Research Proposal: Vindication of the Rights of Women Preface

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¶ … Vindication of the Rights of Women

Preface to a Vindication of the Rights of Women: A Reflection of Conformity and Rebellion in the Times of Mary Wollstonecraft

From psychology to the physical sciences, the contributions of women to areas of study generally reserved for men have received a great deal of attention as of late. This is primarily because women's contributions to these areas of study have been traditionally ignored or undervalued simply because of the male-dominated societies that characterized most of the world before the twentieth century. In English literature, however, the issue is somewhat more complex. Women have been contributing to literature since its inception. Although they were certainly viewed with suspicion, and had to earn their place in the popular literature of their day, women writers have been recognized long before women in a variety of other occupations. For instance, great female writers Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Mary Shelley, the Bronte sisters, and Jane Austen have long received recognition as among the great contributors to literature, though their works certainly received less attention than male contemporaries Percy Shelley, William Wordsworth, Sir Walter Scott, and the like. During the era of their publication, these female writers were received with trepidation. Because they were women, critics often pondered the appropriateness of the subjects upon which they wrote. Today, women writers are studied not only for their contributions to literary theory, but also for the implications that they make about the role of women. Scholars often examine these works to determine what the woman is implying about her role in society, whether she is advocating her society's traditional role of women, being more progressive in advocating a more liberal role, or calling for some sort of combination of the two. Mary Wollstonecraft's "A Vindication of the Rights of Women," has been met with this traditional and contemporary reception all the more because she is not only a female writer, but also one who undertook these issues not simply through fiction and poetry, but directly. The following thesis is an in-depth examination of this traditional reception to works with female authorship. In this thesis, I study the issues of conformity and rebellion in the times of Mary Wollstonecraft. In order to do this, I examine the role of women in Wollstonecraft's time, as well as the role of Wollstonecraft and her contemporaries. In order to assess this combination of conformity and rebellion, I examine Wollstonecraft's historical situation, as well as scholarly opinion on the subject.

Studying the mixture of conformity and rebellion in Wollstonecraft's work is significant both for understanding Wollstonecraft's monumental book and trends in women's studies. Understanding Wollstonecraft's disposition, and the mixture of conformity and rebellion in her own life, allows scholars to interpret her essay more completely. Thus, her actions allow the readers of "A Vindication of the Rights of Women," to determine what kind of practical application for which the book is calling. While rebellion suggests the progression of women's position, conformity implies that Wollstonecraft is really comfortable with some aspects of women's roles during her time. While some may suggest that this contradicts her written values in "A Vindication of the Rights of Women," and identifies her as one who is not serious about the reforms that she proclaims, it actually suggests that Wollstonecraft is all the more revolutionary. Unlike militants, who call for extreme revolution that is impractical, in addition to forcing those who enjoy traditional roles to embrace non-traditional roles, the mixture of conformity and rebellion in Wollstonecraft's essay suggests that she is calling for a revolution that is both practical and democratic.

In addition to allowing a more accurate interpretation of Wollstonecraft's essay, the study of conformity and rebellion in Wollstonecraft's time has profound implications for women's studies. Throughout time, women's movements have punctuated history. Women have campaigned for equal rights, voting rights, reproductive rights, career rights, and even the right to devote their energy to other issues while their husbands or partners complete half of the housework. Understanding the mixture of conformity and rebellion in Wollstonecraft's time, book, and personal life allow students of women's studies to understand why women's movements are characterized both by those who wholly accept and campaign for changes, and those who accept traditional roles. While most women have wanted the rights advocated by women's movements, some have also accepted the traditional role. Some have even rejected the progressive rights that women are attempting to gain. For instance, while women have campaigned tirelessly for equal opportunity employment and equal pay, many women have found fulfillment in devoting their time to working within the home as mothers. In addition, some women were opposed to women's voting rights in the United States before those rights were granted, and many women around the world are against reproductive rights in the form of abortion and even birth control. Thus, the mixture of conformity and rebellion expressed during the time of Wollstonecraft can help students of women's issues make sense of these vast responses to women's progressive attitudes and the campaigning for women's rights. By studying conformity and rebellion in Wollstonecraft's time, scholars can have a better understanding of how traditional roles and the desire for progressive roles work together in order to form women's opinions of current movements. Furthermore, they allow students of women's studies to understand that the vast degree of responses elicited by times of progression are universal to a variety of women's movements. This allows these scholars to compare responses across movements in order to understand this phenomenon better. Thus, the study undertaken in this thesis is vastly important both to English literature and the interpretation of Mary Wollstonecraft's "A Vindication of the Rights of Women," as well as women's studies, as it allows scholars to understand how the mixture of conformity and rebellion during Mary Wollstonecraft's time affects the essay's interpretation, as well as trends in women's movements.

In the rationale and methodology preface of the thesis, I present my interpretation of Wollstonecraft's work for her society, as well as its lasting contribution to English literature. Most importantly, I discuss the intent of the combination of conformity and rebellion in her work. Because she was knowledgeable of her role as a woman, Wollstonecraft was crafty in creating her argument. She wrote using a great deal of conformity, not because she believed in such principals, but because she wanted her argument to be heard in society, and she knew that an extreme argument would not stand that chance. Furthermore, this first chapter examines the contrast between Wollstonecraft's private and public life. Because she was aware of her position in public life, she often lived contradictions when both features of her life are compared. For instance, I remark that many parts of Wollstonecraft's personal life did not echo the conformity she espoused publicly. This is another example of how Wollstonecraft made a crafty argument by living a public life that would strengthen her position. Thus, in the rationale and methodology preface of my thesis, I comment on the remarkable nature of Wollstonecraft's ability to live a life of crafty conformity and rebellion.

The review of literature in my thesis places my work in the scope of other work that has been done on the subject. The scholarly works that I consider discuss both Wollstonecraft's life, as well as "A Vindication of the Rights of Women." These works include Vivien Jones' essay regarding Wollstonecraft's disapproval with John Gregory's treatment of women, Jurgey Habermas' monumental social and political work defining the public and private spheres, and Sylvana Tomasell's application of Habermas' theory to women by calling the domestic sphere the private sphere. Finally, I explore Anna Letitia Barbauld's work, which is contemporary with Wollstonecraft's, and her maturation from a woman of conformity to that of rebellion. My thesis fits into this literature review in that it combines the two types of research, looking at Mary Wollstonecraft's life and her essay, "A Vindication of the Rights of Women," in terms of the public and the private sphere. By synthesizing these two types of research, I hope to invoke a look at Wollstonecraft's work and life in a different way, not simply as a major mover in the campaign for women's rights, but also as a cunning essayist with a great knowledge of the political and social environment. In fact, my thesis also suggests that she is a social and political mover in her own right.

The next three chapters contain the thesis that continues to discuss the relationship between conformity and rebellion in the times of Mary Wollstonecraft, in addition to promoting Wollstonecraft as an important person in both the history of the women's movement and English literature. In the first chapter of my thesis, I set the scene for the discussion that follows. Here, I lay out the concepts and works that are crucial to the following argument. First, I discuss Wollstonecraft's "A Vindication of the Rights of Women," and its revolutionary ideas. I begin by describing Wollstonecraft's purpose in penning… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Vindication of the Rights of Women Preface.  (2008, December 21).  Retrieved December 9, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/vindication-rights-women-preface/73925

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