Friday, 12 December 2008

Friday Feminist - Mary Wollstonecraft

Cross posted

It has long since occurred to me, that advice respecting behaviour, and all the various modes of preserving a good reputation, which have been so strenuously inculcated on the female world, were specious poisons, that incrusting morality eat away the substance. And, that this measuring of shadows produced a false calculation, because their length depends so much on the height of the sun, and other adventitious circumstances.

From whence arises the easy fallacious behaviour of a courtier? From this situation, undoubtedly: for standing in need of dependents, he is obliged to learn the art of denying without giving offence, and, of evasively feeding hope with the chameleon's food; thus does politeness sport with truth, and eating away the sincerity and humanity natural to man, produce the fine gentleman.

Women in the same way acquire, from a supposed necessity, an equally artificial mode of behaviour. Yet truth is not with impunity to be sported with, for the practised dissembler, at last, becomes the dupe of his own arts, loses that sagacity which has been justly termed common sense; namely, a quick perception of common truths: which are constantly received as such by the unsophisticated mind, though it might not have had sufficient energy to discover them itself, when obscured by local prejudices. The greater number of people take their opinions on trust, to avoid the trouble of exercising their own minds, and these indolent beings naturally adhere to the letter, rather than the spirit of a law, divine or human. "Women," says some author, I cannot recollect who, "mind not what only heaven sees." Why, indeed should they? it is the eye of man that they have been taught to dread - and if they can lull their Argus to sleep, they seldom think of heaven or themselves, because their reputation is safe; and it is reputation not chastity and all its fair train, that they are employed to keep free from spot, not as a virtue, but to preserve their station in the world.

Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792

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