Mary Wollstonecraft – a reclaimed feminist icon?

Through A Vindication of the Rights of Women Mary Wollstonecraft orchestrated a fundamental sentiment of feminism but her contribution would not be actively exposed until much later. She is an amusing and endearing writer, who enlightens the modern reader and continues to strike a chord with those who relate to the tensions and assumptions of femininity. The controversy of her life did not mean that Wollstonecraft did not influence feminists of the 19th century but they were reluctant to publicise her as a figure of inspiration. Wollstonecraft is now considered the ‘mother of modern feminism’ but the feminist movement had by some measure distanced themselves from her influence Her arguments were however no less convincing, this period of quiet appreciation of her work does not indicate the ineffectiveness or the lack of significance of her arguments. The public avoidance of Wollstonecraft indicates more about the feminist movement in the 19th century, it suggests the standards by which Victorian feminists held themselves to, and how it was deemed necessary to avoid association with a radical or controversial reputation. Wollstonecraft viewed the subjugation of women as a product of society, a constructed and shaped normality in which the time she wrote, not a destined normality of femininity. She viewed education as a vehicle in which the status of women could be re-established, her point being that the evident gender hierarchy is not a natural order but a consequence of the attitudes towards women and the way they are educated. Wollstonecraft lived and criticised the confines she viewed women lived in, how significant then, that she has been reclaimed as a feminist icon despite being deemed too controversial a character. Wollstonecraft deconstructed the notion that women were naturally less capable and this still encapsulates the essence of feminist motives, it is her emphasis on choice that still signifies her as so progressive.

  • Caine. B, ‘Victorian feminism and the ghost of Mary Wollstonecraft’, Women’s Writing, 4:2, (1997), p. 261-275.
  • Monroe. J, ‘A Feminist Vindication of Mary Wollstonecraft.’, Iowa Journal of Literary Studies 8, (1987), p. 143-152.
  • Rowbotham. S, Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ Verso, (2010), Introduction, pp. vii-xxix.
  • Rendall. J, ‘”The grand causes which combine to carry mankind forward”:Wollstonecraft, history and revolution’, Women’s Writing, (1997), 4:2, p.155-172.
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One thought on “Mary Wollstonecraft – a reclaimed feminist icon?

  1. A tightly focussed and thoughtful piece on MW’s status as a feminist theorists/role model etc. One of my favourite activities as a historian is reflecting on why and how individuals from the past are “forgotten” and “remembered”. It occurred to me that you have accepted the fact of MW’s marginalisation by 19th century feminists without offering any evidence and I wonder now that we have such extensive digital access to newspapers and other primary sources a search might throw up evidence to suggest that MW was not quite so entirely marginalised as is suggested by Caine, Rowbotham et al.

    It is appropriate to list the sources you have used to produce your commentary and we will be covering how to provide more precise references in future blogging sessions. Do pay close attention to the presentation of your writing – consider breaking up the text into paragraphs and remember to proof read (missing full stop for example).

    Overall a promising start.

    Like

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