The Pathos of Politics (48) Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft

Women are systematically degraded by receiving the trivial attentions which men think it manly to pay to the sex, when, in fact, men are insultingly supporting their own superiority. ~ Mary Wollstonecraft

English political philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) wrote a variety of works. She is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), in which she argued that women are not inferior to men but appear so due to lack of education.

Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison. ~ Mary Wollstonecraft

Wollstonecraft suggested that women and men were both rational beings. She imagined a social order founded on reason.

The being cannot be termed rational or virtuous who obeys any authority but that of reason. ~ Mary Wollstonecraft

Burke’s conservatism and Wollstonecraft’s radicalism were diametric in the ideological spectrum. Wollstonecraft accused Burke of advocating “the maintenance of unequal property, and if necessary, of despotism and tyranny.”

She viewed Burke’s defense of traditionalism and patriarchal inheritance as impeding the progress of civilization. His description of women as “smooth, delicate, fair creatures,” was to Wollstonecraft the view of a strongly prejudiced mind.

Wollstonecraft described private property as “demonic.” She saw the church that Burke praised for upholding the sacredness of traditional values as fundamentally corrupt, having secured vast property rights from the poor and ignorant.

Wollstonecraft endorsed plans to better conditions for the working class. For Wollstonecraft, the French Revolution represented an expression toward general emancipation.

Wollstonecraft died at the age of 38, 10 days after birthing her 2nd daughter, Mary, who became an accomplished writer herself, as Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein (1818).

Wollstonecraft’s widower posthumously published a Memoir (1798) about her. In revealing her unorthodox life, especially her early romantic affairs, it inadvertently destroyed her reputation for nearly a century.

While alive, many of Wollstonecraft’s contemporaries had been critical of her personal life, worrying that it might hinder support for her public stance on women’s right. Wollstonecraft had been libeled as a “shameless wanton,” a “philosophizing serpent,” and a “hyena in petticoats.” Only with the emergence of the feminist movement at the turn of the 20th century was the tarnish worn off Wollstonecraft for exercising personal freedom in her affairs.

There must be more equality established in society, or morality will never gain ground, and this virtuous equality will not rest firmly even when founded on a rock, if one half of mankind be chained to its bottom by fate, for they will be continually undermining it through ignorance or pride. ~ Mary Wollstonecraft