Mary Wollstonecraft was a literary figure of the eighteenth century who strove for the emancipation of women through education. Her personal life was also unconventional as Mary was fiercely independent in her loves, lifestyle, and convictions. In her fiction, she depicted how a woman’s limited choices and the suppression of women led to tragic ends. She advocated for the education of women and their independence, declaring that “women should behave as nearly as possible like men.”
Further, Wollstonecraft rejected the concept of chivalry in her time. She challenged those who argued that this code of conduct ensured that actions would be ethical and proper, making it unnecessary to bestow rights for the less powerful. Wollstonecraft criticized Edmund Burke’s response to Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man. When Burke argued that men were, in fact, chivalrous and concerned about the weaker members of society, Wollstonecraft cited examples of unchivalrous actions by the English upper classes, along with evidence of the suppression of women.
Advocacy for Feminism
Mary Wollstonecraft’s assertion that women should act like men was meant as a call to women’s independence of thought and action. She perceived the stultifying role of women in her society. Her first book was Thoughts on the Education of Daughters. Later, in Mary, a Fiction, she challenged Rousseau’s idea that liberty and equality applied only to men. In this work, she illustrated how the limited choices open to women was detrimental to society at large. In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, her response to Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, Wollstonecraft introduced the ideology of feminism. She asserted that “women should behave as nearly as possible to men,” implying that they should be independent of thought and action. Women also should have educational and other opportunities available to them.
Advocacy for Educated Women
When responding to Burke, Wollstonecraft strongly disagreed with the notion that women were created to be mothers and cultivators of the atmosphere of the home. Rather, she advocated for women as essential elements of moral instruction, social values and the basic education of children. She emphasized the importance of the education of women, convinced that educated wives would strengthen marriage as they would better understand their husbands’ thoughts and feelings. Such mutual understanding would bring them together rationally, as well as emotionally. Mary Wollstonecraft believed that the equality of men and women was essential to a free society.