When the ideas of equality in Western Europe, specifically in France and England, are discussed, one thinks of the disparity of wealth between the aristocrats, the bourgeoisie, and the peasant classes. However the subject of equality comes specifically out of a male dominated society.
In France during the 1790’s Women were treated as inferior to men in all respects, both physically and mentally. They were not represented equally politically, and had practically no voice in the changes that were coming to France at that time.
During the Same period the wife of an aristocrat in England Marry Wollstonecraft, was able to take advantage of the education that her status provided, and wrote about the plight of women during the period. Wollstonecraft commented on both the sexism and the belief of most men during the period that women were simply social objects. Wollstonecraft’s writings were ahead of her time. She could be considered to be one of the first Western European women’s rights activists. In her writing she specifically describes how men would never ask the opinion of women on any subjects having to do with social or political issues. She also describes how many men treated women like objects, or as a delicate thing that may break if it was handled poorly. Wollstonecraft’s argument is that women should be included in the workings of western society. She cited the fact that women are never consulted, and therefore are not able to influence their surroundings, and therefore are at the mercy of men.
Wollstonecraft’s writings were heavily influenced by the events of the French Revolution, and the fact that women, especially peasant women bore the brunt of many atrocities that the revolution produced. Wollstonecraft was ahead of her time in the way that she argued for increased representation of women in the political realms of her time.
In Mary Wollstonecraft’s The Vindication of the Rights of Women, she postulates that women are seen as being “under men” as they have been viewed as less important since the dawn of time. While I understand what she is saying and completely agree that women need to have more rights (especially in this day and age), women in general have let this “discrimination” happen to them over the course of history. What we think of as the classic housewife was what a woman strived to be for the majority of human history – a baby factory that would take care of the kids, clean the house and prepare the meals. It was only until the Age of Enlightenment where women became outspoken about their position in the social sector, and it wasn’t until much later (early 1900’s) where they began to make some serious progress in terms of being able to vote and garnering basic rights. This is obviously a topic that needs time to transform into a stronger entity before it can really push for more equality, but we are already starting to see some of the effects. There are more women CEO’s and managers of American business, and women salaries are as high as they have ever been. This is a process that will continue to evolve throughout time, but we can say without a doubt that the women of the world are finally getting recognized as “true members” of society (which is funny, because they outnumber the men).
“After attacking the sacred majesty of kings, I shall scarcely exit surprise by adding my firm persuasion that every profession, in which great subordination of rank constitutes its power, is highly injurious to morality.” I chose this line because this is where Mary Wollstonecraft transitions from her criticisms of the monarchy and those ruling civilians to her criticisms of all who are more powerful in the workplace and who utilize power over others to their benefit. This is a critical step because many discussed their issues with the autocracy of the government, however not all recognized the smaller- scale occurrences in everyday life. She continues on to use armies as examples of ineffective institutions for humanity as “subordination and rigor are the very sinews of military discipline,” and thus will not provide the very freedoms that humans will look for in the long run. Wollstonecraft provides a look into our very institutionalized power struggles- where citizens can not exclusively blame the monarchy and must turn towards the struggles within each other.
In this section of the passage, Wollstonecraft appears to have a similar perspective to that of Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto, written about 50 years later. Just as she recognized the power dynamics of society and how that influences humanity, Marx also attempts to address the issue of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat who are bound in an inevitable power struggle based on their class. Estranged Labor also appears reminiscent of Wollstonecraft, as she mentions that “authority pushes the crowd of subalterns forward, they scarcely know or care why, with headlong fury,” showing how those subordinate lose themselves in the work they do- in the work that is chosen for them. Both works recognize how this harms the character of the individual, as Wollstonecraft states that “the character of every man is, in some degree, formed by his profession,” and Estranged Labor similarly recognized that the worker is distanced from their own identity. Both attribute this to the lack of personal choice in the professions, and trace that back to those with more power in the workplace who make decisions for others.