A Woman’s Voice

Make women rational creatures, and free citizens, and they will quickly become good wives; – that is, if men do not neglect the duties of husbands and fathers.”

Mary Wollstonecraft

 Pink July 2013

Today, I ordered Mary Wollstonecraft’s most famous work, A Vindication of the Rights of Women via Amazon at no cost.  Published over 200 years ago in 1792, her ideas were radical and controversial; today, the discussions over gender equality continue unabated.   In her opening pages, she clearly defines her position, without fear or regret, attributing much of women’s angst to “a false system of education, gathered from books written on this subject by men, who, considering females rather as women than human creatures, have been more anxious to make them alluring mistresses than rational wives.”

What is less known is Mary Wollstonecraft’s treatise on republicanism, individual merit, and the inherent human worth entitled, “A Vindication of the Rights of Men,” which was in response to Edmund Burke’s “Reflection on the Revolution in France.”  It was published in 1790 in pamphlet form, anonymously.  Highly entertaining, it was a sought-after best seller, until it was revealed it was written by a woman.   It was then dismissed as irrational and emotional.

Mary Wollstonecraft, born in London, England on April 27, 1759, was raised in a household headed by an abusive husband/father.    An inept business manager, her father depleted his sizable fortune on a number of disastrous ventures in farming.   Mary’s strong sense of worth sustained her through those dark days.   When her mother died in 1780, Mary set out on her own determined to make her own way.  She lived life in accordance with her values and forged her mark using the written word.  Unconventional, brilliant, and resourceful, Mary overcame the loss of her best friend, and the infidelity of a common-law partner, Gilbert Imlay, to find true love with the philosopher William Godwin.   Even though both believed that marriage was unnecessary, William and Mary were married in March 1797 when Mary became pregnant.   She gave birth to Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who would become known as the creator of Frankenstein.  Alas, just 11 days after the birth, Mary died of “childbed fever”, at the age of thirty-eight.

Mary set the standard. Her writings are now considered the foundational work of feminist theory.

“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” 
Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

24 thoughts on “A Woman’s Voice

  1. If women be educated for dependence; that is, to act according to the will of another fallible being, and submit, right or wrong, to power, where are we to stop?
    – Mary Wollstonecraft

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    • Your blog has a wealth of information!!! I am continually amazed by the breadth and depth of your posts!!! Thank you so much for adding to this discussion – mother and daughter were extraordinary. They set the course for many to follow….

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    • What a narrative!!! Thank you, Gallivanta for the link that told another part of the story. I wonder if his mother was the sister who taught with Mary Wollstonecraft? Your comments re: JK Rowling are insightful and certainly relevant to this discussion. We have come a long way, but the way is still waiting for us to take on the next stage of the journey.

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  2. Another great post! A more contemporary read, The Chalice and the Blade, by Riane Eisler, may be of interest to you, if you haven’t already read it. I borrowed it from our local library. Terrific read that aligns with your post here. Have a great weekend.

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    • Thank you so much for the recommendation and for your visit! I just placed a hold on The Chalice and the Blade via the Vancouver public library. I should have it it a couple of days. Looks fabulous!!! Have a great weekend!!!! Sunshine in Vancouver!

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  3. Such a great woman! So sad she died so young. Were she living today, her death would not happened as it did. She made such a great contribution in her short life!

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    • I agree – her contribution was remarkable. I often wonder if she knew how important her ideas were to our understanding of gender equality. She was passionate about her writing, but I don’t think she thought she would still be discussed centuries after her passing.🙂

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  4. This piece, especially the part about power, reminds me of a famous commencement speech at Mills College by author Ursula K. Le Guin:

    http://www.ursulakleguin.com/LeftHandMillsCollege.html

    “I hope you live without the need to dominate, and without the need to be dominated. I hope you are never victims, but I hope you have no power over other people. And when you fail, and are defeated, and in pain, and in the dark, then I hope you will remember that darkness is your country, where you live, where no wars are fought and no wars are won, but where the future is. Our roots are in the dark; the earth is our country… “

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    • Oh Isaac!!! Thank you for sharing this link!!! Ursula K. Le Guin is brilliant! She embodies everything that we have discussed. You have given us the fitting benediction for this dialogue. I have read it over three times and will reread it many more times going forward.

      Our roots are in the dark; the earth is our country. Why did we look up for blessing — instead of around, and down? What hope we have lies there. Not in the sky full of orbiting spy-eyes and weaponry, but in the earth we have looked down upon. Not from above, but from below. Not in the light that blinds, but in the dark that nourishes, where human beings grow human souls.

      UKL

      http://www.ursulakleguin.com/LeftHandMillsCollege.html

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  5. It is good she put the “if” into the equation. As usual Rebecca, another thought provoking post that is well written. But I am always riffing on your photos. They are just so wonderful. I want to see bunches of them together. Bravo~

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    • Thank you so much, Cindy!! I am thinking about how to organize photos so that they make sense, whether on Flikr, Instagram, WordPress, Google+. Together, we are creating the biggest photo libraries ever imagined. Any suggestions that you may have would be much appreciated!!!🙂

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