Mary Wollstonecraft

1. Biography
• 27 April 1759 in London – 10 September 1797 in London
• Writer, philosopher and feminist (British Enlightenment in 18th Century)
• She wrote novels, treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book, and a children’s book.
• Key figure; Modern feminism (Western feminism's leading icon)
• Poor early life
- His father did violence to her mother.
- Her sister suffered social condemnation and, because she could not remarry, was doomed to a life of poverty and hard work (Wikipedia, para. 4).

2. Main Ideas
• The rights of man and the rights of women were one and the same thing.
- To egalitarian social philosophy as the basis for the creation and preservation of equal rights and opportunities for women.
• The young women they tried to teach had already been effectively enslaved by their social training in subordination to men (Kemerling 2006, para. 1).
• To obtain social equality society must rid itself of the monarchy as well as the church and military hierarchies (Simkin 1997, para. 7).

• Major Book
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)
- The first declaration of feminism
- Women are recognised as sharing with men the capacity and the right to be regarded as autonomous being, entitled to recognition as citizens in the civic sphere (Caine 1997, p. 24).
- Equal rights and opportunities for women (no attempt to deny sexual difference)
- Women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education.
- Specifically a response to the legislation which established a new system of education for boys, not for girls.

• Quotes
- "Till women are more rationally educated, the progress in human virtue and improvement in knowledge must receive continual checks" (Wollstonecraft 1792, Ch. 3)
- "It would be an endless task to trace the variety of meanness, cares, and sorrows, into which women are plunged by the prevailing opinion that they were created rather to feel than reason, and that all the power they obtain, must be obtained by their charms and weakness" (Wollstonecraft 1792, Ch. 4)

3. Wollstonecraft’s Importance
• As the founding figure of modern feminism is accorded higher recognition now than it has ever been before.
• Demanding recognition not only of Wollstonecraft's place in the history of feminism, but also in the history of political theory. – A new dimension to political theory by offering a 'means of stretching the liberal temperament to incorporate into political thinking explicit concern for the quality of personal relations and day-to-day conditions of the ordinary citizens' (Caine 1997, p. 24).

4. Impact on the society of the time
• Helping women to achieve a better life, not only for themselves and for their children, but also for their husbands (Kreis 2004, para. 9).
• Wollstonecraft herself would never have referred to her text as feminist because the words feminist and feminism were not coined until the 1890s. Moreover, there was no feminist movement to speak of during Wollstonecraft's lifetime.

5. Social Context
• French Revolution (1789) - emphasis on "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity" of human, but not includes women.
• Since women were thought to have keener nerves than men, it was also believed that women were more emotional than men. Men were considered to be logical and decisive, where women were considered weak and hysterical.

6. Reception of Ideas (React)
• Wollstonecraft's work has had an effect on feminism outside the academy in recent years.
• Virginia Sapiro - "there is little indication that anyone who played a key role in women's history or feminism, other than Lucretia Mott, read Wollstonecraft's work seriously after her death until the twentieth century".
• Ayaan Hirsi Ali - "inspired by Mary Wollstonecraft, the pioneering feminist thinker who told women they had the same ability to reason as men did and deserved the same rights".

7. Acceptance by the media of the time
• "Hyena in Petticoats" - The ideas were truly revolutionary and caused tremendous controversy.
• Mary Wollstonecraft's views even shocked fellow radicals. Whereas advocates of parliamentary reform such as Jeremy Bentham and John Cartwright had rejected the idea of female suffrage.

8. Relevance
• One of the founding feminist philosophers
• Feminists often cite both her life and work as important influences.
• ... To represent women's hopes of a society free from misogyny and sexual injustice. However distant her ideas and imaginings may be from feminist thinking of the present -- very distant indeed in some cases.… -- as a symbol of what remains to be achieved. Mary Wollstonecraft remains as vital and necessary a presence today as she was in the 1700's… (Taylor 2003, p. 253).

Caine, B. 1997, English Feminism, 1780-1980, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Kemerling, G. 2006, 'Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)', viewed 4 December 2007, <>.

Kreis, S. 2004, 'Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759-1797', The History Guide, viewed 4 December 2007, <>.

Simkin J. 1997, 'Mary Wollstonecraft', Spartacus Educational, viewed 4 December 2007, <>.

Taylor, B. 2003, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Wikipedia 2007, 'Early Life', Mary Wollstonecraft, viewed 4 December 2007, <>.

Wollstonecraft, M. 1792, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects, London.

1 comment:

Ashley Goldman said...

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