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Man and Woman Equal in God's Image

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Man and Woman Equal in God's Image

Mary Wollstonecraft (April 27, 1759-September 10, 1797), an advocate of equal rights for women, was an inspiration during both the nineteenth and twentieth century women's movements. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which was published in 1792, is considered the first great dissertation on feminism. Wollstonecraft believed that all people, not only women had inherent rights and were victims of a society that assigned people their roles and responsibilities according to the false distinctions of class, age, and gender.

To fully understand the revolutionary impact that Wollstonecraft's writings had on her contemporaries as well as future generations, we must look at the treatment given women and those of lower social circles of her day and also look into Wollstonecraft's background and see how that affected her ideology.

Wollstonecraft was born in London, the second of six children and endured a difficult childhood. She was denied the love and advantages given to her older brother. Her father, Edward John Wollstonecraft, was a drunken tyrant who bullied his wife. Many times, Wollstonecraft had to protect her mother from his abusive rage. (Worth-Jones) At nineteen, she went out to earn her own livelihood and found that Eighteenth Century women had very limited choices. Marriage, of course, was assumed, followed by motherhood. Women were permitted to work if their social class allowed, but choices were very limited and social class would limit those choices even further. Mary supported herself as a lady's companion, seamstress, governess and schoolteacher. For the most part, she was self-educated.

Wollstonecraft was a congregant at the Unitarian chapel where its minister, Richard Price, influenced her. (Worth-Jones) Through her friendship with Dr. Price, she entered into a circle of intellectuals and radicals that included Joseph Priestley, Thomas Paine, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Blake and William Godwin. During this time she became a translator and reviewer for publisher Joseph Johnson, who allowed Wollstonecraft's work to appear in his periodical, Analytical Review. Wollstonecraft declared herself 'the first of a new genus', and found that her ideas grew rapidly in this new world of intellectuals.

Wollstonecraft was living in an ever-changing world of thought. During the Age of Reasoning and the Enlightenment, established beliefs and standards in areas of education, the state, the family and religion were being scrutinized and studied through a new lens of rational thought. Influential thinkers such as Descartes with his Discourse on the Method and Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica pulled the proverbial legs out from under the table with their new methods and ideas. With Britain's Glorious Revolution in 1688 and the French Revolution in 1789, people were seeing the creation and evolution of citizenship and inalienable rights. But even as some of our greatest thinkers were promoting and defending democratic principles of equality and began challenging notions that only a privileged few should rule over a majority of the population, many still believed that these principles applied only to their gender and/or race.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen came out of the French Revolution and was heavily influenced by Enlightenment thought. This document affirmed the "natural and imprescriptible rights of man to liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression". It also called for freedom and equal rights for all men. The Declaration recognized that most rights belonged to men and men only. There was no statement made about the status of women.

Olympe de Gouges, political activist and playwright, published a parody of the French document called Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen. She exposed the failure of the French Revolution, which had been devoted to equality and fought by men and women alike and in it state, "This revolution will only take effect when all women become fully aware of their deplorable condition, and of the rights they have lost in society".

Edmund Burke, who served in the British House of Commons, attacked the ideology fueling the French Revolution in his Reflections on the Revolution in France. A follower of St. Augustine and Cicero, he was troubled and



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