I purchased A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft a while back, but I only recently picked it up again. In the fourth chapter, "The State of Degradation to Which Woman Is Reduced," Wollstonecraft explicitly details man's part in the degradation of women. I found several quotes that are important to me, and I found a website that has the full text (link posted further down).
"...for many innocent girls become the dupes of a sincere, affectionate heart, and still more are, as it may emphatically be termed, ruined before they know the difference between virtue and vice: - and thus prepared by their education for infamy, they become infamous. Asylums and Magdalenes are not the proper remedies for these abuses. It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world!" (p. 72)
"Necessity never makes prostitution the business of men's lives: though numberless are the women who are thus rendered systematically vicious. This however, arises, in a great degree, from the state of idleness in which women are educated, who are always taught to look u to man for a maintenance, and to consider their persons as the proper return for his exertions to support." (p.72)
"For, miserable beyond all names of misery is the condition of a being, who could be degraded without its own consent! This excess of strictness I have heard vindicated as a salutary error. I shall answer in the words of Leibnitz - 'Errors are often useful; but it is commonly to remedy other errors.'" (p. 73)
"Most of the evils of life arise from a desire of present enjoyment that outruns itself. The obedience required of women in the marriage state comes under this description; the mind, naturally weakened by depending on authority, never exerts its own powers, and obedient wife is thus rendered a weak indolent mother. Or supposing that this is not always the consequence, a future state of existence is scarcely taken into the reckoning when only negative virtues are cultivated." (p.73)
"Yes, virtue as well as religion, has been subjected to the decisions of taste." (p.73)
"...how eager men are to degrade the sex from whom they pretend to receive the chief pleasure of life... A love of pleasure ow sway sees to divide mankind, and the husband who lords it in his little harem thinks only of his pleasure or his convenience. To such lengths, indeed, does an intemperate love of pleasure carry some prudent men, or worn out libertines, who marry to have a safe bed-fellow, that they seduce their own wives. - Hymen banishes modesty, and chaste love takes its flight." (p. 73)
"Love, considered as an animal appetite, cannot long feed on itself without expiring. and this extinction in its own flame, may be termed the violent death of love. But the wife who has thus been rendered licentious, will probably endeavour to fill the void left by the loss of her husband's attentions; for she cannot contentedly become merely an upper servant after having been treated like a goddess." (p. 73)
"But leaving superior minds to correct themselves, and pay dearly for their experience, it is necessary to observe, that it is not against strong, persevering passions; but romantic wavering feelings that I wish to guard the female heart by exercising the understand: for these paradisaical reveries are oftener the effect of idleness than of a lively fancy." (p. 75)
"... In short, the whole tenour of female education (the education of society0 tends to render the best disposed romantic and inconstant; and the remainder vain and mean. In the present state of society this evil can scarcely be remedied..." (p. 75)
"...but gentlewomen are too indolent to be actively virtuous, and are softened rather than refined by civilization. Indeed the good sense which I have met with, among the poor women who have few advantages of education, and yet have acted heroically, strongly confirmed me in the opinion that trifling employments have rendered woman a trifler. Man, taking her body, the mind is left to rust; so that while physical love enervates man, as being his favourite recreation, he will endeavour to enslave woman: - and who can tell, how many generation may be necessary to give vigour to the virtue and talents of the freed posterity of abject slaves?" (p. 77)
"In tracing the causes that, in my opinion, have degraded woman... to me it appears clear that they all spring from want of understanding... for I shall not lay any great stress on the example of a few women who, from having received a masculine education, have acquired courage and resolution; I only contend that the men who have been placed in similar situation, have acquired a similar character - I speak of bodies of men, and that men of genius and talents have started out of a class, in which women have never yet been placed." (p. 78)
An intelligent, lively discussion could arise from any one of these quotes. I encourage my sisters to read the rest of the chapter, even the book, and put some thought into what you read. My book has more detailed footnotes and explanations than does the website, but there are probably other helpful sites. If you find some that you like, or if you would like to help start a healthy discussion, please post a comment. All comments are welcome, even from men - as long as they are conducive to the quotes and/or discussions.
*All excerpts quoted are from A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft, Copyright 1996 by Dover Publications, Inc.