Species Fellowship: Women and Animals in Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

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754 Schermerhorn Ext.

* Madeleine Dobie, Associate Professor of French, will comment. * In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), Mary Wollstonecraft draws from the language of eighteenth-century natural history to argue for the equality of women. Wollstonecraft resorts to a new understanding of “species” as a principle of classification which sharply distinguishes humans from animals. Using “species,” she vehemently rejects the kind of education that has taught women to behave, in her own words, like spaniels and parrots. This paper examines how Wollstonecraft borrows the term “species” from natural history in order to disassociate women from animals. It argues that Wollstonecraft’s famous call for “a revolution in female manners” should also be understood as the re-classification of woman as human. Yet in arguing women into the human species, Wollstonecraft must also define the limit to woman’s concern for animals. As it concludes, this paper considers the intersection of women’s rights and animal rights at the end of the eighteenth century in Britain.

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