Profiles of Emancipation - Wollstonecraft to Castellanos and Beyond
“It is vain to expect virtue from women till they are in some degree independent of men; nay, it is vain to expect that strength of natural affection which would make them good wives and mothers. Whilst they are absolutely dependent on their husbands they will be cunning, mean, and selfish. The preposterous distinction of rank, which render civilization a curse, by dividing the world between voluptuous tyrants and cunning envious dependents, corrupt, almost equally, every class of people.”
- Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792)
Mary Wollstonecraft, feminist and activist in eighteenth-century England, was born of a handkerchief weaver in Spitalfields, London in 1759. With her sister Eliza and friend, Fanny Blood, Wollstonecraft opened a school soon after her arrival in Newington Green in 1784, linking up with a group of men known as Rational Dissenters who rejected the traditional Christian ideas of original sin and eternal punishment. Her friend, Joseph Priestly, a member of this radical organization, had published the “Review of the Principal Question of Morals” in 1758 arguing that individual conscience and reason were pivotal when making moral choices. Richard Price’s chapel, a new church, became Mary Wollstonecraft’s inspiration and Price commissioned her to write a book based on her ideas on education. This collaboration bore fruit in “Thoughts on the Education of Girls.” Published in 1786, the volume challenged traditional teaching methods, offering alternatives and new topics that could be studied by young women.
Wollstonecraft, together with a colleague, founded the journal “Analytical Review” two years later. She, along with other leading intellectuals and writers, championed the cause of American Independence and the French Revolution. She was undaunted by critics who were appalled at her outspoken views on human rights, which included the slave trade, inhumane treatment of animals and plight of the poor. The publication of “A Vindication of the Rights of Man” brought Wollstonecraft into the elite circle of thinkers such as Tom Paine, John Cartwright, William Godwin and William Blake. The Unitarian Society was formed soon after the publication of the first part of Paine’s “Rights of Man” in 1791, creating a flurry of radical activity. Paine was forced into exile, but Wollstonecraft, along with others, carried on the struggle for reform of religious and political ideas in Britain.
With regards to the phenomenon of women’s movements in Latin America at the advent of the nineteenth century, the “silence was deafening.” Gender relations and politics in Latin America blatantly reflected the view that feminism was largely negative and feminists separate and isolated manifestations on the fringes of society with little in common with morally upright and conservative women of respectable circles.
The attitude that women could reach out to learn from each other and help to advance their civic skills changed slowly in the fledgling democracies of Latin America. As a result of a turbulent history and precarious beginnings, serious tensions around class, ethnicity and antagonism towards feminism persist in Mexico and among Latino populations where stereotypes of feminists as anti-men and motherhood’s leading critics are pervasive and divisive.
Feminist scholars often tend to dismiss women’s movements outside of their own intellectual groups as being derivative. This has contributed to detrimental stereotypes and resulted in healthy self-criticism to redefine objectives and make the goals of emancipation clearer, accessible to women in society and consequently more attainable. The recognition of radical and powerful women’s groups as determining factors in the changing fabric of Latino cultures has put pressure on the church and forced sociologists and theologists to re-evaluate and redefine evangelism.
Time is too long for life;
For knowledge not enough.
What have we come for, night, heart of night?
Dream that we do not die
And, at times, for a moment, wake.