What is it that separates and elevates human beings from the rest of the animal world? It is the ability to logically explain an action, decision, or conviction; it is the capacity to reason. As Rousseau states, “Only reason teaches us good from evil” (Wollstonecraft 238). According to him, as well as countless other intellectuals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, through the exercise of reason men become moral and political agents. Of course, this Enlightenment theory does not include women. Rousseau declares his opinion of the female, “O how lovely is her ignorance!” (253) The woman is the man's fantasy, the man's student, the man's plaything. Controlled, contained, and defined by the man, the woman is inferior to him and thus, not human.
Eighteenth century writer and mother of female liberalism, Mary Wollstonecraft refutes this supposedly natural state of man being superior to woman in her treatise, "A Vindication of The Rights of Woman":
It is farce to call any being virtuous whose virtues
do not result from the exercise of reason... This was
Rousseau's opinion respecting men: I extend it to
women....till the manners of the time are changed...it
may be impossible to convince [women]that the illegitimate
power, which they obtain, by degrading themselves, is
a curse, and that they must return to nature and equality
She proclaims the female to be equally capable of reason as the male. In order for the female to recognize and utilize this capability, society's males and females must alter their prejudicial definition of the feminine.
Wollstonecraft addresses the fema...
... middle of paper ...
...cquire virtues which they may call their own, for how can a rational being be ennobled by any thing that is not obtained by its own exertions?” (254) Indeed, it is only when the woman may call her skill, her experience, or her truth, all derived from reason, her own that she shall be independent. As Rossetti states, “Only my secret's mine...” (6). And, only when the societal norms change, shall the keeping of such a secret be by choice and not necessity.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. Vindication of the Rights of Women. The Longman
Anthology of British Literature. Vol 2A. Ed. David Damrosch. 2nd ed.
London: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers, 2003. 227-255.
Rossetti, Christina. “Winter: My Secret.” The Longman Anthology of British
Literature. Vol. 2B. Ed. David Damrosch. 2nd ed. London: Addison-Wesley
Educational Publishers, 2003. 1617.
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