because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Monday, December 3, 2012

Mary Wollstonecraft

Born in England in the mid-1700's to a middle class family the head of which was a drunkard, Mary Wollstonecraft used to lay in front of her mother's bedroom door to prevent her father from beating his wife. Then, in her late teens, sick of it all and without funds, she took a position as a lady's companion, but the arrangement didn't work out well (thanks, more than likely, to her already being an in-your-face woman) and she proceeded to move into her unconventional future the best way she knew how.

She tried being a teacher of children in a community of people with progressive ideas, spent some time in France hanging around revolutionaries, and finally found her permanent niche in writing, first A Vindication of the Rights of Man (about why the French were right to revolt against their king) and then A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (about why women should be adequately educated so they can fulfill an appropriately equal role in society). In response to the idea that women are incapable of reasoning on the level of a man, Wollstonecraft wrote: "Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman's scepter, the mind shapes itself to the body, and, roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison."

Unfortunately, when she died at thirty-eight from complications after childbirth, her husband published the story of her life -- complete with its unrequited love affairs, a child out of wedlock, suicide attempts, and so on -- causing her to be dismissed as an intellectual for a century. But when the women suffrage movement began in earnest in the late 1800's, Wollstonecraft was re-discovered in a different light and by the 1960's, she was being taken for the serious writer and agitator she was. In-your-face women including Lucretia Mott, Emma Goldman and Virginia Woolf were all inspired by and sent up salutes to Wollstonecraft's life and work. Woolf wrote of her: "She is alive and active, she argues and experiments, we hear her voice and trace her influence even now among the living." Obviously, to be an in-your-face woman is to live forever -- even if it takes a while for folks to realize it.

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