In the period of growing social dissent preceding the French Revolution, public fascination was riveted on how the rights of man are being violated in the monarchic society and what was to be done about it. Mary Wollstonecraft’s life and works was a reflection of those times. Moreover, she represented the dissenting women whose rights and welfare were disregarded in both society and in the eminent social change.
As men directed their energies at questioning, studying, theorizing and mobilizing themselves towards changing the unequal power relations in society, i.e. between monarch and subjects, lord and serfs, artisan and apprentice, the status of women were excluded from the relations that constituted inequality (Todd 3). Male theorists even posited that the subordination of women is necessary so as not to effect too radical changes that would cause instability in society.
Wollstonecraft actively wrote to express her criticism of the woman’s role in society complied to by the aristocrat women whose lives and identities depended on men and whose passivity, aversion to think critically and preoccupations with physical beauty were effected to gain the admiration of men (Kreis). She also denounced how education, the law and politics were kept inaccessible to women and how male thinkers propagated the necessity of keeping the male privilege a status quo.
Her personal life mirrored the struggle that women dissenters experienced as they strived towards putting theory into practice, represented in vacillations as to be dependent or independent, to accept the socially imposed restrictions on women’s roles and behaviors or to assert freedom and equality with men (Lewis 1). Her theory, the core of later feminist movements, was derived through sensibility, subjectivity and personal experience of a woman’s oppression. She accomplished the earliest attempts for the recognition of the rights of woman and the need for women’s political action.
Kreiss, Lewis. “Mary Wollstonecraft: 1759-1797”. Historyguide.org. 13 May 2004. 2 April 2008 <http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/wollstonecraft.html>
Lewis, Jone Johson. “Rights in the Air: The Context of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman”. About.com: Women’s History. 2008. 2 April 2008
Todd, Janet. “Mary Wollstonecraft: A Speculative and Dissenting Spirit”. BBC.co.uk. 19 April 2002. 2 April 2008 <http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/empire_seapower/wollstonecraft_03.shtml>.