Wollstonecraft: Progressive, Not Radical

Wollstonecraft: Progressive, Not RadicalI am a feminist.

For anyone who knows me that is no earth shattering declaration; however, for those who don’t know me, simply stating that puts me in this category in their minds. Maybe they think I hate men, burn bras, and basically rage against the patriarchy holding women down. 

The truth is I don’t hate men, I married a good one. I would never burn my bra because I actually like the support. As for raging, well, I have something to say, but I do it without all caps and exclamation points. 

My father died when I was seven, and my mother raised me and my siblings. She never remarried. I remember her going back to school to earn her GED. She encouraged me to go to college, which I did. I actually attended an all women’s college. I graduated, got a job, married, and had kids. In that order because my mother raised me to think things through and make informed decisions.

She made sure I understood that I was responsible for taking care of myself first. She taught me that anyone I married should be my partner in life. She emphasised the importance of working together to raise our children, but if I should ever find myself alone with my kids that I needed to be fully capable of caring for them on my own. She taught me well.

When DJABC decided to set A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft as March’s reading selection as part of Women’s History Month, I was excited and apprehensive. I had heard many say that Wollstonecraft was one of, if not the, pioneering women of feminism. As a feminist I should actually know her work, and not just of it, but  as much as I count myself a feminist I am just as turned off by the extremists that claim feminism as many others. Was this going to be that whole man-hating, bra-burning, raging woman thing?

In short, no. 

In fact, I was quite surprised to find that much of what Wollstonecraft proposed in her vindication was almost exactly how I had been raised. Wollstonecraft calls for the education of women to be on par with that of their male counterparts. Women should be taught with and how to utilize reason so that they can be valuable, contributing members of society. Marriages should be formed of companionship and friendship. Women should be involved in raising their children, and strong enough to do so even if they find themselves alone. 

My mother has never read A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft.

Though there is more to A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, at no point does it call for the overthrowing of men. It calls for women to step up, to fulfill their duties as citizens, wives, and mothers with dignity and virtue. Wollstonecraft mentions virtue frequently, and when she does it is clear that she means it to apply to those individuals who demonstrate fidelity, integrity, and intelligence built on the foundation of reason. 

My ideas of feminism haven’t changed, but they have been reaffirmed. It isn’t about superiority or who’s in charge. It’s about holding your own and working together. 

What are your thoughts on feminism? 

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