women's writing

Thoughts from Mary Shelley’s Mother

In honor of Women’s History Month, I’d like to share some quotes from Mary Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the seminal feminist work A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).

I think it reflects her time and the forces arrayed against her that Wollstonecraft is so skilled at shrewdly turning around the arguments of her opponents: telling men, in effect, that recognizing women’s rights is just as important for men as it is for women. For example, she writes: “Would men but generously snap our chains, and be content with rational fellowship instead of slavish obedience, they would find us more observant daughters, more affectionate sisters, more faithful wives, more reasonable mothers – in a word, better citizens.” 

Arguing against her time’s prevailing view of women as weak and foolish, only concerned with matters of beauty and fashion, she observes that little more can be expected when men have cut off all opportunities for women’s education, keeping them in a state of total dependence: “Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.” 

Finally, here is another idea I think is very applicable to our time–and to many other areas besides feminism:  “The greater number of people take their opinions on trust, to avoid the trouble of exercising their own minds, and these indolent beings naturally adhere to the letter, rather than the spirit of a law, divine or human.” 

Thank you, Mary Wollstonecraft!


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