not been exercised. To render the person perfect,
physical and moral beauty ought to be attained at the same time;
each lending and receiving force by the combination. Judgment must
reside on the brow, affection and fancy beam in the eye, and
humanity curve the cheek, or vain is the sparkling of the finest
eye or the elegantly turned finish of the fairest features; whilst
in every motion that displays the active limbs and well-knit
joints, grace and modesty should appear. But this fair assemblage
is not to be brought together by chance; it is the reward of
exertions met to support each other; for judgment can only be
acquired by reflection, affection, by the discharge of duties, and
humanity by the exercise of compassion to every living creature.

Humanity to animals should be particularly inculcated as a part of
national education, for it is not at present one of our national
virtues. Tenderness for their humble dumb domestics, amongst the
lower class, is oftener to be found in a savage than a civilized
state. For civilization prevents that intercourse which creates
affection in the rude hut, or mud cabin, and leads uncultivated
minds who are only depraved by the refinements which prevail in the
society, where they are trodden under foot by the rich, to domineer
over them to revenge the insults that they are obliged to bear from
their superiours.

This habitual cruelty is first caught at school, where it is one of
the rare sports of the boys to torment the miserable brutes that
fall in their way. The transition, as they grow up, from barbarity
to brutes to domestic tyranny over wives, children, and servants,
is very easy. Justice, or even benevolence, will not be a powerful
spring of action, unless it extend to the whole creation; nay, I
believe that it may be delivered as an axiom, that those who can
see pain, unmoved, will soon learn to inflict it.

The vulgar are swayed by present feelings, and the habits which
they have accidentally acquired; but on partial feelings much
dependence cannot be placed, though they be just; for, when they
are not invigorated by reflection, custom weakens them, till they
are scarcely felt. The sympathies of our nature are strengthened
by pondering cogitations, and deadened by thoughtless use.
Macbeth's heart smote him more for one murder, the first, than for
a hundred subsequent ones, which were necessary to back it. But,
when I used the epithet vulgar, I did not mean to confine my remark
to the poor, for partial humanity, founded on present sensations or
whim, is quite as conspicuous, if not more so, amongst the rich.

The lady who sheds tears for the bird starved in a snare, and
execrates the devils in the shape of men, who goad to madness the
poor ox, or whip the patient ass, tottering under a burden above
its strength, will, nevertheless, keep her coachman and horses
whole hours waiting for her, when the sharp frost bites, or the
rain beats against the well-closed windows which do not admit a
breath of air to tell her how roughly the wind blows without. And
she who takes her dogs to bed, and nurses them with a parade of
sensibility, when sick, will suffer her babes to grow up crooked in
a nursery. This illustration of my argument is drawn from a matter
of fact. The woman whom I allude to was handsome, reckoned very
handsome, by those who do not miss the mind when the face is plump
and fair; but her understanding had not been led from female duties
by literature, nor her innocence debauched by knowledge. No, she
was quite feminine, according to the masculine acceptation of the
word; and, so far from loving these spoiled brutes that filled the
place which her children ought to have occupied, she only lisped
out a pretty mixture of French and English nonsense, to please the
men who flocked round her. The wife, mother, and human creature,
were all swallowed up by the factitious character, which an
improper education, and the selfish vanity of beauty, had produced.

I do not like to make a distinction without a difference, and I own
that I have been as much disgusted by the fine lady who took her
lap-dog to her bosom, instead of her child; as by the ferocity of a
man, who, beating his horse, declared, that he knew as well when he
did wrong as a Christian.

This brood of folly shows how mistaken they are who, if they allow
women to leave their harams, do not cultivate their understanding,
in order to plant virtues in their hearts. For had they sense,
they might acquire that domestic taste which would lead them to
love with reasonable subordination their whole family, from the
husband to the house-dog; nor would they ever insult humanity in
the person of the most menial servant, by paying more attention to
the comfort of a brute, than to that of a fellow-creature.

My observations on national education are obviously hints; but I
principally wish to enforce the necessity of educating the sexes
together to perfect both, and of making children sleep at home,
that they may learn to love home; yet to make private support
instead of smothering public affections, they should be sent to
school to mix with a number of equals, for only by the jostlings of
equality can we form a just opinion of ourselves.

To render mankind more virtuous, and happier of course, both sexes
must act from the same principle; but how can that be expected when
only one is allowed to see the reasonableness of it? To render
also the social compact truly equitable, and in order to spread
those enlightening principles, which alone can meliorate the fate
of man, women must be allowed to found their virtue on knowledge,
which is scarcely possible unless they be educated by the same
pursuits as men. For they are now made so inferiour by ignorance
and low desires, as not to deserve to be ranked with them; or, by
the serpentine wrigglings of cunning they mount the tree of
knowledge and only acquire sufficient to lead men astray.

It is plain from the history of all nations, that women cannot be
confined to merely domestic pursuits, for they will not fulfil
family duties, unless their minds take a wider range, and whilst
they are kept in ignorance, they become in the same proportion, the
slaves of pleasure as they are the slaves of man. Nor can they be
shut out of great enterprises, though the narrowness of their minds
often make them mar what they are unable to comprehend.

The libertinism, and even the virtues of superior men, will always
give women, of some description, great power over them; and these
weak women, under the influence of childish passions and selfish
vanity, will throw a false light over the objects which the very
men view with their eyes, who ought to enlighten their judgment.
Men of fancy, and those sanguine characters who mostly hold the
helm of human affairs, in general, relax in the society of women;
and surely I need not cite to the most superficial reader of
history, the numerous examples of vice and oppression which the
private intrigues of female favourites have produced; not to dwell
on the mischief that naturally arises from the blundering
interposition of well-meaning folly. For in the transactions of
business it is much better to have to deal with a knave than a
fool, because a knave adheres to some plan; and any plan of reason
may be seen through much sooner than a sudden flight of folly. The
power which vile and foolish women have had over wise men, who
possessed sensibility, is notorious; I shall only mention one

Whoever drew a more exalted female character than Rousseau? though
in the lump he constantly endeavoured to degrade the sex. And why
was he thus anxious? Truly to justify to himself the affection
which weakness and virtue had made him cherish for that fool
Theresa. He could not raise her to the common level of her sex;
and therefore he laboured to bring woman down to her's. He found
her a convenient humble companion, and pride made him determine to
find some superior virtues in the being whom he chose to live with;
but did not her conduct during his life, and after his death,
clearly show how grossly he was mistaken who called her a celestial
innocent. Nay, in the bitterness of his heart, he himself laments,
that when his bodily infirmities made him no longer treat her like
a woman, she ceased to have an affection for him. And it was very
natural that she should, for having so few sentiments in common,
when the sexual tie was broken, what was to hold her? To hold her
affection whose sensibility was confined to one sex, nay, to one
man, it requires sense to turn sensibility into the broad channel
of humanity: many women have not mind enough to have an affection
for a woman, or a friendship for a man. But the sexual weakness
that makes woman depend on man for a subsistence, produces a kind
of cattish affection, which leads a wife to purr about her husband,
as she would about any man who fed and caressed her.

Men, are however, often gratified by this kind of fondness which is
confined in a beastly manner to themselves, but should they ever
become more virtuous, they will wish to converse at their fire-side
with a friend, after they cease to play with a mistress. Besides,
understanding is necessary to give variety and interest to sensual
enjoyments, for low, indeed, in the intellectual scale, is the mind
that can continue to love when neither virtue nor sense give a
human appearance to an animal appetite. But sense will always
preponderate; and if women are not, in general, brought more on a
level with men, some superior women, like the Greek courtezans will
assemble the men of abilities around them, and draw from their
families many citizens, who would have stayed at home, had their
wives had more sense, or the graces which result from the exercise
of the understanding and fancy, the legitimate parents of taste. A
woman of talents, if she be not absolutely ugly, will always obtain
great power, raised by the weakness of her sex; and in proportion
as men acquire virtue and delicacy: by the exertion of reason, they
will look for both in women, but they can only acquire them in the
same way that men do.

In France or Italy have the women confined themselves to domestic
life? though they have not hitherto had a political existence, yet,
have they not illicitly had great sway? corrupting themselves and
the men with whose passions they played? In short, in whatever
light I view the subject, reason and experience convince me, that
the only method of leading women to fulfil their peculiar duties,
is to free them from all restraint by allowing them to participate
the inherent rights of mankind.

Make them free, and they will quickly become wise and virtuous, as
men become more so; for the improvement must be mutual, or the
justice which one half of the human race are obliged to submit to,
retorting on their oppressors, the virtue of man will be worm-eaten
by the insect whom he keeps under his feet.

Let men take their choice, man and woman were made for each other,
though not to become one being; and if they will not improve women,
they will deprave them!

I speak of the improvement and emancipation of the whole sex, for I
know that the behaviour of a few women, who by accident, or
following a strong bent of nature, have acquired a portion of
knowledge superior to that of the rest of their sex, has often been
over-bearing; but there have been instances of women who, attaining
knowledge, have not discarded modesty, nor have they always
pedantically appeared to despise the ignorance which they laboured
to disperse in their own minds. The exclamations then which any
advice respecting female learning, commonly produces, especially
from pretty women, often arise from envy. When they chance to see
that even the lustre of their eyes, and the flippant sportiveness
of refined coquetry will not always secure them attention, during a
whole evening, should a woman of a more cultivated understanding
endeavour to give a rational turn to the conversation, the common
source of consolation is, that such women seldom get husbands.
What arts have I not seen silly women use to interrupt by
FLIRTATION, (a very significant word to describe such a manoeuvre)
a rational conversation, which made the men forget that they were
pretty women.

But, allowing what is very natural to man--that the possession of
rare abilities is really calculated to excite over-weening pride,
disgusting in both men and women--in what a state of inferiority
must the female faculties have rusted when such a small portion of
knowledge as those women attained, who have sneeringly been termed
learned women, could be singular? Sufficiently so to puff up the
possessor, and excite envy in her contemporaries, and some of the
other sex. Nay, has not a little rationality exposed many women to
the severest censure? I advert to well known-facts, for I have
frequently heard women ridiculed, and every little weakness
exposed, only because they adopted the advice of some medical men,
and deviated from the beaten track in their mode of treating their
infants. I have actually heard this barbarous aversion to
innovation carried still further, and a sensible woman stigmatized
as an unnatural mother, who has thus been wisely solicitous to
preserve the health of her children, when in the midst of her care
she has lost one by some of the casualties of infancy which no
prudence can ward off. Her acquaintance have observed, that this
was the consequence of new-fangled notions--the new-fangled notions
of ease and cleanliness. And those who, pretending to experience,
though they have long adhered to prejudices that have, according to
the opinion of the most sagacious physicians, thinned the human
race, almost rejoiced at the disaster that gave a kind of sanction
to prescription.

Indeed, if it were only on this account, the national education of
women is of the utmost consequence; for what a number of human
sacrifices are made to that moloch, prejudice! And in how many
ways are children destroyed by the lasciviousness of man? The want
of natural affection in many women, who are drawn from their duty
by the admiration of men, and the ignorance of others, render the
infancy of man a much more perilous state than that of brutes; yet
men are unwilling to place women in situations proper to enable
them to acquire sufficient understanding to know how even to nurse
their babes.

So forcibly does this truth strike me, that I would rest the whole
tendency of my reasoning upon it; for whatever tends to
incapacitate the maternal character, takes woman out of her sphere.

But it is vain to expect the present race of weak mothers either to
take that reasonable care of a child's body, which is necessary to
lay the foundation of a good constitution, supposing that it do not
suffer for the sins of its fathers; or to manage its temper so
judiciously that the child will not have, as it grows up, to throw
off all that its mother, its first instructor, directly or
indirectly taught, and unless the mind have uncommon vigour,
womanish follies will stick to the character throughout life. 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. The being who can think justly in one track, will
soon extend its intellectual empire; and she who has sufficient
judgment to manage her children, will not submit right or wrong, to
her husband, or patiently to the social laws which makes a
nonentity of a wife.

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, by allowing the sexes to associate together in every pursuit;
and by leading them to observe the progress of the human
understanding in the improvement of the sciences and arts; never
forgetting the science of morality, nor the study of the political
history of mankind.

A man has been termed a microcosm; and every family might also be
called a state. States, it is true, have mostly been governed by
arts that disgrace the character of man; and the want of a just
constitution, and equal laws, have so perplexed the notions of the
worldly wise, that they more than question the reasonableness of
contending for the rights of humanity. Thus morality, polluted in
the national reservoir, sends off streams of vice to corrupt the
constituent parts of the body politic; but should more noble, or
rather more just principles regulate the laws, which ought to be
the government of society, and not those who execute them, duty
might become the rule of private conduct.

Besides, by the exercise of their bodies and minds, women would
acquire that mental activity so necessary in the maternal
character, united with the fortitude that distinguishes steadiness
of conduct from the obstinate perverseness of weakness. For it is
dangerous to advise the indolent to be steady, because they
instantly become rigorous, and to save themselves trouble, punish
with severity faults that the patient fortitude of reason might
have prevented.

But fortitude presupposes strength of mind, and is strength of mind
to be acquired by indolent acquiescence? By asking advice instead
of exerting the judgment? By obeying through fear, instead of
practising the forbearance, which we all stand in need of
ourselves? The conclusion which I wish to draw is obvious; make
women rational creatures and free citizens, and they will quickly
become good wives, and mothers; that is--if men do not neglect the
duties of husbands and fathers.

Discussing the advantages which a public and private education
combined, as I have sketched, might rationally be expected to
produce, I have dwelt most on such as are particularly relative to
the female world, because I think the female world oppressed; yet
the gangrene which the vices, engendered by oppression have
produced, is not confined to the morbid part, but pervades society
at large; so that when I wish to see my sex become more like moral
agents, my heart bounds with the anticipation of the general
diffusion of that sublime contentment which only morality can



There are many follies, in some degree, peculiar to women: sins
against reason, of commission, as well as of omission; but all
flowing from ignorance or prejudice, I shall only point out such as
appear to be injurious to their moral character. And in
animadverting on them, I wish especially to prove, that the
weakness of mind and body, which men have endeavoured by various
motives to perpetuate, prevents their discharging the peculiar duty
of their sex: for when weakness of body will not permit them to
suckle their children, and weakness of mind makes them spoil their
tempers--is woman in a natural state?


One glaring instance of the weakness which proceeds from ignorance,
first claims attention, and calls for severe reproof.

In this metropolis a number of lurking leeches infamously gain a
subsistence by practising on the credulity of women, pretending to
cast nativities, to use the technical phrase; and many females who,
proud of their rank and fortune, look down on the vulgar with
sovereign contempt, show by this credulity, that the distinction is
arbitrary, and that they have not sufficiently cultivated their
minds to rise above vulgar prejudices. Women, because they have
not been led to consider the knowledge of their duty as the one
thing necessary to know, or, to live in the present moment by the
discharge of it, are very anxious to peep into futurity, to learn
what they have to expect to render life interesting, and to break
the vacuum of ignorance. I must be allowed to expostulate
seriously with the ladies, who follow these idle inventions; for
ladies, mistresses of families, are not ashamed to drive in their
own carriages to the door of the cunning man. And if any of them
should peruse this work, I entreat them to answer to their own
hearts the following questions, not forgetting that they are in the
presence of God.

Do you believe that there is but one God, and that he is powerful,
wise, and good?

Do you believe that all things were created by him, and that all
beings are dependent on him?

Do you rely on his wisdom, so conspicuous in his works, and in your
own frame, and are you convinced, that he has ordered all things
which do not come under the cognizance of your senses, in the same
perfect harmony, to fulfil his designs?

Do you acknowledge that the power of looking into futurity and
seeing things that are not, as if they were, is an attribute of the
Creator? And should he, by an impression on the minds of his
creatures, think fit to impart to them some event hid in the shades
of time, yet unborn, to whom would the secret be revealed by
immediate inspiration? The opinion of ages will answer this
question--to reverend old men, to people distinguished for eminent

The oracles of old were thus delivered by priests dedicated to the
service of the God, who was supposed to inspire them. The glare of
worldly pomp which surrounded these impostors, and the respect paid
to them by artful politicians, who knew how to avail themselves of
this useful engine to bend the necks of the strong under the
dominion of the cunning, spread a sacred mysterious veil of
sanctity over their lies and abominations. Impressed by such
solemn devotional parade, a Greek or Roman lady might be excused,
if she inquired of the oracle, when she was anxious to pry into
futurity, or inquire about some dubious event: and her inquiries,
however contrary to reason, could not be reckoned impious. But,
can the professors of Christianity ward off that imputation? Can a
Christian suppose, that the favourites of the most High, the highly
favoured would be obliged to lurk in disguise, and practise the
most dishonest tricks to cheat silly women out of the money, which
the poor cry for in vain?

Say not that such questions are an insult to common sense for it is
your own conduct, O ye foolish women! which throws an odium on your
sex! And these reflections should make you shudder at your
thoughtlessness, and irrational devotion, for I do not suppose that
all of you laid aside your religion, such as it is, when you
entered those mysterious dwellings. Yet, as I have throughout
supposed myself talking to ignorant women, for ignorant ye are in
the most emphatical sense of the word, it would be absurd to reason
with you on the egregious folly of desiring to know what the
Supreme Wisdom has concealed.

Probably you would not understand me, were I to attempt to show you
that it would be absolutely inconsistent with the grand purpose of
life, that of rendering human creatures wise and virtuous: and
that, were it sanctioned by God, it would disturb the order
established in creation; and if it be not sanctioned by God, do you
expect to hear truth? Can events be foretold, events which have
not yet assumed a body to become subject to mortal inspection, can
they be foreseen by a vicious worldling, who pampers his appetites
by preying on the foolish ones?

Perhaps, however, you devoutly believe in the devil, and imagine,
to shift the question, that he may assist his votaries? but if
really respecting the power of such a being, an enemy to goodness
and to God, can you go to church after having been under such an
obligation to him. From these delusions to those still more
fashionable deceptions, practised by the whole tribe of
magnetisers, the transition is very natural. With respect to them,
it is equally proper to ask women a few questions.

Do you know any thing of the construction of the human frame? If
not, it is proper that you should be told, what every child ought
to know, that when its admirable economy has been disturbed by
intemperance or indolence, I speak not of violent disorders, but of
chronical diseases, it must be brought into a healthy state again
by slow degrees, and if the functions of life have not been
materially injured, regimen, another word for temperance, air,
exercise, and a few medicines prescribed by persons who have
studied the human body, are the only human means, yet discovered,
of recovering that inestimable blessing health, that will bear

Do you then believe, that these magnetisers, who, by hocus pocus
tricks, pretend, to work a miracle, are delegated by God, or
assisted by the solver of all these kind of difficulties--the

Do they, when they put to flight, as it is said, disorders that
have baffled the powers of medicine, work in conformity to the
light of reason? Or do they effect these wonderful cures by
supernatural aid?

By a communication, an adept may answer, with the world of spirits.
A noble privilege, it must be allowed. Some of the ancients
mention familiar demons, who guarded them from danger, by kindly
intimating (we cannot guess in what manner,) when any danger was
nigh; or pointed out what they ought to undertake. Yet the men who
laid claim to this privilege, out of the order of nature, insisted,
that it was the reward or consequence of superior temperance and
piety. But the present workers of wonders are not raised above
their fellows by superior temperance or sanctity. They do not cure
for the love of God, but money. These are the priests of quackery,
though it be true they have not the convenient expedient of selling
masses for souls in purgatory, nor churches, where they can display
crutches, and models of limbs made sound by a touch or a word.

I am not conversant with the technical terms, nor initiated into
the arcana, therefore I may speak improperly; but it is clear, that
men who will not conform to the law of reason, and earn a
subsistence in an honest way, by degrees, are very fortunate in
becoming acquainted with such obliging spirits. We cannot, indeed,
give them credit for either great sagacity or goodness, else they
would have chosen more noble instruments, when they wished to show
themselves the benevolent friends of man.

It is, however, little short of blasphemy to pretend to such power.

>From the whole tenor of the dispensations of Providence, it appears
evident to sober reason, that certain vices produce certain
effects: and can any one so grossly insult the wisdom of God, as to
suppose, that a miracle will be allowed to disturb his general
laws, to restore to health the intemperate and vicious, merely to
enable them to pursue the same course with impunity? Be whole, and
sin no more, said Jesus. And are greater miracles to be performed
by those who do not follow his footsteps, who healed the body to
reach the mind?

The mentioning of the name of Christ, after such vile impostors may
displease some of my readers--I respect their warmth; but let them
not forget, that the followers of these delusions bear his name,
and profess to be the disciples of him, who said, by their works we
should know who were the children of God or the servants of sin. I
allow that it is easier to touch the body of a saint, or to be
magnetised, than to restrain our appetites or govern our passions;
but health of body or mind can only be recovered by these means, or
we make the Supreme Judge partial and revengeful.

Is he a man, that he should change, or punish out of resentment?
He--the common father, wounds but to heal, says reason, and our
irregularities producing certain consequences, we are forcibly
shown the nature of vice; that thus learning to know good from
evil, by experience, we may hate one and love the other, in
proportion to the wisdom which we attain. The poison contains the
antidote; and we either reform our evil habits, and cease to sin
against our own bodies, to use the forcible language of scripture,
or a premature death, the punishment of sin, snaps the thread of

Here an awful stop is put to our inquiries. But, why should I
conceal my sentiments? Considering the attributes of God, I
believe, that whatever punishment may follow, will tend, like the
anguish of disease, to show the malignity of vice, for the purpose
of reformation. Positive punishment appears so contrary to the
nature of God, discoverable in all his works, and in our own
reason, that I could sooner believe that the Deity paid no
attention to the conduct of men, than that he punished without the
benevolent design of reforming.

To suppose only, that an all-wise and powerful Being, as good as he
is great, should create a being, foreseeing, that after fifty or
sixty years of feverish existence, it would be plunged into never
ending woe--is blasphemy. On what will the worm feed that is never
to die? On folly, on ignorance, say ye--I should blush indignantly
at drawing the natural conclusion, could I insert it, and wish to
withdraw myself from the wing of my God! On such a supposition, I
speak with reverence, he would be a consuming fire. We should
wish, though vainly, to fly from his presence when fear absorbed
love, and darkness involved all his counsels.

I know that many devout people boast of submitting to the Will of
God blindly, as to an arbitrary sceptre or rod, on the same
principle as the Indians worship the devil. In other words, like
people in the common concerns of life, they do homage to power, and
cringe under the foot that can crush them. Rational religion, on
the contrary, is a submission to the will of a being so perfectly
wise, that all he wills must be directed by the proper motive--must
be reasonable.

And, if thus we respect God, can we give credit to the mysterious
insinuations which insult his laws? Can we believe, though it
should stare us in the face, that he would work a miracle to
authorize confusion by sanctioning an error? Yet we must either
allow these impious conclusions, or treat with contempt every
promise to restore health to a diseased body by supernatural means,
or to foretell, the incidents that can only be foreseen by God.


Another instance of that feminine weakness of character, often
produced by a confined education, is a romantic twist of the mind,
which has been very properly termed SENTIMENTAL.

Women, subjected by ignorance to their sensations, and only taught
to look for happiness in love, refine on sensual feelings, and
adopt metaphysical notions respecting that passion, which lead them
shamefully to neglect the duties of life, and frequently in the
midst of these sublime refinements they plunge into actual vice.

These are the women who are amused by the reveries of the stupid
novelists, who, knowing little of human nature, work up stale
tales, and describe meretricious scenes, all retailed in a
sentimental jargon, which equally tend to corrupt the taste, and
draw the heart aside from its daily duties. I do not mention the
understanding, because never having been exercised, its slumbering
energies rest inactive, like the lurking particles of fire which
are supposed universally to pervade matter.

Females, in fact, denied all political privileges, and not allowed,
as married women, excepting in criminal cases, a civil existence,
have their attention naturally drawn from the interest of the whole
community to that of the minute parts, though the private duty of
any member of society must be very imperfectly performed, when not
connected with the general good. The mighty business of female
life is to please, and, restrained from entering into more
important concerns by political and civil oppression, sentiments
become events, and reflection deepens what it should, and would
have effaced, if the understanding had been allowed to take a wider

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; besides, even the productions that are only addressed to
the imagination, raise the reader a little above the gross
gratification of appetites, to which the mind has not given a shade
of delicacy.

This observation is the result of experience; for I have known
several notable women, and one in particular, who was a very good
woman--as good as such a narrow mind would allow her to be, who
took care that her daughters (three in number) should never see a
novel. As she was a woman of fortune and fashion, they had various
masters to attend them, and a sort of menial governess to watch
their footsteps. From their masters they learned how tables,
chairs, etc. were called in French and Italian; but as the few
books thrown in their way were far above their capacities, or
devotional, they neither acquired ideas nor sentiments, and passed
their time, when not compelled to repeat WORDS, in dressing,
quarrelling with each other, or conversing with their maids by
stealth, till they were brought into company as marriageable.

Their mother, a widow, was busy in the mean time in keeping up her
connexions, as she termed a numerous acquaintance lest her girls
should want a proper introduction into the great world. And these
young ladies, with minds vulgar in every sense of the word, and
spoiled tempers, entered life puffed up with notions of their own
consequence, and looking down with contempt on those who could not
vie with them in dress and parade.

With respect to love, nature, or their nurses, had taken care to
teach them the physical meaning of the word; and, as they had few
topics of conversation, and fewer refinements of sentiment, they
expressed their gross wishes not in very delicate phrases, when
they spoke freely, talking of matrimony.

Could these girls have been injured by the perusal of novels? I
almost forgot a shade in the character of one of them; she affected
a simplicity bordering on folly, and with a simper would utter the
most immodest remarks and questions, the full meaning of which she
had learned whilst secluded from the world, and afraid to speak in
her mother's presence, who governed with a high hand; they were
all educated, as she prided herself, in a most exemplary manner;
and read their chapters and psalms before breakfast, never touching
a silly novel.

This is only one instance; but I recollect many other women who,
not led by degrees to proper studies, and not permitted to choose
for themselves, have indeed been overgrown children; or have
obtained, by mixing in the world, a little of what is termed common
sense; that is, a distinct manner of seeing common occurrences, as
they stand detached: but what deserves the name of intellect, the
power of gaining general or abstract ideas, or even intermediate
ones, was out of the question. Their minds were quiescent, and
when they were not roused by sensible objects and employments of
that kind, they were low-spirited, would cry, or go to sleep.

When, therefore, I advise my sex not to read such flimsy works, it
is to induce them to read something superior; for I coincide in
opinion with a sagacious man, who, having a daughter and niece
under his care, pursued a very different plan with each.

The niece, who had considerable abilities, had, before she was left
to his guardianship, been indulged in desultory reading. Her he
endeavoured to lead, and did lead, to history and moral essays; but
his daughter whom a fond weak mother had indulged, and who
consequently was averse to every thing like application, he allowed
to read novels; and used to justify his conduct by saying, that if
she ever attained a relish for reading them, he should have some
foundation to work upon; and that erroneous opinions were better
than none at all.

In fact, the female mind has been so totally neglected, that
knowledge was only to be acquired from this muddy source, till from
reading novels some women of superior talents learned to despise

The best method, I believe, that can be adopted to correct a
fondness for novels is to ridicule them; not indiscriminately, for
then it would have little effect; but, if a judicious person, with
some turn for humour, would read several to a young girl, and point
out, both by tones and apt comparisons with pathetic incidents and
heroic characters in history, how foolishly and ridiculously they
caricatured human nature, just opinions might be substituted
instead of romantic sentiments.

In one respect, however, the majority of both sexes resemble, and
equally show a want of taste and modesty. Ignorant women, forced
to be chaste to preserve their reputation, allow their imagination
to revel in the unnatural and meretricious scenes sketched by the
novel writers of the day, slighting as insipid the sober dignity
and matronly grace of history,* whilst men carry the same vitiated
taste into life, and fly for amusement to the wanton, from the
unsophisticated charms of virtue, and the grave respectability of

(*Footnote. I am not now alluding to that superiority of mind
which leads to the creation of ideal beauty, when life surveyed
with a penetrating eye, appears a tragi-comedy, in which little can
be seen to satisfy the heart without the help of fancy.)

Besides, the reading of novels makes women, and particularly ladies
of fashion, very fond of using strong expressions and superlatives
in conversation; and, though the dissipated artificial life which
they lead prevents their cherishing any strong legitimate passion,
the language of passion in affected tones slips for ever from their
glib tongues, and every trifle produces those phosphoric bursts
which only mimick in the dark the flame of passion.


Ignorance and the mistaken cunning that nature sharpens in weak
heads, as a principle of self-preservation, render women very fond
of dress, and produce all the vanity which such a fondness may
naturally be expected to generate, to the exclusion of emulation
and magnanimity.

I agree with Rousseau, that the physical part of the art of
pleasing consists in ornaments, and for that very reason I should
guard girls against the contagious fondness for dress so common to
weak women, that they may not rest in the physical part. Yet, weak
are the women who imagine that they can long please without the aid
of the mind; or, in other words, without the moral art of pleasing.
But the moral art, if it be not a profanation to use the word art,
when alluding to the grace which is an effect of virtue, and not
the motive of action, is never to be found with ignorance; the
sportiveness of innocence, so pleasing to refined libertines of
both sexes, is widely different in its essence from this superior

A strong inclination for external ornaments ever appears in
barbarous states, only the men not the women adorn themselves; for
where women are allowed to be so far on a level with men, society
has advanced at least one step in civilization.

The attention to dress, therefore, which has been thought a sexual
propensity, I think natural to mankind. But I ought to express
myself with more precision. When the mind is not sufficiently
opened to take pleasure in reflection, the body will be adorned
with sedulous care; and ambition will appear in tattooing or
painting it.

So far is the first inclination carried, that even the hellish yoke
of slavery cannot stifle the savage desire of admiration which the
black heroes inherit from both their parents, for all the
hardly-earned savings of a slave are commonly expended in a little
tawdry finery. And I have seldom known a good male or female
servant that was not particularly fond of dress. Their clothes
were their riches; and I argue from analogy, that the fondness for
dress, so extravagant in females, arises from the same cause--want
of cultivation of mind. When men meet they converse about
business, politics, or literature; but, says Swift, "how naturally
do women apply their hands to each others lappets and ruffles."
And very natural it is--for they have not any business to interest
them, have not a taste for literature, and they find politics dry,
because they have not acquired a love for mankind by turning their
thoughts to the grand pursuits that exalt the human race and
promote general happiness.

Besides, various are the paths to power and fame, which by accident
or choice men pursue, and though they jostle against each other,
for men of the same profession are seldom friends, yet there is a
much greater number of their fellow-creatures with whom they never
clash. But women are very differently situated with respect to
each other--for they are all rivals.

Before marriage it is their business to please men; and after, with
a few exceptions, they follow the same scent, with all the
persevering pertinacity of instinct. Even virtuous women never
forget their sex in company, for they are for ever trying to make
themselves AGREEABLE. A female beauty and a male wit, appear to be
equally anxious to draw the attention of the company to themselves;
and the animosity of contemporary wits is proverbial.

Is it then surprising, that when the sole ambition of woman centres
in beauty, and interest gives vanity additional force, perpetual
rivalships should ensue? They are all running the same race, and
would rise above the virtue of mortals if they did not view each
other with a suspicious and even envious eye.

An immoderate fondness for dress, for pleasure and for sway, are
the passions of savages; the passions that occupy those uncivilized
beings who have not yet extended the dominion of the mind, or even
learned to think with the energy necessary to concatenate that
abstract train of thought which produces principles. And that
women, from their education and the present state of civilized
life, are in the same condition, cannot, I think, be controverted.
To laugh at them then, or satirize the follies of a being who is
never to be allowed to act freely from the light of her own reason,
is as absurd as cruel; for that they who are taught blindly to obey
authority, will endeavour cunningly to elude it, is most natural
and certain.

Yet let it be proved, that they ought to obey man implicitly, and I
shall immediately agree that it is woman's duty to cultivate a
fondness for dress, in order to please, and a propensity to cunning
for her own preservation.

The virtues, however, which are supported by ignorance, must ever
be wavering--the house built on sand could not endure a storm. It
is almost unnecessary to draw the inference. If women are to be
made virtuous by authority, which is a contradiction in terms, let
them be immured in seraglios and watched with a jealous eye. Fear
not that the iron will enter into their souls--for the souls that
can bear such treatment are made of yielding materials, just
animated enough to give life to the body.

"Matter too soft a lasting mark to bear,
And best distinguish'd by black, brown, or fair."

The most cruel wounds will of course soon heal, and they may still
people the world, and dress to please man--all the purposes which
certain celebrated writers have allowed that they were created to


Women are supposed to possess more sensibility, and even humanity,
than men, and their strong attachments and instantaneous emotions
of compassion are given as proofs; but the clinging affection of
ignorance has seldom any thing noble in it, and may mostly be
resolved into selfishness, as well as the affection of children and
brutes. I have known many weak women whose sensibility was
entirely engrossed by their husbands; and as for their humanity, it
was very faint indeed, or rather it was only a transient emotion of
compassion, "Humanity does not consist in a squeamish ear," says
an eminent orator. "It belongs to the mind as well as the nerves."

But this kind of exclusive affection, though it degrade the
individual, should not be brought forward as a proof of the
inferiority of the sex, because it is the natural consequence of
confined views: for even women of superior sense, having their
attention turned to little employments, and private plans, rarely
rise to heroism, unless when spurred on by love; and love as an
heroic passion, like genius, appears but once in an age. I
therefore agree with the moralist who asserts, "that women have
seldom so much generosity as men;" and that their narrow
affections, to which justice and humanity are often sacrificed,
render the sex apparently inferior, especially as they are commonly
inspired by men; but I contend, that the heart would expand as the
understanding gained strength, if women were not depressed from
their cradles.

I know that a little sensibility and great weakness will produce a
strong sexual attachment, and that reason must cement friendship;
consequently I allow, that more friendship is to be found in the
male than the female world, and that men have a higher sense of
justice. The exclusive affections of women seem indeed to resemble
Cato's most unjust love for his country. He wished to crush
Carthage, not to save Rome, but to promote its vain glory; and in
general, it is to similar principles that humanity is sacrificed,
for genuine duties support each other.

Besides, how can women be just or generous, when they are the
slaves of injustice.


As the rearing of children, that is, the laying a foundation of
sound health both of body and mind in the rising generation, has
justly been insisted on as the peculiar destination of woman, the
ignorance that incapacitates them must be contrary to the order of
things. And I contend, that their minds can take in much more, and
ought to do so, or they will never become sensible mothers. Many
men attend to the breeding of horses, and overlook the management
of the stable, who would, strange want of sense and feeling! think
themselves degraded by paying any attention to the nursery; yet,
how many children are absolutely murdered by the ignorance of
women! But when they escape, and are neither destroyed by
unnatural negligence nor blind fondness, how few are managed
properly with respect to the infant mind! So that to break the
spirit, allowed to become vicious at home, a child is sent to
school; and the methods taken there, which must be taken to keep a
number of children in order, scatter the seeds of almost every vice
in the soil thus forcibly torn up.

I have sometimes compared the struggles of these poor children who
ought never to have felt restraint, nor would, had they been always
held in with an even hand, to the despairing plunges of a spirited
filly, which I have seen breaking on a strand; its feet sinking
deeper and deeper in the sand every time it endeavoured to throw
its rider, till at last it sullenly submitted.

I have always found horses, an animal I am attached to, very
tractable when treated with humanity and steadiness, so that I
doubt whether the violent methods taken to break them, do not
essentially injure them; I am, however, certain that a child should
never be thus forcibly tamed after it has injudiciously been
allowed to run wild; for every violation of justice and reason, in
the treatment of children, weakens their reason. And, so early do
they catch a character, that the base of the moral character,
experience leads me to infer, is fixed before their seventh year,
the period during which women are allowed the sole management of
children. Afterwards it too often happens that half the business
of education is to correct, and very imperfectly is it done, if
done hastily, the faults, which they would never have acquired if
their mothers had had more understanding.

One striking instance of the folly of women must not be omitted.
The manner in which they treat servants in the presence of
children, permitting them to suppose, that they ought to wait on
them, and bear their humours. A child should always be made to
receive assistance from a man or woman as a favour; and, as the
first lesson of independence, they should practically be taught, by
the example of their mother, not to require that personal
attendance which it is an insult to humanity to require, when in
health; and instead of being led to assume airs of consequence, a
sense of their own weakness should first make them feel the natural
equality of man. Yet, how frequently have I indignantly heard
servants imperiously called to put children to bed, and sent away
again and again, because master or miss hung about mamma, to stay a
little longer. Thus made slavishly to attend the little idol, all
those most disgusting humours were exhibited which characterize a
spoiled child.

In short, speaking of the majority of mothers, they leave their
children entirely to the care of servants: or, because they are
their children, treat them as if they were little demi-gods, though
I have always observed, that the women who thus idolize their
children, seldom show common humanity to servants, or feel the
least tenderness for any children but their own.

It is, however, these exclusive affections, and an individual
manner of seeing things, produced by ignorance, which keep women
for ever at a stand, with respect to improvement, and make many of
them dedicate their lives to their children only to weaken their
bodies and spoil their tempers, frustrating also any plan of
education that a more rational father may adopt; for unless a
mother concurs, the father who restrains will ever be considered as
a tyrant.

But, fulfilling the duties of a mother, a woman with a sound
constitution, may still keep her person scrupulously neat, and
assist to maintain her family, if necessary, or by reading and
conversations with both sexes, indiscriminately, improve her mind.
For nature has so wisely ordered things, that did women suckle
their children, they would preserve their own health, and there
would be such an interval between the birth of each child, that we
should seldom see a house full of babes. And did they pursue a
plan of conduct, and not waste their time in following the
fashionable vagaries of dress, the management of their household
and children need not shut them out from literature, nor prevent
their attaching themselves to a science, with that steady eye which
strengthens the mind, or practising one of the fine arts that
cultivate the taste.

But, visiting to display finery, card playing, and balls, not to
mention the idle bustle of morning trifling, draw women from their
duty, to render them insignificant, to render them pleasing,
according to the present acceptation of the word, to every man, but
their husband. For a round of pleasures in which the affections
are not exercised, cannot be said to improve the understanding,
though it be erroneously called seeing the world; yet the heart is
rendered cold and averse to duty, by such a senseless intercourse,
which becomes necessary from habit, even when it has ceased to

But, till more equality be established in society, till ranks are
confounded and women freed, we shall not see that dignified
domestic happiness, the simple grandeur of which cannot be relished
by ignorant or vitiated minds; nor will the important task of
education ever be properly begun till the person of a woman is no
longer preferred to her mind. For it would be as wise to expect
corn from tares, or figs from thistles, as that a foolish ignorant
woman should be a good mother.


It is not necessary to inform the sagacious reader, now I enter on
my concluding reflections, that the discussion of this subject
merely consists in opening a few simple principles, and clearing
away the rubbish which obscured them. But, as all readers are not
sagacious, I must be allowed to add some explanatory remarks to
bring the subject home to reason--to that sluggish reason, which
supinely takes opinions on trust, and obstinately supports them to
spare itself the labour of thinking.

Moralists have unanimously agreed, that unless virtue be nursed by
liberty, it will never attain due strength--and what they say of
man I extend to mankind, insisting, that in all cases morals must
be fixed on immutable principles; and that the being cannot be
termed rational or virtuous, who obeys any authority but that of

To render women truly useful members of society, I argue, that they
should be led, by having their understandings cultivated on a large
scale, to acquire a rational affection for their country, founded
on knowledge, because it is obvious, that we are little interested
about what we do not understand. And to render this general
knowledge of due importance, I have endeavoured to show that
private duties are never properly fulfilled, unless the
understanding enlarges the heart; and that public virtue is only an
aggregate of private. But, the distinctions established in society
undermine both, by beating out the solid gold of virtue, till it
becomes only the tinsel-covering of vice; for, whilst wealth
renders a man more respectable than virtue, wealth will be sought
before virtue; and, whilst women's persons are caressed, when a
childish simper shows an absence of mind--the mind will lie fallow.
Yet, true voluptuousness must proceed from the mind--for what can
equal the sensations produced by mutual affection, supported by
mutual respect? What are the cold or feverish caresses of
appetite, but sin embracing death, compared with the modest
overflowings of a pure heart and exalted imagination? Yes, let me
tell the libertine of fancy when he despises understanding in
woman--that the mind, which he disregards, gives life to the
enthusiastic affection from which rapture, short-lived as it is,
alone can flow! And, that, without virtue, a sexual attachment
must expire, like a tallow candle in the socket, creating
intolerable disgust. To prove this, I need only observe, that men
who have wasted great part of their lives with women, and with whom
they have sought for pleasure with eager thirst, entertain the
meanest opinion of the sex. Virtue, true refiner of joy! if
foolish men were to fright thee from earth, in order to give loose
to all their appetites without a check--some sensual wight of taste
would scale the heavens to invite thee back, to give a zest to

That women at present are by ignorance rendered foolish or vicious,
is, I think, not to be disputed; and, that the most salutary
effects tending to improve mankind, might be expected from a
REVOLUTION in female manners, appears at least, with a face of
probability, to rise out of the observation. For as marriage has
been termed the parent of those endearing charities, which draw man
from the brutal herd, the corrupting intercourse that wealth,
idleness, and folly produce between the sexes, is more universally
injurious to morality, than all the other vices of mankind
collectively considered. To adulterous lust the most sacred duties
are sacrificed, because, before marriage, men, by a promiscuous
intimacy with women, learned to consider love as a selfish
gratification--learned to separate it not only from esteem, but
from the affection merely built on habit, which mixes a little
humanity with it. Justice and friendship are also set at defiance,
and that purity of taste is vitiated, which would naturally lead a
man to relish an artless display of affection, rather than affected
airs. But that noble simplicity of affection, which dares to
appear unadorned, has few attractions for the libertine, though it
be the charm, which, by cementing the matrimonial tie, secures to
the pledges of a warmer passion the necessary parental attention;
for children will never be properly educated till friendship
subsists between parents. Virtue flies from a house divided
against itself--and a whole legion of devils take up their
residence there.

The affection of husbands and wives cannot be pure when they have
so few sentiments in common, and when so little confidence is
established at home, as must be the case when their pursuits are so
different. That intimacy from which tenderness should flow, will
not, cannot subsist between the vicious.

Contending, therefore, that the sexual distinction, which men have
so warmly insisted upon, is arbitrary, I have dwelt on an
observation, that several sensible men, with whom I have conversed
on the subject, allowed to be well founded; and it is simply this,
that the little chastity to be found amongst men, and consequent
disregard of modesty, tend to degrade both sexes; and further, that
the modesty of women, characterized as such, will often be only the
artful veil of wantonness, instead of being the natural reflection
of purity, till modesty be universally respected.

>From the tyranny of man, I firmly believe, the greater number of
female follies proceed; and the cunning, which I allow, makes at
present a part of their character, I likewise have repeatedly
endeavoured to prove, is produced by oppression. 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 practised, 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, which Butler's
caricature of a dissenter brings before the imagination, shaped
their persons as well as their minds in the mould of prim
littleness. I speak collectively, for I know how many ornaments to
human nature have been enrolled amongst sectaries; yet, I assert,
that the same narrow prejudice for their sect, which women have for
their families, prevailed in the dissenting part of the community,
however worthy in other respects; and also that the same timid
prudence, or headstrong efforts, often disgraced the exertions of
both. Oppression thus formed many of the features of their
character perfectly to coincide with that of the oppressed half of
mankind; for 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.

Asserting the rights which women in common with men ought to
contend for, I have not attempted to extenuate their faults; but to
prove them to be the natural consequence of their education and
station in society. If so, it is reasonable to suppose, that they
will change their character, and correct their vices and follies,
when they are allowed to be free in a physical, moral, and civil

Let woman share the rights, and she will emulate the virtues of
man; for she must grow more perfect when emancipated, or justify
the authority that chains such a weak being to her duty. If the
latter, it will be expedient to open a fresh trade with Russia for
whips; a present which a father should always make to his
son-in-law on his wedding day, that a husband may keep his whole
family in order by the same means; and without any violation of
justice reign, wielding this sceptre, sole master of his house,
because he is the only being in it who has reason; the divine,
indefeasible, earthly sovereignty breathed into man by the Master
of the universe. Allowing this position, women have not any
inherent rights to claim; and, by the same rule their duties
vanish, for rights and duties are inseparable.

Be just then, O ye men of understanding! and mark not more severely
what women do amiss, than the vicious tricks of the horse or the
ass for whom ye provide provender, and allow her the privileges of
ignorance, to whom ye deny the rights of reason, or ye will be
worse than Egyptian task-masters, expecting virtue where nature has
not given understanding!

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