Prior to the Enlightenment era, women in society lived their lives almost entirely governed by men. Women were expected to live within a certain domestic sphere. The Enlightenment era was viewed as the founder of individualism and rationality brought forth for women. (Sherman 44) The Enlightenment is the revolution that questioned the traditional, political, and social structures, that included the question of a woman’s role in society. Mary Wollstonecraft argued for the rights of woman to be educated. (Spielvogel 509) She thought that through education women could gain emancipation.
She goes on to argue that educating women will be valuable in strengthening marriage. Mary thought a woman needs to have equal knowledge and sense to men. (Spielvogel 510) She believed that if a stable marriage was present, the ability to provide proper education for children would be provided. In defending this, she accepts that in her time, women’s place was in the home. She does not isolate the home from public life as many did in her time and still to this day. Wollstonecraft believed, public life and domestic life are not separate. She proposed that the home is an important part in the formation of public life, and public life enhanced and served the individuals and the family. Men have duties to withhold in the family, as much as, women have duties to withhold in the state.
Rousseau saw women’s biological difference from men as being so basic that no male freedoms and passions need apply to women. Rousseau followed in the footsteps of Aristotle, who saw women as lesser men who should just stay out of the way. Rousseau saw that women in some ways were in fact superior to men. Their natures made them more nurturing and the ones best suited to care for young children. (Spielvogel 511) Rousseau thought this was very important, since he thought childhood was an absolutely crucial stage of human development. He only thought of one kind of woman, and that is the woman who doesn’t try to intrude into any areas of life belonging to men, and who cultivates only those abilities that please and serve men.(Spielvogel 511) For Rousseau, the ideal society was that of strong men and a home-centered wives and mothers.
Rousseau was more convincing than Wollstonecraft, because he was a male and Mary was a female, and more people would listen and believe men more than women in that time. The results of Wollstonecraft’s ideas were unfortunately unsuccessful. Many writers stayed clear of her. Few writers mentioned her or used her work in theirs. If they did they did it privately. Although Mary’s ideas did not have a huge impact on society and government during the enlightenment, (probably due in part to her gender and scandalous life),her ideas are now fully accepted in most governments around the world.
She was a big piece to creating a world that we now assume as normal. Mary deserves more credit for the state-of-the-art ideas that she promoted during the Enlightenment. In fact, I believe Mary Wollstonecraft was the strongest philosophical thinker of her time.