Compare Wollstonecraft's time with our time with respect to gender equality.

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As an old television commercial once exclaimed, women have come "a long way, baby" in terms of gender equality since Mary Wollstonecraft's day. In fact, the way women lived then in eighteenth century England would be virtually inconceivable to women today.

As pointed out in A Vindication of the Rights of Women, women lacked any equality with men. They were denied educational opportunities and raised to be "husband-hunters." They had no rights once they were married. Under British law at that time, when two people wed, they became "one flesh" or one person, and that person was legally determined to be the male. Men had control of the money, the opportunity to work and earn income, the children, and monopolized all the decision-making power in the relationship.

Although considered radical at the time, A Vindication seems tame today. Wollstonecraft is not arguing that women should earn money outside the home or have the right to vote. She simply argues that women should be afforded a decent education and be raised in a more sober and less silly way so that they can be better helpmates to their husbands and parents to their children. She argues that women have equal mental capacity to men and are only held down because of lack of educational opportunities.

Today, of course, except in rare circles, it is accepted that women are equally as intelligent as men. The law now largely protects women as equals to men, and women working outside the home and earning their own money is socially accepted, as is the right of a woman to vote, get educated, and leave an abusive marriage.

As for points of comparison, women are still the second-class sex in our society and still struggling to achieve pay equity and freedom from sexual harassment in the workplace. Women are still judged primarily in terms of their bodies and sexuality—what they look like—rather than the quality of their characters or minds. Women are still conditioned to do things that Wollstonecraft would no doubt consider counterproductive, such as go to work in four-inch heels rather than in comfortable shoes or to be sex objects rather than helpmates to men.

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