“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.”
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