Grand Dame of Feminism: Mary Wollstonecraft

Widely considered as one of the founding philosophers for feminism. Wollstonecraft was one of the first advocates for not only educating women, but argued against the long-held notion that women were naturally inferior to men. She was a true believer in equality, not just for women but for working class men. With her first publication ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Men’ Wollstonecraft attacked the monarchy and the aristocracy (The Enlightenment movement was highly influential for Mary).

Mary was born on 27th April 1959 in Spitalfields, London. Her early life was unstable due to her father’s squandering of funds and violent temper, no doubt this helped to shape her view on how women’s rights. Being so young and seeing how powerless her mother and her sisters were, is sure that she would have loathed the fact that society would enforce this feeling of powerlessness and the fact that her father was allowed to treat them anyway he pleased. Mary showed her strength and unwillingness to follow social rules, when she helped her sister Eliza escape her marriage. Even though Eliza was socially maligned and doomed to a life of poverty. To satisfy her more intellectual needs, Mary found solace with Jane Arden. A friend of hers who’s father was a philosopher; plus Fanny Blood, a friend who helped to shape her feministic views.

Wollstonecraft began her writing career partly due to fact that there were no career options open to women (the only other choice was a governess and Mary had already exhausted that option). Mary produced her first pamphlet ‘Thoughts on the Education of Daughters’, followed by her first novel ‘Mary, a Fiction’ in 1788. In 1790, ‘Vindications of the Rights of Men’ was released. In this publication, Mary was truly explicit in her liberal attitudes, denouncing the aristocracy and showing support for the working class man. ‘A Vindication of the Right of Women’ published in 1792; remains her most important and controversial works. It was revolutionary to have someone championing the cause of empowering women but to have a woman, use logical reasoning against long-held patriarchal myths was even more staggering!

Wollstonecraft, certainly ignored social expectations regarding her love life. She had two children out-of-wedlock, a total taboo for 18th Century England. One can only imagine the treatment she would have had to endure at hands of the ‘good Christians’. Fortunately Mary found true love in the form of William Godwin; Philosopher, author and radical liberal. Given that these two were basically outsiders, pariahs of a society were they disagreed with, it makes sense that they would have found solace in each other. I believe that their relationship was a soulful connection based on intellect and equality. Were most men at the time just wanted a servant that they could procreate with; a silent, subservient shadow who was his property and nothing more. Godwin choose a wife, who he could converse with, share ideas with and one who he would respect. When Mary found herself pregnant with Godwin’s child, sure there would have been great eagerness to see how the ultimate renegade radical couple would raise their child. Tragically Mary, never got to raise her youngest child. She died on 10th September 1797 from complications from childbirth. Her daughter Mary Godwin is better known as Mary Shelley, author of the gothic classic ‘Frankenstein’.

Given the struggle for equality that us women, both locally and internationally. It is easy to forget the progress we have made if this section of the globe. How far we have come from being merely the property of our fathers, then become the property of our husbands. Where we had no rights, no options, no choices about what we could do with our lives. It is thanks to women like Wollstonecraft, who risked scorn and ridicule to challenge preconceptions of what women were capable of and deserved. It would have been easier for Mary to stay quiet and not ‘make a fuss’. But she had the courage of her convictions to speak up; so that we can go to school, have the right to choose our own paths, to be viewed as a person and not property. Though we still have further to go in our quest for true equality, it is thanks to the bravery of women like Mary that have helped us get to where we are now. Thank you Mary.



One comment

  1. Beautiful. Her work has given me the choice! to how I live my life.

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