"Freedom, even uncertain freedom, is dear; you know I am not born to tread the beaten track." -- Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft was an outspoken political expressionist, essayist and feminist before anyone knew that there was such a thing. Her most famous work to date, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, made a radical claim that a society cannot progress unless its wives and mothers were not educated. Born in 1759 in the Spitalfields section of London, Mary was second among seven children belonging to a middle class family. Being poor manager of money, Mary's father John Edward made the family move from place to place in unsuccessful attempts to make it big ultimately settling in Wales, becoming poorer with every move (Kreis, et al. 2009).
An intelligent girl, Mary Wollstonecraft understood at an early age what prospects were like for women of her social class, and she did not hesitate to voice her concerns. Despite her aptitude for learning only her Brother Ned was allowed to go to school. The fact that her father took all his frustrations out on their mother only strengthened her belief in feminism and to prevent her father from beating up her mother up, she used to sleep in front of her mother's bedroom door. At the age of fifteen she announced that she was never going to marry.
When Mary decided to leave her home, she went to live with her sister who was suffering from postpartum depression after giving birth to her child and Mary suspected that he was abusing her. Mary helped her sister hide from her abusive husband until a legal separation could take place. It was during this time that Mary Wollstonecraft and her sister Eliza established a school in Ireland, which didn't last for more than a year because of financial restraints. Subsequently Mary became a governess.
Mary Wollstonecraft's journey towards contributing to politics and society through her feminist Ideology, was when she closed down her school and got fired from her job serving as a governess, financial desperation was at its brink and Wollstonecraft was in dire need of income. It was then that her publisher friend asked her to write a book about importance of education for women. The end result her first book, Thoughts on the Education of Daughter, was an early foreshadowing of themes Wollstonecraft would develop later in the Vindication, her most famous work (Hensley, et al. 2007). Rather than coddling daughters, Wollstonecraft suggested that they help then find their inner strength to handle the challenges life will throw at them. Having learned from personal experience, according to Richard Evans Mary understood how difficult life could be and hence was persistent that girls as much as boys, needed the mental resilience to handle problems independently (Evans, et al. 1977). However the book received little attention, not enough to put Mary Wollstonecraft on the radar of important new writers.
Wollstonecraft's most distinctive and well-known contribution to the society was to extend an analysis that demands an end to unlawful and unnatural distinctions based on family relations and sex. According to her observation, she has stated in various writings, which if interpreted would suggest that men have more natural capability for reason than women, they can claim no superiority over women and certainly no right to rule them. In analysis shaped by Brennan and Pateman (but one that attacked Brennan for his views on women), she concluded that education, experience, and the "present constitution of society," and not nature, created most observed character differences between men and women (Brennan and Pateman, et al., 1979).
She argued that the ridiculous and unnatural differentiations between men and women will have the same effects as other unjust power relationships do: they corrupt the character of all parties in the relationship, making the dominant party dependent only on its power and making the subordinate party submissive to cunning, selfish and unvirtous schemes of self-preservation. In case of an opposite scenario Wollstonecraft suggest that women use beauty as what now be called "weapon of the weak" (Pierson, et al. 1987).
Unlike other famous democratic theorists of her era, Mary made a comparison to the anti-patriarchal analysis commonly used on institutions such as government to the family itself. She suggested altering the common social practices such as dress, courtship, employment and family relation, because these traditions and norms had given men, power over women and kept them from virtue. Wollstonecraft sought to expand work opportunities for women, so that they get encouraged to get out of their houses and experience life which was more than cooking cleaning and giving birth.
As Mary Wollstonecraft regarded education first and foremost important for women she suggested further development of a public school system, educating girls, boys and children belonging to different classes similarly and together so that the societal discrimination could be bridged. Although educating girls was seen very rarely, Wollstonecraft wanted girls to attend school at least for the early years of their schooling and wanted them to have the permission to study subjects forbidden to them (Todd, et al. 2011). Her final, unfinished novel, Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman, underscored the necessity of women's ability to support themselves, divorce, and have rights over their children.
Considering Mary Wollstonecraft I more famous for her arguments and work on Women's rights, other contributions are worth noting as well. Her Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790) was one of the first attacks on Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, and it engaged his work on the sublime and the beautiful, thus integrating aesthetics and politics in a critique of Burke's defense of monarchy, aristocracy, and pomp (Liddlington and Norris, et al. 1978). Her further publications on the French Revolution in the Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution (1794) contains an accurate inquiry of the nature of political history and past decisions and the relationship between ideals and human reaction to them. Wollstonecraft's Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark influenced the early generation of English Romantics, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, William Wordsworth, and Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife, Wollstonecraft's daughter, Mary Shelley.
Wollstonecraft is known today chiefly as an early feminist. Her publications and arguments on one's personal self, state and family have always been described in terms of history and development of the feminist theory. Mary Wollstonecraft's take on liberal democratic philosophy is as important as her contribution to feminism, also Wollstonecraft on the subject of women and family cannot be understood without a grasp of her role as philosopher in the canon of Western political and social thought. Wollstonecraft always took delight in her subject; her writing style combines academic objectivity with loving adoption of eighteenth century mannerisms. The effect is both light-hearted and serious (Sarah, et al., 1983).
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is more often than not regarded as a purely political treatise. However, like Plato's Republic and Rousseau's Emile, it can be both seen as a political and educational venture. It is more than anything a celebration of the rationality of women. It consists an attack on the view of education for females put forward by Rousseau and countless other authors and theorists who regarded women as weak, artificial and only limited to house hold system, not capable reasoning effectively. Wollstonecraft rejected the notion of education in dependency that Rousseau advocated for them vehemently in Emile. "A woman must be intelligent in her own right, she argued. She cannot assume that her husband will be intelligent!" Mary Wollstonecraft throughout her career always maintained that her theories do not contradict the role of women as a mother or wife or the role of the woman in the home. It was always her suggestion that "meek wives are in general, foolish mothers" (Starch, et al. 1978)
Reason was Mary Wollstonecraft's starting point. For her, rationality or reason formed the basis of human rights as it is our ability to grab the truth and therefore obtain knowledge of right and wrong that distinguishes us, as human beings, from the animal world. Through the gift of reason we become moral and political agents. Wollstonecraft suggested that this world's view is acknowledged by all progressive thinkers of the time. However, it is mostly a man's world and the work of Rousseau was typical of this. What Mary Wollstonecraft did was extend the basic ideas of Enlightenment philosophy to women and Rousseau's educational ideas of how to educate boys to girls.
She further argued on the assumption that women are not rational creatures and are slaves to their passion, Wollstonecraft challenged that it was up to those who spoke about this to prove it. She blamed that parents bring up their daughters to be docile and domesticated and said that if girls are encouraged from an early to develop their thinking process, it would be seen that they were…