Species Thinking: Animals, Women, and Literary Tropes in Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Adela Ramos, Pacific Lutheran University
Vol. 37, No. 1 (Spring 2018), 41-66

This essay examines how Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman charts women’s vexed relationships to the conceptual categories of the human and the animal in eighteenth-century writing. It argues that Wollstonecraft’s tactical use of animal metaphors should be understood in the context of “species thinking,” a mode of thinking that starkly differentiates humans from other animals in order to champion the soul, reason, and language as quintessentially human faculties. The analysis foregrounds how—as Wollstonecraft draws from the modern species concept in order to make a progressive argument about gender equality—she relegates animals to an inferior moral status.


Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]