(selection in Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism)

from handout:

  1. What were some aspects of her background and prior occupations which prompted Wollstonecraft's beliefs about women's education?
  2. What was the legal status of British women at the time? What were married women permitted to do? What forms of education were available to women? What jobs were open to them? What were common beliefs about the level of exercise suitable for middle-class women?
  3. What aspect of recent philosophy and literature (Renaissance and 18th century) especially offended Wollstonecraft? Which authors does she single out, and on what grounds? How authoritative or influential would their works have been?
  4. Which of their pronouncements seem especially dangerous to her? What is her notion of the foundation of good behavior and character?
  5. Do you agree?
  6. Why does she feel the need to assert that the quality of virtue is the same in men and women?
  7. What is the chief source of an individual's education, according to Wollstonecraft, and how may this retard or promote progress?
  8. Based on your knowledge of the Enlightenment, how do you think Wollstonecraft's ideas were affected by contact with Enlightenment ideas of the time?
  9. What in her view is harmful about the codes of gallantry and flirtation (which she would have witnessed in the aristocratic families for whom she worked)?
  10. To women of what social strata might her strictures most apply?
  11. What do you make of her view that military officers and women of the upper classes resemble one another?
  12. What does she think is the practical limitation behind the assumption that women need not think, because their male relatives will guide and protect them?
  13. What seems meant by her definition of passion? What should form the basis of a good marriage?
  14. from handout:
  15. What are some additional topics treated in the selections on the handout?
  16. What changes in girls' activity does she wish?
  17. What are her arguments against a sexual double standard? What does she think of society's stern punishment of "fallen women"?
  18. Should women have sexual emotions? (a debatable point at the time) What ethical standard should be applied to men?
  19. What is wrong with consigning girls and women to needlework as a major occupation?
  20. How does she answer the argument that some women prefer dependency? The argument that a good woman accepts any wrong?
  21. What does she think is the true motive of romantic idealization of women?
  22. What is wrong, in her view, with the assumption that all women should have the same ideal character?
  23. What legal assumption does she refer to when she says the laws "make an absurd unit of a man and his wife"? What would have been the effect of assuming that man and wife were one person under the law?
  24. What political roles does she wish women to assume? Which professions or occupations? How long did it take for her desires to be fulfilled?
  25. What changes does she wish in women's access to occupations? How would such changes affect the nature of marriage?
  26. What double standard does she discern in assumptions about children's duties to their parents, and how does this affect women?
  27. What does she believe would be some advantages to co-education? (girls and boys were educated in separate schools)
  28. What are features of the tone and style of A Vindication? Which of these add to its effectiveness?
  29. If Christine De Pisan and Mary Wollstonecraft could be alive today, to which branches of modern feminism do you think each would be attracted?
  30. What are some ways in which the views of each reflect the priorities and ideals of their respective periods?
  31. Which of their views do you find most interesting or compelling?