Study Guide

A History of Discrimination

Chapter 4 analyzes some of the causes that lead to women’s inferior state in society. First, Wollstonecraft points out that women have always been treated as either slaves or despots, and neither situation is conducive to reason. Second, pleasure is exalted as the business of women’s lives, and while society continues to hold this view, women will continue to be weak. Third, women are praised and rewarded (usually by acquiring a husband) for being beautiful and useless. With nothing solid to occupy their minds, they occupy themselves with mindless coquetteries and exchange their liberty, health, and virtue for the sake of a man who provides them with physical sustenance but little else.

Wollstonecraft laments the fact that men spend their youth in preparing for and advancing in a profession, but women spend their time exciting their emotions, for this is the chief faculty for which they are awarded. This same focus on the emotions will unfit women for motherhood, as it disposes them to tantrums and to indulging their children and spoiling them. Further, for women who do not have husbands to meet their daily financial needs, their complete lack of training will lead them to become burdens on their relatives or even prostitutes, who further degrade society and the family bond.