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The political theory of Mary Wollstonecraft

The political theory of Mary Wollstonecraft

June 24, 2021

In the mid-eighteenth century, something was changing in Europe. After the Renaissance banished religion from the center of intellectual and political life and the Enlightenment promoted the idea that education is key to forming extraordinary human beings beyond their origins and physical appearance, the following question appeared: Why were women confined to the domestic sphere?

The English writer and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft He devoted a good part of his time to dealing with this issue of inequality and clear domination of man over woman. His works were very influential in the development of the first wave of feminism, which emerged several decades after his death.


Next, we will see how these first questions of masculine domination were formulated by Mary Wollstonecraft and how she opposed the dominant ideology of her time.

  • Related article: "Types of feminism and its different currents of thought"

Who was Mary Wollstonecraft? Short biography

Mary Wollstonecraft was born in April 1759 in London. Soon she began to experience the malaise caused by poverty when her father spent all the family's money, so that both she and her parents had to move from one place to another without achieving economic stability.

During his adulthood, soon began to be frustrated by the difficulties that women had to go through when it comes to earning a living. Western society was designed to push women towards marriage, and it was assumed that the creation of the family was the vital goal of the entire female gender in general. However, Wollstonecraft did not give up: he created a school with his sisters and his friend Fanny Blood.


However, soon after, Blood got engaged with a man and went to live with him out of the country. This complication, together with the fact that Wollstonecraft went to Lisbon to take care of her friend when her health worsened, caused the school's project to fail. From this point Mary Wollstonecraft concentrated on writing, both essays and novels . He died in 1797 because of a complication in childbirth.

The theory and thought of Mary Wollstonecraft

Here you can see the theoretical foundations on which the philosophy of Mary Wollstonecraft was based and which made it one of the earliest references of feminism.

1. The importance of education

Mary Wollstonecraft was totally influenced by the Enlightenment, and therefore he believed in the progress achieved through rationality and learning . This idea so normal to our eyes at that time was radical if applied to the differences between men and women. It was assumed that all differences in interests and behavior patterns were biological, and that traditional roles were a true reflection of the "nature" of both sexes.


2. The principle of equality

So, Mary Wollstonecraft argued that the default option was to presuppose equality between the sexes , and that in any case they were the defenders of the innate differences between men and women who had to provide very powerful proofs in favor of their intellectual position.

This point, together with the previous one, led Mary Wollstonecraft to totally reject Rousseau's pedagogical approach, which from its point of view based on romanticism proposed segregation between boys and girls in schools in order to offer adapted to "natural-differentiated" characteristics.

3. Break with tradition

This philosopher explained the strong differences between the expected roles of men and women were mainly due to the physical domain of man over the woman chronified over the generations. Thus, the woman is educated so that she accepts without questioning a passive and helpful attitude that, naturally, moves away from the complete intellectual development enjoyed by many men through academia.

This point led Mary Wollstonecraft to question a good part of the traditions , since he understood that these can be a form of oppression and that therefore they must be revised and adapted to human well-being.

This position, by the way, was developed several centuries later by Simone de Beauvoir and other strictly feminist theorists of the time, although Mary Wollstonecraft did not enjoy access to large amounts of information extracted through anthropology, due, of course, to the time in which she lived.

  • You may be interested: "The feminist theory of Simone de Beauvoir: what is woman?"

In conclusion

The ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft fit very well with the liberal conception of egalitarianism.It did not go much beyond the denunciation of clear impositions of man over women, such as the impossibility of having economic independence and the lack of rights in the political sphere. But nevertheless, served to cast doubt on the idea that women should remain submissive by its own biology and by pointing out that traditional traditions and roles can be very harmful if they are not questioned.


Who Was Mary Wollstonecraft? (Famous Philosophers) (June 2021).


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