Excerpt from "A Vindication of the Rights of Women"

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Excerpt from "A Vindication of the Rights of Women"


How women should display their sense and knowledge (they should not display it) in order to not offend men and what that actually reveals about men and the excusible origin of their superiority


Wollstonecraft writes in response to Dr. John Gregory's A Father's Legacy to His Daughters and the advice that he gives to young women. He instructs that if women possess sense or knowledge, they should not express or reveal either, especially to men. If a woman displayed her intelligence, it would suggest that she is superior to others, and that notion would threaten the males' dominance. 

Wollstonecraft dissects the logic behind the assertion. She reveals that advising women to act in a particular way to protect men actually means that this masculine dominance is based purely on the basis of sex; they inherently do not possess any intellectual superiority or other intrinsic and rational means for supremacy.


Mary Wollstonecraft


Wollstonecraft, Mary. “A Vindication of the Rights of Women.” Northanger Abbey Authoritative Text, Backgrounds, Criticism, Jane Austen, edited by Susan Fraiman, W. W. Norton, 2004, p. 224.


W. W. Norton




Sarah Sorme


Northanger Abbey



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If men of real merit, as he afterwards observes, be superior to this meanness, where is the necessity that the behaviour of the whole sex should be modulated to please fools, or men, who having little claim to respect as individuals, choose to keep close in their phalanx. Men, indeed, who insist on their common superiority, having only this sexual superiority, are certainly very excusable.


Mary Wollstonecraft, “Excerpt from "A Vindication of the Rights of Women",” Enlightenmens, accessed January 28, 2023, http://enlightenmens.lmc.gatech.edu/items/show/959.

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