Saturday, January 22, 2011

Should the Suppressed Insect Begin To Eat the Dominant Worm?

In “ A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” Mary Wollstonecraft is advocating for women’s rights and explaining why women should be considered equal within society. Her presentation of how to attain this equality was very intriguing. Much of her writing implies that women should become more masculine in order to be equal among men as women have the ability to reason just as well as men do; Wollstonecraft states, ““,,, all those who view them [women], with a philosophical eye must, I should think, wish with me, that they may every day grow more and more masculine…” (p. 103). Keeping in mind that Wollstonecraft wrote this piece in 1792, the thought of what it means to be “ more masculine” has become different in some societies over the years.

Wollstonecraft goes on to state that after women do exercise their reason and virtue in society , “… the virtue of man will be a worm- eaten by the insect whom he keeps under his feet” (107). It seems that, at times, her philosophy is wanting women to surpass men, by affecting the virtue of men, rather than be equal through performing masculine acts to show women’s capabilities as well as do “ a man’s” job better then even men can. This will result in “ the worm” being harmed by the “ the insect under his feet.”
Thus, if Wollstonecraft’s ideas that women should be “more masculine” and cause “ the worm to be eaten by the insect” were applied to present day societies, I wonder if the results would be dangerous.

The following is an example of women “ becoming more masculine” in their society on December 25th , 2010.
From : “New Year Brings Worries for Muslim Women”
By: SOUAD MEKHENNET Published: January 4, 2011

“Conflict in the Swat Valley and Waziristan region of Pakistan has displaced thousands of people, and reports of attacks are basically daily fare in the country. “You go out in the morning and pray that you will come back home again,” said Fayza. Troublingly, women have started to take an active part in the conflict. As the West celebrated Christmas on Dec. 25, a female suicide bomber attacked a food distribution point in the tribal region of Bajaur in northwest Pakistan, killing at least 46 people and wounding 105. “We are expecting more women who will play increasingly roles in attacks,” a senior Pakistani intelligence official said.”

Through these actions, women are seen to be performing a “masculine” job in society. However, is such an act of “masculinity” just seen as revenge or does it actually have a direct impact on equalizing the role of women by influencing the ”virtue of men”? Do you think that Mary Wollstonecraft’s ideas from 1792 are still applicable in today’s world? If not, how would you change the role to women in societies such as Swat Valley and Waziristan region from the New York Times article?


  1. This is an interesting case and it appears that Wollstonecraft's idea of women pushing into traditionally male dominated spheres - terrorism. The most intriguing part is that it is that very sexism that in a patriarchal society, no one ever expects women to act as a suicide bomber. In Chechnya the majority of suicide attacks have been carried out by women in a group known as the black widows. Reportedly killing themselves to avenge the death of the men in their lives:
    Still these women are killing innocent people, they disregard the human rights of others, because their rights have been violated and these actions only will continually escalate the situation. In the long run maybe women will be viewed as a viable threat to security the same way men are, so it will be one step closer to equality among the sexes.

  2. You bring up an interesting tension in Wollstonecraft’s writing She seems to renounce the importance of femininity and embrace more masculine characteristics, saying that women can have them just as much as men. However if you do this, aren’t you elevating the masculine over the feminine? Why then should there be equality between the genders? She seems to be undermining her point by arguing for it. Is this the only way women can achieve equal rights? Can women retain their feminine character and be justified in demanding equal treatment as men?

  3. I could not agree with Ben more here; Wollstonecraft's devaluation of the feminine realm in favor of a masculine one does not at all push for equal rights between genders. It instead makes masculine the ideal or the standard--something that, as history tells us, creates inequality in the first place. It places masculinity even further above femininity. While I have many of the same questions as Ben does above me, I also wonder if Wollstonecraft is merely writing as a product of her late 18th Century time period.

  4. Jon, thanks for the comment. It is scary to think that such actions of violence are been thought of as a means to equality among the sexes.

    Ben, I agree with your thoughts and those were the questions I had while I read as well. I agree with you that Wollstonecraft seems to elevate the masculine over the feminine which is very problematic when trying to gain equality between the sexes. Surpassing men is not the way of going about trying to achieve equality among sexes because that isn't actually achieving equality either. I am sure there are other ways for women to achieve equal rights while retaining their feminine character. We need to start with not keeping masculinity as the ideal of standard, as Rush said.

    Rush, I completely agree with you as well as Ben. Wollstonecraft's solution to the problem of the inequality among the sexes seems slightly counterproductive and ineffective now but it is important for us to keep in mind that she was writing in the 18th century like you said.


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