She is regarded as an eighteenth-century feminist though taking a closer look at her work one would be mistaken not to think that Wollstonecraft is not a modern feminist in the 20th century. She is perhaps the earliest writer on feminist themes and at a very controversial time, a time when women were expected to be subordinate to men. Wollstonecraft without a doubt presented her ideas in full braveness and showed the world that women too have feelings. From a literal point of view, it becomes tempting to ask ourselves what could have led a woman to write a feminist novel. Well, I would say the answer lies in the ideas that the writer conveyed and the circumstances that culminated into her book, “A Vindication of the rights of Woman” It’s very intriguing for us who thought and still think that the feminism gesture started when women started to venture into the male-dominated fields for Wollstonecraft proves us wrong (Wollstonecraft 1792).
Being in the eighteen century and leading a controversial life, Wollstonecraft is seen as a liberal woman, and therefore not surprising that her book though situated in the 18th century still has relevant content that can contribute to our modern lives. Was she preparing us for the coming of feminism and women’s liberation? The events that surrounded her intrigue to write the novel can also be attributed to her situation with her family. Wollstonecraft saw her mother battered by her father and her sister abused by her husband. She attributed the events of women being subordinated to men and anticipated how the future of women would be and in turn, wrote the novel “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” in a bid to try to change the future of women in the days to come (Wollstonecraft 1792).
When we regard Wollstonecraft as a great feminist writer of the 18th century, we give her credit for shining light on women’s issues and their oppression in society for instance being denied the right to education. Therefore, when we look at where women have come from regarding fighting for their rights to these times when they can access education and venture into fields that were only thought to be suitable for men, we can only say that her work has helped us to prepare for the future. A time when women have access to education can be heads of states, large organizations, and important people in the society. Education has allowed women to be in the same position as men, for instance, women have become heads of states and influential people in society and turn contribute to the well-being of the society. When we compare the modern era where women are presidents, Nobel Prize winners, heads of states, politicians, to how women were viewed in the 18th century, then, I can only voice the words of Mary Wollstonecraft that women have the same abilities as men (Wollstonecraft 1792). If great writers like Wollstonecraft did not blow the whistle, where would our societies be and how would we be treating our women? Only courageous and extraordinary women like Wollstonecraft would challenge the societal commonly held beliefs in the 18th century. Her attempts to revolt women would better have been understood had she written the book in the 20th century where women are taking charge of their lives, but not her, she introduced the concept of women having equal rights to men at a time when such thoughts were condemned if not to say none existing (Wollstonecraft 1792).
To begin with, her book was a response to the constitution of French whereby men were the only ones to be granted citizenship. In addition, women were to be passive for they did not have the right to public life showing that women could not even participate in public events (Wollstonecraft 1792). Wollstonecraft was also angered by the fact that the girl child was only to be educated in areas that allowed her to be submissive and this marks the beginning of ideas in the book.
Wollstonecraft fought for the liberation of women, not from men but themselves (Wollstonecraft 1792). Then how did she do this? She argued that women can liberate themselves by gaining an education that will allow them to be respected in society and by their husbands. Though not brought out in the book as the main idea, I see Wollstonecraft as trying to say that she does not dispute the idea of the woman being a companion to man, but the woman as a companion and as a mother would be better if she had a good education in addition to her beauty. She is not seen as the fighting tradition that the woman should be man’s companion but tries to say that she needs to liberate her thoughts and ideas from the traditional ones of being passive when it comes to men and the reason why Wollstonecraft advocated so much for the education of the girl child (Wollstonecraft 1792). Perhaps we can say that Wollstonecraft’s speculations would come true and become real over time though when she wrote the book, her ideas were disputed by many people. If we are still living in the traditional setting where women were only supposed to be housewives, what would happen to our economy where women also make a great contribution to the economy? What would happen to the large labor force which is provided by women in today’s organizations? This is just but a mention of a few of the areas where women through education have contributed and therefore I fully concur with Mary Wollstonecraft’s ideologies of women liberating themselves through education.
“A Vindication of the Rights of woman” is also a masterpiece in presenting the real situation for women. It’s a rather practical book that urges women to have something to hold on to instead of living in the adventurous world of only pleasing the man (Wollstonecraft 1792). Wollstonecraft urges women to scrutinize their passion for pleasure through a bird’s eye view. Through her book, she showed women that there comes a time when beauty fades and therefore the perception of how men will view them in terms of their sexuality fades with the beauty. That being the case, what would be the place of the so-called ideal women regarding the societal notion of women? In the modern-day, would men tolerate the traditional notion of women as only house helps and their companions? To answer my question as a no is my opinion and perhaps the answer to many of the people.
For Wollstonecraft to argue that women should have the same rights as men (Wollstonecraft 1792), it is no doubt to say that they contribute greatly to the economy of a country. Women become better wives and mothers when they are educated. Then again it is true to say that we have exhumed her writing which was disputed in the 18th century to the modern day where women are being educated and viewed the same as men. Her writings have taken us through a historical journal of the struggles that women have taken to be where they are today.
Jane Eyre about “A Vindication of the rights of Woman” is an important novel in that the historical context in the novel coincides with Wollstonecraft’s novel. Both novels were first published in the 18th-century context. To begin with, the author of Jane Eyre used a male name to hide the fact that she was a woman author. It is documented that after the novel was published, many people had positive comments about the book before it was uncovered that the author was a woman. This shows that women were supposed to be submissive and therefore writing novels was not their area of specialization. This further illustrates Wollstonecraft as a brave woman for having used her name and made it known that she was fighting for the rights of women. Women’s oppression in the 18th century was dominant but Jane the main character does not succumb to depending on the man as she feels that there should be no difference between the way she is treated and the way a man is treated (Bronte 2006). Jane is depicted in the novel as standing for her rights and it is only when she is assured of her independence in the marriage with Bronte that she agrees to marry him. The historical concept of the novel is no different from Wollstonecraft’s novel, “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”. The two novels depict a time when women started to become aware that there is not much difference between them and the man, that they could reason the same as their men counterparts, and that they had the same abilities (Bronte 2006). The novels signify the beginning of the women’s revolution and therefore Mary Wollstonecraft’s novel could not have been written at a better time. The ideas in the novel “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” emphasized ideas in Jane Eyre’s novel of women’s liberation and women’s freedom.
Jeremy Bentham’s novel “Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation” is also feminist in the context of the 18th century. Bentham’s novel also advocates for the equality of women to men. He argued that women should not be seen as inferior to men and that they should have the same rights as men. Bentham’s as a feminist choose his career as a reformist due to the way women were being oppressed. He does not fancy the idea that women are only perceived as mere helpers to their husbands with little rights in society (Bentham 2003). Bentham’s ideas also echo Wollstonecraft’s ideas in her novel.
It is without a doubt that the 18th century was a time of great revolution and a time when societies came face to face with the radical change of norms. It is during this time that great writers like Wollstonecraft advocated for better treatment of women and urged society to give the same chances of education to the girl child. About the novels discussed in the text, we can therefore conclude that the 18th century was a time of great awakening to how societies should view women. It was a time when people realized that women too could be granted the same rights as men. We cannot dispute the fact that some societies still have a long way to go to accepting women as equals to men, but without the shadow of a doubt, the 18th century was a landmark to the awakening of women from their submissiveness to people with equal rights n the society.
Bentham, Jeremy. An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. Ed. Hart, H. U. S. A. Oxford University Press. 2003.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Ed. Davies, Stevie. New York. Penguin. 2006.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Ed. Carol, H. Poston. New York: Norton. 1792.