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Mary Wollstonecraft Introduction

What Mary Wollstonecraft did... and why you should care

Today, we call the writer Mary Wollstonecraft a feminist. Since they didn't have that word when she lived in 18th century England, she got called a lot of other things - an "able advocate"1 for her gender, a "hyena in petticoats,"2 the bearer of a "rigid, and somewhat amazonian temper."3 (That last one, by the way, was from her husband.) Wollstonecraft's groundbreaking 1792 treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Women brought her instant notoriety. Not all of it was positive. People's reactions to the essay had less to do with Wollstonecraft's ideas, and more to do with whether the reader felt a woman should be writing at all.

By today's standards, the Vindication isn't all that shocking. Wollstonecraft argued that if women were going to be good wives and mothers, they needed to first be intelligent, educated citizens. Though some men felt attacked by her essay, astute readers realize that she was really calling out women. Stop letting yourself be treated like children, she demanded of her fellow females, and start acting like responsible adults!

"The first object of laudable ambition is to obtain a character as a human being,"4 Wollstonecraft wrote. Male or female, we don't see how you can argue with that. Her eloquently articulated essay is the basis for modern feminism, and has influenced the way generations of women view themselves and their obligations to society. We don't know if Beyoncé has read Vindication, but we heard echoes of Mary Wollstonecraft when Mrs. Jay-Z told Oprah that the "most important thing is to make sure you have your own life before you're someone else's wife."5 If Wollstonecraft's ideas are good enough for Sasha Fierce, they're good enough for us.

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