Monday, April 27, 2009

Happy 250th Birthday to a Women’s Rights Pioneer

“I love my man as my fellow; but his scepter, real, or usurped, extends not to me, unless the reason of an individual demands my homage; and even then the submission is to reason, and not to man.”-- Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

For many people today, the name Mary Wollstonecraft is short for Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who, in Frankenstein, created what might be the first great horror story.

Mary Shelley made a lasting contribution to modern thought with her critique of the unintended consequences of science. But her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft (who died in 1797 from consequences of giving birth to her daughter) just as admonitory: the price paid by both sexes for what John Stuart Mill, in his own powerful critique of the same phenomenon during the Victorian Era, called The Subjection of Women.

Like the American feminist pioneer Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Wollstonecraft (whose 250th birthday occurs today) possessed a relentlessly logical critical intelligence and an incisive writing style that not only swept all before it but also still practically cries out for quotation. But, besides the quote above, over the years I’ve encountered more than one woman who’s echoed another thought of the great Anglo-Irish female radical philosopher:

“It would be an endless task to trace the variety of meannesses, cares, and sorrows, into which women are plunged by the prevailing opinion, that they were created rather to feel than reason, and that all the power they obtain, must be obtained by their charms and weakness.”

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