|A representation of the method of lexical simplification |
presented by Jan De Belder, Koen Deschacht,
via Wikimedia Commons
I've chosen the passage I read for the link into the Woman's Hour interview. This one-minute audio clip covered the noises of biographer Barbara Taylor and me finding our seats opposite the formidable Jenni Murray, who kept her eyes on her papers until she was ready to pierce us with her first question.
My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone. I earnestly wish to point out in what true dignity and human happiness consists—I wish to persuade women to endeavour to acquire strength, both of mind and body, and to convince them that the soft phrases, susceptibility of heart, delicacy of sentiment, and refinement of taste, are almost synonimous with epithets of weakness, and that those beings who are only the objects of pity and that kind of love, which has been termed its sister, will soon become objects of contempt.
Dismissing then those pretty feminine phrases, which the men condescendingly use to soften our slavish dependence, and despising that weak elegancy of mind, exquisite sensibility, and sweet docility of manners, supposed to be the sexual characteristics of the weaker vessel, I wish to show that elegance is inferior to virtue, that the first object of laudable ambition is to obtain a character as a human being, regardless of the distinction of sex; and that secondary views should be brought to this simple touchstone.
Women won't mind if I treat them like people who can think. I don't intend to say how charming they are, or to look at them like grown-up children, always dependent on others. I want to describe what makes real happiness, and, yes, human dignity. Women should try to grow strong in body and mind. Things which are thought to be feminine -- certain ways of talking, feeling strong emotions easily, giving way to others -- are almost the same as weaknesses. People who others feel sorry for, and the kind of love which they feel for these people, will soon be looked down on.
I won't use pretty, feminine phrases. Men talk like that because they don't respect us. We depend on men, as a slave depends on his master, and they want to charm us into forgetting that fact. Having a weak mind, having no will of one's own, being too fussy about everything -- all these characteristics are supposed to mark us as the weaker sex. I want to demonstrate that elegance is less important than doing the right thing. The most important objective in anyone's life, the first thing to strive for, is to develop a good reputation as a human being. This is true for both men and women, and everything else should be measured against this objective.
Look, I'm sorry, but you're a thinking person, right? I'm not going to flatter you by saying how amazing you are, like you're a little girl or a doll. You can stand on your own two feet. I'm here to tell you what real happiness is about. Strengthen your mind! Strengthen your body! Soft chat, falling in love, doing what other people want, all these are weak. If people pity you, their love will turn to contempt.
I'm not going to talk in fancy phrases, like men do when they want to soften us up. As if we're slaves, dependent on them! Letting your brain go mushy, and acting all nicey-nicey, is supposed to make you a girl. You know what? Acting nice is less important than doing right. The first thing in life is to get respect. It doesn't matter if you're male or female. Every thing else follows on from that.
[Later: see my description of Jonathan Bennett's site on Early Modern Texts, which offers a wide range of texts, in somewhat more contemporary language.]
[And still later: the 220th anniversary of the Vindication, in February 2012, prompted me to recap the resources around the book. There is lots out there, to help learners learn and teachers teach, and to help all concerned and interested readers get the most out of the experience. Not to mention the conferences...]