Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Mary Wollstonecraft began her political writing career in 1790 by publishing A Vindication of the Rights of Man, the first rebuttal of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). In this work, she refuted the conservative claims of Burke and his idealization of the English tradition, and she championed the French cause of revolution. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman can be seen as the logical sequel to A Vindication of the Rights of Man, and it takes up many of the same themes. Wollstonecraft dedicated the book to the French statesman Talleyrand, and throughout she points out the superiority of French society over English society. She also repeatedly stresses that a society built on respect for rationality and equality rather than inherited positions of superiority must deal with the issue of women and their place as rational beings in that society.

This book was written at a time of great political upheaval throughout the world, and Wollstonecraft hoped, like many, that France was following the United States to lead the world into a new era of enlightened social thought and practice. Though those dreams were not fulfilled, the work still stands as the most significant early feminist statement of the interrelatedness of gender, social class, and economics.