Remembering Mary Wollstonecraft: champion of the obvious yet controversial
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It is very fashionable for writers to comment on the obvious. Currently, an entire herd of writers, commentators and journalists make their living pointing out that which is obvious and uncontroversial. This population have dedicated their efforts to sharpening their wits on the dullest subjects, and the dullest of all subjects, the current U.S president, produces wave after wave of boringly obvious thinkpieces. Michael Wolf's Fire and Fury, Omarosa's Unhinged, and Bob Woodward's Fear all write, print, and package softball truths already known to the public to the chorus of 'resistance'. Writers who deserve the honourable title of radical write in the narrow space between the obvious and the controversial. And Mary Wollstonecraft, writing at the time of the French Revolution, lived her life writing on the controversial yet obvious.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia CommonsHaving died two-hundred and twenty-one years ago today, Mary Wollstonecraft is remembered for her radical book A Vindication of the Rights of Women, and is remembered as one of the earliest feminist writers. Far a lofty treatise, Wollstonecraft writes that "the discussion of this subject merely consists in opening a few simple principles, and clearing away the rubbish which obscured them". The simple principles that she opens the book with can be stated as a syllogism: first, reason is the unique and exalting aspect of humankind; next, the only measure by which someone can be exalted is virtue; third, passion exists to be struggled with in order to produce knowledge. If women do have the faculty of reason then the only solid foundation for any virtue, happiness, and perfection must be that "truth which is common to all". From this lucid first principle, Wollstonecraft begins to examine every so-called 'womanly virtue' and tears each down that does not hold up to the standard of reason. It is through this process that Wollstonecraft provides her greatest example and legacy for future generations, and in it affirms the necessity of revisiting her arguments.
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