A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Rhetoric and style

In attempting to navigate the cultural expectations of female writers and the generic conventions of political and philosophical discourse, Wollstonecraft, as she does throughout her oeuvre, constructs a unique blend of masculine and feminine styles in the Rights of Woman.[61] She utilises the language of philosophy, referring to her work as a "treatise" with "arguments" and "principles".[61] However, Wollstonecraft also uses a personal tone, employing "I" and "you", dashes and exclamation marks, and autobiographical references to create a distinctly feminine voice in the text.[9] The Rights of Woman further hybridizes its genre by weaving together elements of the conduct book, the short essay, and the novel, genres often associated with women, while at the same time claiming that these genres could be used to discuss philosophical topics such as rights.[62]

Although Wollstonecraft argues against excessive sensibility, the rhetoric of the Rights of Woman is at times heated and attempts to provoke the reader. Many of the most emotional comments in the book are directed at Rousseau. For example, after excerpting a long passage from Emile (1762), Wollstonecraft pithily states, "I shall make no other comments on this ingenious passage, than just to observe, that it is the philosophy of lasciviousness."[63] A mere page later, after indicting Rousseau's plan for female education, she writes "I must relieve myself by drawing another picture."[64] These terse exclamations are meant to draw the reader to her side of the argument (it is assumed that the reader will agree with them). While she claims to write in a plain style so that her ideas will reach the broadest possible audience,[65] she actually combines the plain, rational language of the political treatise with the poetic, passionate language of sensibility to demonstrate that one can combine rationality and sensibility in the same self.[66] Wollstonecraft defends her positions not only with reasoned argument but also with ardent rhetoric.

In her efforts to vividly describe the condition of women within society, Wollstonecraft employs several different analogies.[67] She often compares women to slaves, arguing that their ignorance and powerlessness places them in that position. But at the same time, she also compares them to "capricious tyrants" who use cunning and deceit to manipulate the men around them. At one point, she reasons that a woman can become either a slave or tyrant, which she describes as two sides of the same coin.[68] Wollstonecraft also compares women to soldiers; like military men, they are valued only for their appearance. And like the rich, women's "softness" has "debased mankind".[69]

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