Wollstonecraft, the family (wo)man

I definitely liked Wollstonecraft; she made many radical and ground-breaking arguments about women in her society. Her analysis on how women have been shaped—as delicate, pleasure-producers, who are only educated for the desire of men—is right to the point of the whole problem of why women were treated the way they were, as inferior, how people thought this was all just ‘natural’ for them when it was obviously society’s ideals, creations, instead. Yet, through trying to make logical arguments—As of course she is advocating for reason—she seems to say that we should educate women like men so they will be able to raise their children better. Now, we all know, and Wollstonecraft was battling this too, of the stereotype of the stay-at-home woman, who cleans, cooks, and cares for the children while the men are the ‘bread-winners’. Wollstonecraft definitely tries to counteract this by saying how parents don’t let their daughters do physical activities so they can grow up to be a ‘proper’ woman (one who just sits at home all the time) or even how women should have a role in politics. But the fact that she does argue for woman’s education so they can be better mothers, still seems like she is saying women have to be mothers, thus perpetrating the stereotypical ‘stay-at-home mom’. Wollstonecraft had all these radical things to say about how women were treated and their role in society, yet she doesn’t attack the family system, as said in lecture, that ‘private’/’public’ split. Of course, looking at this in our modern viewpoint where women—in the first world—are allowed to have jobs and can work out of the house and earn their own living, Wollstonecraft seems old fashioned; she doesn’t say anything about how the husband could also help care for the child, etc. She did apparently say that unmarried women should be allowed to get a job or a role in politics, yet again, that is unmarried women. If you’re a married woman then you’re a mother Wollstonecraft seems to say. Now, of course, this could’ve been because of her time period; the family ideal was very normative, the nuclear family and such. But she said so many radical things about other aspects of what society thought was ‘normal’ for women, so why didn’t she attack the family structure, a part women have been so central to? My question may also come from the fact that Wollstonecraft is labelled a feminist (an early one) and radical feminists aside, she does seem to advocate for what feminists want (I guess probably because the feminists of the ’60s probably used her ideas), equality between men and women. So if Wollstonecraft seems to still regulate woman to motherhood when we now know that the normative family structure isn’t the only one that works and men and women can have similar duties in the family…well, yea, that’s why I’m questioning her. She did apparently have bad experiences with families—she made her sister leaver her husband and child, the child died soon after, Wollstonecraft was blamed and she had her own rough affair with a man where a child was born out of wedlock—, so those may have affected her view of the importance of the family structure as it was.

Also, I found her look at polygamy interesting. From what I understand, she says “[p]olygamy is another physical degradation” (188) because it seems to objectify women; “if polygamy be necessary, woman must be inferior to man, and made for him” (also 188). So she doesn’t like polygamy. And it makes sense, multiple woman to one man—harem situations—do seem like a man can just have many women like he could have many cars and so of course to our western eyes (marriage is between one man and one woman, again normative family) this seems like a terrible situation. And news stories about isolated polygamous religious groups also have added to our contempt of polygamy. Yet, there are stories now of how polygamy is not as bad as it seems. There are many stories out now about people engaging in polygamous relationships where they attack the standard that you must always be locked to one person and therefore cannot share your love for others, hence adultery. Yet as Wollstonecraft does show friendship can be stronger than love, love can fade, but also advocating for chastity and faithfulness among both men and women. Of course these polygamous relationships aren’t usually the one man multiple woman kind (which I guess is the polygamy stereotype), but are more equalized; with a heterosexual couple, the man can have relations with another woman and the woman be with another man. So I guess, again, Wollstonecraft’s views seem to fall short of our modern perceptions (as what does usually happen in the span of 200+ years).

So I just thought it was interesting to  some of question Wollstonecraft’s views though she is an early feminist and that is of course still a very good thing.

1 thought on “Wollstonecraft, the family (wo)man

  1. Yes, I too found her emphasize on women’s roles as mothers troubling, but I suppose it’s not surprising. She even says in several places (e.g., 274, 377) that bearing and raising children is the natural destiny of women, that it’s just what women are meant to do (not maybe ALL they are meant to do, but it is something that is tied to the gender in a deep sense). And I’m not sure why she thinks this; I don’t recall seeing a careful argument for why it ought to be the case. Okay, of course, the bearing of children must be by women, but must we be the main ones in charge of raising them? If so, I’d like to see an argument (she has arguments for many of her other claims!).

    Your points about polygamy are thought-provoking, though what you describe at the end of the post sounds more like polyamory to me–people agreeing that they may love more than one person, and being in relationships with several at the same time. Polyamory is different than polygamy just in the sense that the latter involves marriage and the former need not.

    On a different note, can you reactivate the plugin that allows commenters to check the box so they can get an email if there are replies? Go to “plugins,” then activate “subscribe to comments.” Thanks!

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