The works of Mary Wollstoncraft (1759-1797) ranged from the early Thoughts on the Education of Daughters to The Female Reader, a selection of texts for girls, and included two novels. But her reputation is founded on A Vindication of the Rights of Woman of 1792. This treatise is the first great document of feminism and is now accepted as a core text in western tradition. I
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Vindication of the Rights of Man, Wollstonecraft’s lesser known essay, was a polemical response to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, which in itself was a critical response to the political motivations behind the French Revolution. The central issues that Wollstonecraft takes with Burke’s book is the way in which it seems to advocate inequality, further oligarchic control, and dismiss the popular reason of the Enlightenment as an irrational and reckless response to (what Bu
Both of the essays contained in this edition rail against the way in which power denies certain individuals the right to a life of equal opportunity and happiness, which is what makes reading them in conjunction such a redeeming experience. Of course, her major work here is Vindication of the Rights of Woman, mainly because it established her as one of the first major feminist writers, and because it elaborately lays out her views on subjects ranging from class distinction, parenting, national education, and most importantly, the unfortunate social role that women seem to play in the world.
For the most part, Wollstonecraft’s ideas are not terribly complex, and her writing isn’t as difficult as that of some of her contemporaries. Aside from some of the slightly tangential details that occupy most of the latter half of the book, the first, stronger half, basically concerns itself with the issue of blind female obedience as brought on by early indoctrination. Education systems are solely to blame here, not to mention a certain domestic etiquette that hinders the independent growth of female thought. While this isn’t exactly an earth-shattering epiphany to the modern reader, it certainly was a large part of the problem when it came to women’s rights in the Eighteenth century. Not only were women basically denied the same political, social, and financial opportunities as men, but they were furthermore distracted by a certain lifestyle that seemed to flat out eschew any activities or duty that even remotely resembled independent thought. Her solution to a life of social oppression goes as follows.
“Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience; but, as blind obedience is ever sought by power, tyrants and sensualists are in the right when they endeavour to keep women in the dark, because the former only want slaves, and the latter a play thing.”
To be perfectly honest, I cannot see how anything more elaborate or complex than that can be ascertained from this book. It displays a fair share of redundancies, but then again, the joy of reading Wollstonecraft is to be found in the tone of her vitriolic writing style. She also put action into praxis through the act of writing the book at all, which was a notable accomplishment in itself.