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Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97)

AQA, Edexcel, IB

Last updated 2 Jun 2020

Mary Wollstonecraft is one of the predominant figures within the first-wave of feminism. She is also a leading figure within the branch of theory described as liberal feminism.

Wollstonecraft is best-known for her work ‘A vindication of the rights of woman’ in which she argued that both men and women should be treated equally as rational human beings. She also claimed that women were not naturally inferior to men, but may appear to be because they’ve been denied educational opportunities. In order to substantiate her perspective, she once argued that “the mind has no gender.” This is one of the most well-known quotes within the ideology of feminism (along with “the personal is the political” and “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”).

Wollstonecraft advocated formal equality in which women were entitled to the same civil liberties as men. In doing so, women would be able to experience a life of genuine liberty free from the constraints of patriarchy. This would even extend towards women being allowed to have a career outside of the home, an argument that was well ahead of its time. For such reasons, Wollstonecraft is rightly regarded as one of the founding mothers of the feminist movement and managed to establish an impressive legacy given her short life. That said, attention towards her unorthodox lifestyle has perhaps gained a disproportionate amount of attention. Her reputation was tarnished and the double standards imposed on women who are prepared to speak their mind is still a relevant point to consider today. Wollstonecraft was a true pioneer and should be properly recognised for that. A great many feminists that came afterward owe a debt of gratitude to her trail-blazing approach.

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