Friday, May 30, 2008

Wollstonecraft: Truth is the same for man and woman

"I...deny the existence of sexual virtues," Wollstonecraft wrote. "For man and woman, truth, if I understand the meaning of the word, must be the same..." By "sexual virtues," she means any virtues assigned primarily to one sex or the other. She would be happy to learn that, in the United States today, there is general agreement that we should not have "double standards" of virtue for men and women, especially in areas such as education, career, athletics, sexual behavior, and child rearing.

But on another point of Wollstonecraft's, there is less agreement. She continued: "I do earnestly wish to see the distinction of sex confounded in society..." Many people, including feminists, do not want to promote androgyny for everyone or the erasure of differences between the sexes and genders. Some believe that there are biological differences between males and females, the importance of which should not be discounted; others simply feel that differences in gender performance make the world a more interesting place.

Yet it is hard to see how these two claims can be separated from each other. How can one make the former claim that men and women are alike in all morally relevant respects without also making the latter claim that there should be no social distinction between them?

Mary Wollstonecraft. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. (1792) Chapter 3: The Same Subject Continued, and Chapter 4: Observations on the State of Degradation to Which Woman Is Reduced by Various Causes.

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