A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft
Published by Dover Publications (first published in 1792)
First published in 1792, this work by early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft caused quite a scandal when it came out. Wollstonecraft was an independent women with ideas of her own, and she grew up educating herself and eventually formed ties with other radical intellectuals who were looking for changes to take place in their time. This book is one of the very first feminist writings and for that fact alone, is an important read.
A Vindication of the Rights of Women was the first selection for A Year of Feminist Classics, and I must admit that it was an extremely difficult read for me. I closed the book hoping and praying that the other eleven books I hope to read for this project won’t be as taxing. Luckily, I’ve since finished The Subjection of Women (the February selection) and found it to be a much more pleasant experience, so I needn’t have worried about that. If you’ll notice I’m reviewing A Vindication in early March – I was supposed to have finished this book in January. I honestly could not read more than 5-10 pages of this book at once, which is why it took me so long to read. The narration is very difficult to get into, the writing is dense and uses tons of words I’m not familiar with, and it seemed to me that Wollstonecraft repeated herself about a dozen times, just using different words to say the same things.
However, while this book was not an easy read for me by any means, I’m still glad I read it. I think it gave me a deeper appreciation of the struggles women have had to go through to get to where we are today. In Wollstonecraft’s day, she was ostracized and condemned for writing a book that is based on a simple truth: women are people, too. Women should have rights just as men do, women should have choices available to them, etc. And that was quite a radical concept back in Wollstonecraft’s time.
It’s clear just how radical the concept was by the fact that most of her ideas would still be considered conservative and oppressive in today’s world. She wasn’t advocating for complete equality between the sexes, she was simply advocating for women to have some rights, some choices, some decision-making abilities, some representation in leadership, etc. She still wrote that women were best suited for motherhood, that they aren’t as strong as men – ideas that when people say them today I want to laugh in their faces. But again, she was extremely radical for her time.
Did I find reading this book to be an enjoyable experience? Not really. But was it a worthwhile one? Absolutely. I do not read many classics or historical texts of any kind, and reading this book reminded me that I should at least put a little effort towards this area of literature. The ideas I have and the beliefs I hold have a historical context, and reading A Vindication of the Rights of Women was one tiny step towards my understanding of that fact.