One of the few times Mary Wollstonecraft advocates an actual legal right for women in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is when she says that a man who seduces a woman must be “legally obliged to maintain the woman and her children … And this law should remain in force as long as the weakness of women caused the word seduction to be used as an excuse for their frailty and want of principle” (71). This is an odd moment in the text, especially as it is unclear that there ever could be a time when the word seduction will cease to be used as an excuse. Above all, it highlights the conflict between expediency and the slow conversion of society which Wollstonecraft is trying to balance as she defines the proper state of independence for women as reasoned thought following first principles. In the case of ruined women or women who have lost their honour, Wollstonecraft feels such pity and compassion for their situation that she believes these women must be helped. But in other cases she seems strangely acceptant of society's inertia.
[...] an ideal, which requires only the sanction of society or if it is a legal right which must ultimately have political force. So she tries to split the question and advocates a legal right, for instance, to allow women without means to receive aid if they have been seduced and cast out of society. The rest of womankind is oppressed by society (though not to the same degree) and must wait for society to change before they can enjoy their natural right. [...]
[...] Of course any legal measures which would be enacted would require the consent of society or at the very least, the consent of power. The intimate way in which society and government law are bound up makes it almost impossible for her hold to one approach as a means for change, consequently her one ideal of woman's right to independence is split up and prioritized and presented in different ways to her manifold audience. Power, according to Wollstonecraft, seeks blind obedience. [...]
[...] And Wollstonecraft is keenly aware of how powerful an upbringing in society is, for she believes that people are educated a great degree, by the opinions and manners of the society they live (20). According to her people are most influenced by opinions and manners, not by the reasoned thinking of society but by its axioms. She goes on to say that until society is “differently constituted, much cannot be expected from education” (20). The interesting thing is that society is differently constituted. [...]
[...] This creates a strange situation in which ruined women who have been cast off from society have a right to be pitied whereas women who remain in the deceptive clutches of society are still considered safe in some sense. Even Wollstonecraft seems ambivalent towards the women who remain in the clutches of society (though they are no less seduced than the women who have been cast off). For instance, she describes how she once knew a “woman of fashion” who would “boast of her want of appetite as a proof of delicacy that extended to, or, perhaps arose from, her exquisite sensibility: for it is difficult to render intelligible such ridiculous jargon” (43). [...]
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