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

Mohamed Gariti


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.

Kewords: Wollstonecraft, feminism, civilization, enlightenment, separate-sphere ideology.

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