19th Century England Women’s Rights Movement

19th Century British Women and Their Rhetoric

In the nineteenth-century, the first signs of women’s liberation between these two countries, which in modern phraseology has been modified to “feminism” and “women’s rights” respectively, occurred in England decades before the World Anti-Slavery Convention. Even though current educational systems state that the historical foundation of the women right’s movements began with that convention, which is not an erroneous assumption, it is fundamental to analysis Wollstonecraft’s novel, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, beforehand as her rhetorical discussion about women’s educational inequalities became an inspiration to other female rhetoricians who created the official movement in both England and the United States.

            Wollstonecraft was a credible, educated woman and governess, but even her scholarship was reduced to as she states in her personal narrative, “frivolous” and “incapable” compared to a man’s general pedagogy (1). At the very end of the eighteenth-century, she had composed a perilous argument which was to improve the education system where it allowed women to have the same justly treatment as men. She was credited authority on discuss this topic due to her educational statutes, so she concluded that this proposition, educational equality, could even enhance Britain’s society. Even as her dissension was considered seditious during that time period, her credibility and rhetoric was particularly most inspirational due to her unique usage of pathos to rivet her auditors. Bringing forth a secondary source, I argue Julie Monroe’s scholarly article, “A Feminist Vindication of Mary Wollstonecraft,” best explains Wollstonecraft’s specific rhetoric further as she states, “from a feminist historical perspective, our language can better express the “masculine” than the “feminine.” Thus, for a woman to speak of the “feminine,” she must attempt to work around the language’s inherent masculinity” (147). In personal explanation, it is shown that most historical rhetoricians were male which is why their rhetorical language pertained to that specific gender. As women rhetoricians became a part of the profession centuries later, they had to redirect the conventional male terminologies and intertwine their feminine voice, but not with bold, immediate change in order to maintain the male portion of their audience. Therefore, this display of rhetoric that Wollstonecraft used was an accessible pathway to subtle, yet supple change.

Since Wollstonecraft is categorized as an early feminist, it is not unusual to see masculine language within her written arguments, but she also proved through her rhetoric that combining both languages was a phenomenal tactic to capture the attention of her male and female audience members. This is apparent in her introduction of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, as she states,

I address you as a legislator: When men fight for their freedom, fight to be allowed to judge for themselves concerning their own happiness, isn’t it inconsistent and unjust to hold women down? I know that you firmly believe you are acting in the manner most likely to promote women’s happiness; but who made man the exclusive judge of that if woman shares with him the gift of reason? (2).

In simpler terms, she addressed her male audience by their credible title providing an ethical appeal. Her use of the masculine language is seen in “legislator,” “freedom,” and “fight” due to those being common phrases associated with men and their rights (2). In truth, this tactic allowed the male auditors to remain engaged in her argument, thus aimed to persuade them on her battle for educational equality. 

20th Century England Women’s Rights Movement

“Suffragettes: 100 years since Women Won the Vote” BBC News.


Mary Richardson And Her ‘Emotional’ Rhetoric

Actual photo of Richardson’s Vandalism on the painting “Rokeby Venus”

Mary Richardson was a British Suffragette was remembered for her vandalism at the National Gallery in London in 1914. Even after this infamous act she was sentenced to prison numerous times, but remained dedicated to the suffragist cause. It was said she slashed the Rokeby Venus by Diego Velazquez with a meat cleaver, and “she took hours to pluck up the courage to attack the painting with an axe. Eventually she delivered half a dozen blows with the axe before she was arrested” (Maner 2). Women later described her rhetoric as “militant” which means to bring forth violent and combative methods to support a political or social issue.

Photo of Mary Richardson


The Suffragettes believed that words and speeches no longer worked in the fight for equality, and believed their coverage will only be noticed through these acts of ‘soft’ violence. The argument to their choice of rhetoric was founded upon the double standard that men always had the ability to show their emotions through aggression and had won many of their battles, literally and figuratively, through the acts of violence. (Click here for a further analysis on the emotional differences specifically using rage tactics between men and women by Marianna Gibson). Yet, as many could assume, the political backlash on this wayward behavior was stated as such, “This emphasis on the destructive force of female economic agency stands in sharp contrast to the characteristic preoccupations of nineteenth and twentieth-century feminist critics” (Smith 13). However, the acts of violent protest, in many ways, did help the women gain more recognition, and in turn, caused many laws to be passed on the equality they sought such as voting rights, equal pay, and sex discrimination. Yet, in comparison to the United States rhetorical tactics, one could argue if “emotional violence” is the best course of motion to earn equality. 

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