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June 2013  e-ISSN: 1857-1878  p-ISSN: 1857-8179

Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the
Rights of Woman as a Feminist Critique of
Male Definitions of Civilization
Mohamed Gariti

Sabrina Zerar

Research paper

Literature
Kewords:
Wollstonecraft, feminism, civilization, enlightenment, separatesphere ideology

Department of English
Mouloud MAMMERI University of Tizi-Ouzou, Algeria.
Department of English
Mouloud MAMMERI University of Tizi-Ouzou, Algeria.

Abstract
This paper seeks to demonstrate that Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is a feminist critique of male definitions of civilization. Civilization is the master word in her essay, and she exposes the vestiges of
“barbarism in European” societies or civilization because of the male-centered public sphere. Yet she is optimistic as to the possibility of salvaging civilization through a project of a future enlightened society propped by a rational political system and a rational morality based on a well-reflected educational system. This project proposes a revision of the enlightenment philosophers’ definition of education like that of J. J. Rousseau and Dr. Gregory and the ideological construction of femininity that runs counter to the project of building a new civilization. In parallel to the language of “folly” and “civilization,” she also deploys the language of prison, the clinic, and sexuality that Foucault has also amply documented. She is particularly harsh with those who seek to imprison women in their own bodies by urging them to care much more about personal accomplishment than the development of virtues that will ensure the immortality of their souls. Through her critique of male definitions of civilization, Wollstonecraft entered one of the professions, which until then was denied to women by the gender boundaries set by the ideology of separate spheres.

1. Introduction
Unlike Mary Wollstonecraft’s first essay, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was not written in response to a resented fellow British author but as a plea to the attention of “M.
Talleyrand-Périgord, late of Autun,” also an influential French political figure in the new regime, to express her disappointment that “the rights of women and national education” were not included in the newly approved French Constitution. In the preface addressed to Talleyrand, she explains that she “pleads for her sex – not for myself [and out of] affection for the whole human race.
(p.65)” She hopes that Talleyrand and some other “enlarged minds who formed your constitution” will accept to amend that constitution once they understand that educated women “would advance, instead of retarding the progress of those principles that give a substance to morality. (p.65)”
While recognizing that France was at the time in advance over other European nations in terms of knowledge she reminds Talleyrand that Revolutionary France remains behind England by not trying to change the sensually marked relationship between French women and men. The latter are remnants of a residual aristocratic ideology of gender relationship that stands as a flagrant contradiction to the emancipation project that legitimate the new French regime. In other words,
Wollstonecraft elevates rational morality for both women and men as the prerequisite for the realization of political ideals sustained by philosophical rationalism. It is implied that rational morality cannot be obtained without allowing women the right to exercise their reason and achieve that autonomy necessary for proper conduct in the domestic and public spheres. Everything in this
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Anglisticum Journal (IJLLIS) , Volume: 2 | Issue: 3 |

June 2013  e-ISSN: 1857-1878  p-ISSN: 1857-8179

Research paper

preface to Talleyrand reads as if Wollstonecraft had carried out her moral revolution at home in
Britain through her A Vindications of the Rights of Man standing ready to export her own feminist ideology across the channel. In the process, she…