Mary Wollstonecraft: The mother of women’s rights

“I do not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves.”

A Vindication of the rights of woman, Mary Wollstonecraft

In a week in which expressions such as ‘women’s rights’ and ‘gender equality’ have led a key role, this column is inaugurated by saying a tremendous THANK YOU to every single woman who has made possible for their female fellows to enjoy their current rights. Hence, these lines will pay homage to the woman regarded by most people as the Mother of Feminism: the great Mary Wollstonecraft.

Who was she? Born in 1759, she was one of the first people to advocate for gender equality. During her childhood, while her older brother, Ned, received an extensive formal education, Mary spent just a few years in a day school. This disparity was the trigger of her fight. Why should she be denied the opportunities afforded to her brother just because she was a girl? She resolved, with high determination, to educate herself. “Such indeed is the force of prejudice, that what was called spirit and wit in him, was cruelly repressed as forwardness in me.” With these words, Mary Wollstonecraft contrasted the way she and her brother were treated in The Wrongs of Woman (1798).

Mary was not only a writer but also a war reporter, a teacher, a spiritual seeker, in short, a woman far ahead of the social taboos of her time. She is best remembered for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).  This landmark essay argued for the rights of women to be educated. According to her, only when woman and man are equally free and equally dutiful there can be true freedom. The paramount reform for such equality is an equal and quality education for women. An education which recognizes to be an equal partner with her husband in the family, and which admits that women, like men, are creatures of both thought and feeling: creatures of reason:

“I wish to see women neither heroines nor brutes; but reasonable creatures…”

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft

What else is behind her life? She saw the harsh side of being female. Raised by a tyrannical, abusive, and alcoholic father she had to perform several tough jobs, and even so, she became one of the first women to work as a writer. Together with her baby born out of wedlock, she went heartbroken and depressed on the high seas trying to track down her disappeared boyfriend. This adventure crystallised in a successful travel book, a delicious a provocative read, a brilliant story! Mary had no breaks, no advantages, and even made an attempt to commit suicide, but she tirelessly fought for all women’s rights. Fortunately, she had time for true love as well and married the social philosopher, political journalist and novelist William Godwin. This deeply in love couple had a child, who was this little girl? Nothing more and nothing less than Mary Shelley!, Frankenstein’s writer, but that is a story for another day. Sadly, Mary Wollstonecraft died two weeks after her daughter’s birth of puerperal fever.

“This light was lent to me for a very short period, and is now extinguished forever!”

William Godwin’s memoir of Mary Wollstonecraft, 1798

Finally, from Tierra Trivium Group we honour this brave woman who paved the way for future generations of women to abandon the category of second-class citizens and we will keep working since in this fight:

“The beginning is always today”

Mary Wollstonecraft

 

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