Mary Wollstonecraft is a significant western thinker who lived during the seventeenth century. She is one of the most popular feminist and her ideas were so impactful that it have persevered through time and managed to change the way we live today. She believed that women should be given education and equal rights as the male counterparts. These ideas are conveyed through her book which she wrote in 1792, titled ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’, in which she argued for the equality for women.
In her book she used critical and creative thinking and reasoning to show peoples of her time, who believed in male dominion, a new perspective of women and their abilities. Furthermore, enlightening women that they have been mistreated and should be better treated, which gave women of the 19th century the rights and reasons to fight for their rights. During her time in the 18th century, her ideas were not accepted because it was traditionally viewed that women’s sole purpose in existing in the world is to please men and act as the servants of their male counterparts. Moreover, because women were different in nature from men, they have said to be in separate spheres from men. Thus, they were deemed as lower class citizens, and were grouped together with the mentally handicapped, insane and criminals, who had no rights in the society. Surprisingly, after Wollstonecraft died, her ideas, which were not welcomed during her time, were accepted and have persisted through time to finally break away from traditional stereotype, and be accepted as part of history of political thought during the 19th century. This essay will be on how Wollstonecraft’s ideas stood the test of time in the West through education, job opportunities and civil rights.
Why Wollstonecraft’s ideas stood the taste of time
Although Wollstonecraft’s ideas were not welcomed by in the 18th century, the society later came to accept them and assimilate them in their day to day life. Today, her ideas are the major basis on which fight for equality between the male and female genders is based on most developing and developed countries. Unlike most of the arguments developed during her era which is deemed as barbaric, her argument is important to date and activists still consider her as the founder and her school of thoughts as the fundamentals of feminism. There are several reasons why these ideas developed and were preserved as the center of feminism through the ages.
The time that she formulated these ideas was perfect as it was during the enlightenment, saloons (age of enlightenment). This is the time that women in the then developing parts of the world such as United States and Europe were getting exposed to new things. Women were trying to discover their potentials by learning and doing the things they had shied away from. During this time, any impetus that could lead to women learning a new way of life was highly welcomed. This lead to Wollstonecraft’s book, “A Vindication of the Rights of Women,” becoming very popular.
After Mary’s book on female rights was released, multiple contemporary magazines such as Analytical Review and New York Magazine wrote favorable reviews. Upon release, the book became so popular that publishers released a second printing within the year as well as American and French editions. Some contemporary authors, such as Mary Hays and Mary Robinson based their heroines on Wollstonecraft's ideal woman. So, I'd wager A Vindication of the Rights of Women was a blockbuster success (Hughes). This popularity and constant review in the magazines and the news papers popularized her ideas, consequently resulting to people trying to put them into practice.
Mary wrote the book based on her experience and her ideas are thus based on real life experiences. She rose from a violent and downwardly mobile family. She left the family in the rural at the age of 19 years to earn her living and to support her siblings. While working at a tender age, she encountered and knew hardships. Her experiences with the upper classes coupled with the violence of her formative years led Wollstonecraft to a personal resolve in self-education and self-possession. In her wake to educate herself, she had to overcome many challenges most of which were as a result of her gender. These ideas thus have a touch of reality and are not based on vague analysis and observations, rather on real life experiences. This reality makes her ideas practical and workable and any reader of her work would agree with her arguments. Dost wrote “Regardless, Mary Wollstonecraft summarizes the plight of women very well and the reader (whether male or female) gets a palpable sense of its injustice.” (2006).
It is not Wollstonecraft's work so much as it is HER, her personality that is revolutionary. Wollstonecraft's genius evolved with her work. Here is a woman who created and maintained the freedom to shape her own life; a woman with authenticity in her voice and actions, resolve in her pen. Here was a woman who wanted to independently support herself. Injustice and exploitation were unacceptable. Wollstonecraft was not born a genius, she became one. So her personality which is evident in her work, contributes largely to the popularity of her ideas. Many women want to identify with her and wish to take up her character. In doing this, they have to follow and actualise her ideas. This quest to actualise the ideas has made the last among the feminists over the years.
According to Mary, education is primary to a better life. She argues that for women to get empowered. They have to get educated. This argument is anniversary accepted as the most important fundamental of empowering any group or society. Her suggestion of the break through from the chains of oppression under the males can be actualized and is generally approved by the society. She gives a simple and practical solution to a problem making the solution ideal.
During her age, women in most societies, were in separate spheres and had no education. She argued that the fact that women then weren’t educated, led them not to be rational enough and think independently for themselves. Most of these women didn’t see the need to have an education, as education does not equal earning money as their male counterparts. They reasoned that even if they got educated, they won’t get jobs since most of the opportunities were reserved for men only (Luscombe).
Mary Wollstonecraft believed that women should be educated rationally in order to give them the opportunity to contribute to society. Many modern philosophers agree with her position for instance, Jean-Jacques Rousseau's educational work Emile, proposed that a girl's education should aim at making her useful to and supportive of a rational man (Todd). In the eighteenth century, many believed that women were incapable of rational or abstract thought. They thought that women were susceptible to sensibility and too fragile to be able to think clearly However, Mary Wollstonecraft said that women were not only capable of thinking but also deserve to be educated. Also, Mary Wollstonecraft points out those women are mothers whom are primary educators of young children. For the education for the children, women should be educated.
She insisted women should be taught serious subjects like reading, writing, arithmetic, botany, natural history, and moral philosophy. She recommended vigorous physical exercise to help stimulate the mind. This campaign is backed by Dost who argued that, the baleful consequences of such forced behaviors are a romantic temperament reinforced by reading novels of the day instead of science or history the latter deemed "boring" since the women lack the capacity to understand it” (2006).
Focus on both the high and low class.
Most of Mary’s argument is based on her experiences. Her life cut across the two classes in the society. The books thus bring out the experiences of both the strong women in the society and the poor. Her ideas are thus all rounded encompassing the many walks of life I the society. They cover the challenges fully without leaving out some segments of the society. This makes the solutions practicable in a mixed society (Luscombe). Her analysis of the high class is important as this is the class that is responsible of fostering the change. Since Mary, unlike most philosophers who focus on the injustices to the low life in the society, highlighted even the problems this class encounters and suggested practical solutions, this acts as a motivation for them to campaign for the changes.
Traditionally, Women not supposed to work or get employed. She envisioned a future when women could pursue virtually any career opportunities: “Though I consider that women in the common walks of life are called to fulfill the duties of wives and mothers, by religion and reason, I cannot help lamenting that women of a superior cast have not a road open by which they can pursue more extensive plans of usefulness and independence. . . .” Finally: “How many women thus waste life away the prey of discontent, who might have practiced as physicians, regulated a farm, managed a shop, and stood erect, supported by their own industry, instead of hanging their heads surcharged with the dew of sensibility” (Wollstonecraft).
Having a job interprets to independence consequently more rights and power. This position is held by the modern society which believes that everyone should earn their living and not be provided for. Industrialization opened many job opportunities to women.
The world war
women were required to take on many of the traditional male roles was the one that gave women high position jobs as men had to leave to fight in the war. This culture persisted even after the war ended.
Civil Rights – marriages and voting right
Mary campaigned aggressively for equal civil rights. She believed that women and men are all human. It was formally believed as Blackstone wrote, “the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything.” Mary sort to change this culture through, campaigning for the sovereignty of women in marriage. She argued that women are independent person from their men with rights and privileges equal to those of the males. They ought to excersie their civil rights such as property ownership and voting power “men and women should be in equal places when it comes to marriage“(1792). Physiologists have supported her argument by concluding that both the male and the females have equal brain power.
Three waves of feminism
Her ideas support the three waves of feminism. In the first wave, feminists attacked the male monopoly of education, professional careers, and culture; married women’s economic and legal dependence; sexual and moral double standards; women’s lack of control over their bodies (still happening today, how woman should cover up in some countries); the drudgery of housework; low wages; and, not least, women’s exclusion from politics. Unifying all of these campaigns was the determination that women be allowed to define their own capabilities and goals. In the Second wave equality, freedom was campaigned for. This is the fundamentals on which Mary based her argument.
Even though her idea for equality of education has succeeded, job is not equal yet. Her main idea in vindication of rights is equality in education, which will lead to jobs and civil rights (Hughes). More women have degrees, masters, now doctorates. Plus, humans with no Y chromosome now get almost half of all MBAs. Women are taking over! Ah, except in the C-suites. You know those thickly carpeted offices where all the decisions are made.
Her ideas have persisted and overcome the challenge of time through the ages due to their reality and practicability. They are simple yet depict the actual situation on the ground. The solutions and the way forward that Mary suggests are achievable. These ideas are not biased focusing on the needs of any particular group. The simplicity, comple5teness and practicability of these ideas have made them stand the test of time and remain important to date.