Mary Wollstonecraft had a very hard early life, her father was obsessed with public standing, which led to his inevitable downfall, and she was forced to work as a governess in Ireland for extremely poor pay. She had an extreme passion for education and most importantly, giving women the same education as men. She believed that women were only given this education by which they were taught superficial things such as how to cook, clean or sew; the things that were expected of a woman in those days. She believed that women ere entitled to a freedom of knowledge and that they should be given the equality of opportunity. In Mary's opinion, women were too quick to accept this education, and she was in general critical of women as a whole, and not men, who may have been seen as the people to implement this method of education.
Wollstonecraft would have supported John Locke's theory that the human has nothing in their mind to start off with, and that everybody starts with this 'blank slate'. The majority of men at the time would have believed this applied only to men, whereas Locke and Wollstonecraft believed it to be all humans. She published her first book, 'Thoughts on the Education of Daughters', this was described as a 'self-help' book that gave women advice on not only how not to accept the conventions of education, but also gave etiquette and morality advice, as well as guidelines on how to care for infants.
Another philosopher who intrigued Wollstonecraft was Jean-Jacques Rousseau; even though she was in awe of him she was also critical of him; Mary was fully supportive of the French Revolution and the tearing down of the old regime, which was mainly driven by Rousseau, however, she had previously pleaded with the leaders of revolutionary France to ignore Rousseau's views of women and to grant them full equality.
Wollstonecraft's most famous publication was the Vindication of the Rights of Women; this was diagnosis of the current state of female manners, and was not an attack on society for treating women the way they did, but rather aimed at middle class women to ask them why they were accepting these conventions. It metaphorically put a mirror in front of the female population, and was seen as a well needed wake up call. The vindication was given a very warm response.
• Wollstonecraft argues that men are given a ‘birthright’ to fight oppression whereas women are not given the same birthright but they instead despise the freedom that men have. Saying this she also says that ‘they (women) have not sufficient virtue to struggle to attain’ – so she is saying that even though women want this given right to be able to considered equal to men, they are reluctant to fight for it.
• ‘Men have, probably, been led by viewing education in a false light’ – she goes on to say that men see education as something to prepare you for life, whereas it should be seen as a step towards perfection and it is for this reason that women in Wollstonecraft’s opinion are not given equal education. They are taught to cook/clean/sew etc.
• Wollstonecraft describes women as ‘slaves’.
• She believes that, what she describes as female ‘folly and vice’, stems from people being narrow minded. The government produce obstacles, which prevent female understanding and therefore leave them to remain inferior to the male species.
• She describes women as ‘weak beings’ – she blames not just men and society for bringing down the female species but more the women in the world for adhering to these beliefs therefore not giving themselves a chance.
• She even seems to become frustrated in her writing: ‘Ah! Why do women, I write with affectionate solicitude, condescend to receive a degree of attention and respect from strangers.’ She is asking why is it that women are forced to give even strange men their attention and respect even though when a man and a man meet this is not the case. She is angry it seems at all females for making themselves this way.
• To me it seems as though Wollstonecraft sees women as these robotic beings that a controlled or used as a puppet by men. It is as if they are born from a machine or that they are man made, so much so that they are not willing to break the mould. This is what Wollstonecraft sees women as, in that they are all forced to be the same sort of character and she wants them to break out and stop complying with the in-equalities.
• I think that Wollstonecraft is annoyed by the way in which women are also treated in society when it comes to things like men opening doors for women: ‘I scarcely am able to govern my muscles, when I see a man start with eager, and serious solicitude to lift a handkerchief, or shut a door, when the lady could have done it herself, had she only moved a pace or two.’ So basically she thinks that if a woman is shown to need the man to do such things for her, she is allowing herself to become a lesser figure. What she wants is for a woman to act exactly the same as a man, and open doors for herself, or pick up a hander kerchief for herself.
• Wollstonecraft sets her main wish to be that she wants there to be no distinctions between a man and a woman in society unless it is shown via love or a relationship; only then can we see who is the ‘male’ and ‘female’.
• She believes that certain women have received this ‘masculine’ education, and therefore gone on to acquire great courage and resolution, therefore proving her point that females are not inferior to males if given the right tools to succeed. If they are not given the opportunity, and they are forced to abide to the stereotypical ideals, then they are not able to show the equality.