Mary Wollstonecraft : a feminist and/or misogynist of her time?
Ong, Charissa Xiu Ling.
Date of Issue2011
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
This paper attempts to determine if Mary Wollstonecraft should be considered as a feminist or misogynist in her time by analyzing three of her writings – A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Rights; 1792), The Wrongs of Woman (Wrongs; 1798) and, The Collected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft (Letters). Although the term feminist did not exist as a term in the lifetime of Wollstonecraft, her concern with female rights, which is what we term as “feminist concerns” today, are present in both Rights and Wrongs, where her desire to emancipate women from patriarchy is clearly articulated. For this reason, Wollstonecraft is commonly lauded as the mother of modern feminist thought. However, in spite of her vested interest in female rights, Wollstonecraft is nonetheless often accused of being a misogynist. As such, this paper will endeavour to trace the roots of Wollstonecraft’s feminism, to negotiate the diametrically opposite stances of Wollstonecraft’s political thought. By reading the section of Letters that is dedicated to her lover Gilbert Imlay in conjunction with the arguments made in Rights and Wrongs, it will be argued that Wollstonecraft’s feminism stems from her main concern of achieving social equality. Through an analysis of these three works, it will be shown that Wollstonecraft is primarily interested in achieving social equality by reforming patriarchal family structures into egalitarian ones. However, as it becomes clear that the achievement of social equality and the reformation of family structures would not be possible in the absence of equal gender rights, Wollstonecraft turns to focus on arguing for female rights. Despite the flaws that can be found in Wollstonecraft’s arguments, it is clear that she has indeed made valuable contributions to modern feminist thought. For these reasons, Wollstonecraft should be celebrated as a feminist for her progressive thoughts on female rights in her lifetime.
Final Year Project (FYP)
Nanyang Technological University