Mary Wollstonecraft: The Pioneer of Revolution in Women’s Education and Womanhood

“I earnestly wish to point out in what true dignity and happiness consists, I wish to persuade women to endeavor to acquire strength, both of mind and body…and to show that elegance is inferior to virtue, that the first object of laudable ambition is to obtain a character as a human being regardless of the distinction of sex……”

Wollstonecraft belonged to an era which was tempered by seventeenth century English Philosopher John Locke’s revolutionary ideas and fervour. The spirit of radicalism was further empowered by French revolution which had as its stated ideals as liberty, equality, and fraternity. This phase of social and political turmoil pushed Wollstonecraft to come out with her political thinking and ideas regarding Women’s education and rights which were documented as “ Thoughts on the education of Daughters” followed by “ A Vindication of the Rights of Man” and “ A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” . Her works were more analytical which deals with the melancholy of social status of women, marked by debilitated education, no economic independence, and no career choice.  According to her, Women’s rights were to be seen not in the closet of their own but as a part of an ongoing movement for human upliftment and development. This should be seen in the context of the issue of human rights in general and for both men and women’s part of the revolution. She said that education is integral to the development of individual identity, to let the mind work freely irrespective of external impressions and associations. And this is essential in case of women when they had always been subjugated and hence more bound in an irrational way to first impressions. Their mind had always been tutored to please others, far from seeing the world in clear light of reasoning and understanding. She 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”. Instead of being the slaves of domination and enforced opinions, women should develop their own thought process. They should have subsequent access to a career and business. Defective education of women is the cause of social and personal ills. She believed that educated and well-versed women are essential to our society since they nurture the future generation of the country. They can be seen as companions to their husbands rather than attractive docile figures meant for pleasure. To further nourish the concept of equality of education, she argued that schooling should be co-educational where education and knowledge should be imparted to children irrespective of their gender and demand of work in future. This approach will help to cultivate the general human thinking towards broader perspectives of life, be it granting the equal status to women in society. She also laid emphasis on educating children to reason rather than accepting the facts as presented. In fact, the groundwork for her revolution for women’s rights was prepared on the basis of reasoning and observation of ordinary life.

Through her works, Wollstonecraft became the pioneer of feminism.  She challenged the existing social norms and refused to accept it. Instead, she became the political voice for women’s right whose legacy crossed the borders of England and travelled across the globe that is live 200 years after her premature death.

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