By Mahealani LaRosa

Mary Wollstonecraft vehemently speaks out against the church and stereotypical gender roles in her text A Vindication of the Rights of Men. She continuously says that she believes women are solely important in society for the way the look, and specifically for their beauty. However when she defines beauty, she says that it is not just a surface level idea. Men have convinced women “that littleness and weakness are the very essence of beauty” and that nature, by “making women little, smooth, delicate, fair creatures” has taken away their right to “exercise their reason” and “excite respect” (47). Women exist to only create “pleasing sensations” by being “uniform and perfect” (47). To Wollstonecraft, whether or not women are intelligent or have morals is unimportant in society. In relation to her criticism of a woman’s place in the world, she asks an important question: “Is hereditary weakness necessary to render religion lovely?” (50). The radical feminist is saying that the connotated weakness that comes with the the idea of beauty also comes with religion. Ultimately, she says that “politics and morals, when simplified, would undermine religion and virtue” (59). And in society, women are not allowed to express their opinions surrounding politics or morals, because they are beautiful and weak, and “weakness and indulgence are the only incitements to love and confidence that you can discern” when “you love the church, your country, and its laws, you repeatedly tell us, because they deserve to be loved” (51). Overall, Wollstonecraft argues that to be beautiful is to be weak, and to be weak is to fear the church so greatly you believe it is love and devotion.

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Mary Wollstonecraft’s daughter, Mary Shelley, communicates some of these thoughts and opinions in her groundbreaking novel Frankenstein, especially in the characterization and life story of Justine. Justine is described as “frank-hearted and happy” and “the most grateful little creature in the world” (66). However, when she is accused of murder, her fear of the church and of God lead to her untrue confession and then to her unjust death. Over and over she says “God knows how entirely I am innocent” (80). She says that “the God of heaven forgive me!” and that that “God raises my weaknesses, and gives me courage to endure the worst” (83). Her complete trust in God is a sign of her weakness that is truly a sign of her fear.

Justine dupes herself into thinking she needs to be forgiven. She knows that she is innocent, but threats of damnation and hell scare her into confessing something she did not do. Because Justine is a woman, she is seen as weak and fearful by the men who run the church she obeys. She is an easy target because her beauty and innocence and terror end up ruining her in the end. Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, mother and daughter, both show that beauty should not be a characteristically defining trait. If Justine had based her confession off of her morals and her education and had been respected by the men who ran her church, she would have been found innocent. After further discussion, I still believe Wollstonecraft does a fantastic job calling out the issues in society and in various societal systems, and these thoughts and opinions ae translated very well into Shelley’s Frankenstein, especially in the scene of the death of Justine, or more accurately, the death of Justice, for women and for all.