Thursday, 24 May 2012

Dear Ms. Wollstonecraft

Dear Ms. Wollstonecraft,

I am so moved by what you had to say about and for women in 1792 (in your Vindication of the Rights of Woman). Your call for women who tend towards frivolity "to obtain a character as a human being" is profound, especially for a time when I'm picturing corsets and pantaloons and swooning (5). Maybe you intended a cry to all women, actually. I can only imagine how infuriating it must be to look around you and see women without real or rigorous educations calling them to "a nobler ambition" (2).

I am writing to share a few key points from Vindication that resonate profoundly with me in 2012. First and foremost, I love your notion that "the women who have distinguished themselves have neither been the most beautiful nor the most gentle of their sex" and have certainly found this to be true (25). I often admire feisty, daring women, whose priorities and strengths have more to do with ideas and action than looks and passivity. You ask, "How then can the great art of pleasing be such a necessary study?" noting that "it is only useful to a mistress" (22). The great art of pleasing, it seems to me, continues to play a significant role in the world today--mostly in negative ways (for women and men). Your Vindication calls us to be authentic, thoughtful, and deeply rooted in a solid sense of self. Indeed, "Liberty is the mother of virtue" (37). What a powerful message for all readers--thank you!

Furthermore, Ms. Wollstonecraft, I appreciate your writing, "I love man as my fellow" (36). All waves of the Women's Movement have taken such a lashing for being (ostensibly) man-hating. (And sure, some feminists have been and are man-hating, but most aren't!) Also, the word "fellow" is so lovely. As I enter into marriage this summer, I love thinking of my partner and husband as my "fellow."

And, as you say, "Every individual is [...] a world in itself," inviting us to "cherish such a habitual respect for [human]kind as may prevent us from disgusting a fellow-creature for the sake of a present indulgence" (58,85). On the whole, Ms. Wollstonecraft, your profound message is about mutual respect and human rights--WAY before your time.

After re-reading Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth recently, juxtaposed with a re-reading of your Vindication, I am so glad you've included all the emphasis on a woman's mind, and not her looks or her age. You write about "the more important years of life, when reflection takes place of sensation" (21). Imagine that--reflection being more prominent than sensation! This, it seems to me, is a higher calling and ambition for us all. I DO value reflection over sensation, but I'm struck by the beauty of your language and the context of this particular part of this message.

Without any further ado for now, Ms. Wollstonecraft, I will say that I am moved by your prose and most of all by your innovative, striking, and deeply influential ideas.

With great admiration & gratitude,
From (& for) many years into the future,
Meghan S. Tally
London, 2012

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