Mary Wollstonecraft and Rights of Women (Summary)


Wollstonecraft’s life : A Feminist Muse fighting for rights of women

Mary Wollstonecraft was born in 1759 in London. When she was young, she learned to be independent in a household where the father is wasting a small fortune in horses and drink. Regularly she must defend her mother against the violence of his drunken father. So, Wollstonecraft’s life has determined her fight for women’s rights.

As usual in the 18th century, she receives a minimum of instruction: she is sent to a school where she learned only to read and write. Against her brother Ned, who is sent to a good school where he received a full education. Mary’s knowledge is largely self-taught.

Later, in all his writings it will advocate for better education of girls, arguing that it is an absolute necessity to get a job more rewarding. For a middle class girl like herself, there are a few honorable business none of which are very popular: housekeeper, lady’s companion and teacher. Mary Wollstonecraft them all exercised and knows what she’s talking about.

In 1785 Mary Wollstonecraft has its own school in Stoke Newington where she met people like Thomas Paine, Dr. Richard Price, William Godwin (later her husband), all great admirers of the philosophy of J. Locke argues for equal rights for all. Most philosophers of that time only defend equal rights for men, women must remain subject. Mary began to write poetry, novels and children’s books and philosophical treatises as well. She writes, for example first ‘The rights of men’ and two years after ‘The rights of women’.

End of 1792 she moved to Paris in the middle of Revolution. The beginning of the Revolution gave hope to the women finally get equal rights: there was a discussion about this social and women’s clubs were created. The advent to power of Robespierre ends that hope. Mary, meanwhile fallen in love with an American adventurer Gilbert Imlay, fled with him to Neuilly, where it is more or less safe, while other feminists like Olympe de Gouges and Manon Roland, will die under the guillotine.

After the birth of their daughter, Fanny, Gilbert Imlay abandoned to leave England with an actress. Mary, desperate, the following, while the harassing letters and requests to return home. When this fails she tries to commit suicide twice. Even in 1795, during a short trip to the Scandinavian countries, she writes about 25 letters to Gilbert Imlay.

In 1796 she began a relationship with William Godwin and when she becomes pregnant, they married in 1797, although they never quite live together. Ten days after the birth of her second daughter (later Mary Shelley, author of ‘Frankenstein’), she died of an infection.

When, after his death, her husband publishes all she wrote, even his letters to Gilbert Imlay, the intention is a posthumous tribute, but the result is quite the opposite. Of the negative reviews come from everywhere, based on the way ‘unusual’ to live with free sex and suicide attempts, and completely demolish his ideas. For over a century it’s called crazy, bird of ill omen, immoral, in short: a feminist.


A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Mary Wollstonecraft argues that women are entitled to an education consistent with their position in society, the role they are expected to play became even more critical to the nation. Indeed, if they already educate children, instead of being relegated to the function of “wives” living in the shadow of their husbands, they could become true “companions.” They would receive the consideration which is due to human beings in their own right, enjoying the same rights as their male counterparts.

Mary Wollstonecraft argues that many women are silly and superficial, treating as “toys”. The reason for this weakness is not to be found in a natural deficiency, because it means that the denial of education imposed on them by men. In this regard, she wrote: “indoctrinated from childhood to believe that beauty is woman’s scepter, spirit takes the form of their bodies, locked in the gilded cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.” She is convinced that without these incentives, inculcated from an early age, regardless of their beauty, so their appearance, they could grow so much more fruitful.

However, although it calls for gender equality in some areas, such as morality, it does not explicitly state that men and women are equal. For her, this equality is really only in the light of God, a conception which is opposed to his comments on the superiority of strength and bravery male. Hence, for example, this passage both famous and ambiguous, “Let not reached the point where I want to reverse the order of things, I have already conceded that, by the constitution of their bodies, men seem to be designed by Providence to attain a higher degree of virtue. I speak collectively of the whole sex, but I do not see the shadow of a reason to conclude that their virtues should differ, given their nature. Indeed, how could they, if virtue is only present in one eternal standard? So I have to, if I reason therefore, argue that they have the same orientation and simple, and that with the same vigor that I support a God exists. “. Her ambiguous statements on gender equality make it difficult to classify it as a modern feminist, particularly since neither the word nor the concept existed in his time.

One of the harshest critics in Mary Wollstonecraft Addresses Rights of Woman on the excess of false sensitivity that afflict women. Those who succumb are in now, “carried by each burst of feeling,” and becoming “the prey of their senses,” can not think rationally. In fact, these women are a nuisance to themselves and to civilization as a whole, they can help refine and are likely to destroy. Reason and feeling should not act independently but work together.

Beyond the general philosophy, it develops a specific plan for national education, as opposed to that which was designed Talleyrand for France. In Chapter 12, “On Education”, it proposes that all children are sent to a Country Day School, while receiving some education at home “for inspiring a love of home and domestic pleasures.” She also argues that the studies should be mixed, arguing that men and women whose marriage is “the cement of society” should be “educated on the same model.”

Mary Wollstonecraft dedicates his book to the middle class she describes as “the most natural state” and, indeed, in many ways, Rights of Woman is impregnated with a bourgeois vision of the world. He preaches the values ​​of modesty and labor at the same time criticizing the idleness of the aristocracy. However, Wollstonecraft does not come as a friend of the poor, for which it recommends that after the age of nine, with the exception of children who are particularly bright, they are separated from the rich and sent to other institutions.


Cite this article as: Tim, "Mary Wollstonecraft and Rights of Women (Summary), May 20, 2012, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, May 20, 2012,

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