Mary Wollstonecraft (oil painting, c. 1797), whose voice of dissent against subordination under men was deemed radical during her 18th-century life.)
It’s International Women’s Day!
The Universe is 13.8 billion years old. For only 0.002 % of this time have there been human beings. Yet for nearly all of that women have been seen as subordinate to men.
This point barely requires fleshing out: women have been denied voting rights, education, and bank accounts; are, on average, paid less; are expected to bear more household responsibilities; take men’s names in marriage and change their personal titles; are objectified in terms of sexual currency more; and disproportionately suffer from gender-based violence, at home and on the streets.
Without the work of Mary Wollstonecraft (b. 1759; pictured) the feminist movement may not have been birthed into action as soon as it did. In A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) Wollstonecraft argued for equal legal, social, and political rights. Many other philosophers (e.g. Jean-Jacques Rousseau) were advocating differentiated education; ‘radically’, Wollstonecraft was supporting equal treatment of girls and boys from a young age.
Her beliefs were grounded in the view that women and men have fundamentally similar brains and minds, that they aren’t that different in nature. Given the same opportunities, she said, women will acquire the same approach to life as men.
Of course, there are other compelling positions to consider. Simone de Beauvoir (b. 1908) similarly believed that differences are constructed: men make themselves ‘Subjects’ and worlds are created in which women are ‘Others’. But Beauvoir was unsure what either gender really is other than what is acquired unnaturally.
Then maybe women should be able to acquire the same opportunities as men.