A Final Chapter on Wollstonecraft: 18th Century Feminism for a 21st Century World

Even though I haven’t posted for a couple days, I’ve been thinking.  A dangerous activity, indeed.  In a recent post, I wondered how Wollstonecraftian feminism and class struggle issues of the 1790s  could be pertinent in 2011.  Surely in this modern age we’re properly enlightened?

I know feminism is alive and well today, but I feel it’s a very different brand of feminism than that espoused in Wollstonecraft’s Vindications.  Today’s feminism seems primarily concerned with the body: sexual and reproductive freedom.

I might be making no friends here by saying it, but feminism today is also bizarrely obsessed with being pro-vaginal:  love me, love my menstruation.  This has led to no end of weird things popping up on Etsy – the cool kid’s handmade Ebay.  For example:

Uterus jewelry.

“Love your ladyparts” soap – in the shape of said ladyparts.

Vagina mug.

Uterus superhero plush toy.

Hand-embroidered vagina art.

I could go on, but I’ll leave that to the domain of Regretsy, a blog devoted to weird shit on Etsy.

So, back to the topic at hand, I hold that today’s feminism has taken female empowerment well in hand.  Now you can proudly show off your vagina-love to all and sundry, and society can just deal.

But what of Wollstonecraftian feminism?  I doubt Mary would have thought vagina jewelry particularly pertinent to her arguments.  Is there still a place for arguments about female agency, strength of moral fortitude and reason?  Or do we feel we’re beyond these antiquated concepts?

With this current body-driven feminism, I feel it has become very inward-looking.  We lack the  sense of the wider, what it means to be an agent for feminism in a world that still seeks to degrade us as emotional, unreasonable and unequal.

And of course, this generalisation doesn’t take into consideration those brilliant few who do take their feminism to beyond themselves.  What I’m talking about here is the wide majority of women, in their everyday lives as daughters, mothers, sisters and co-workers.

Feminism has been fought for for generations, centuries even, so perhaps there are those who say, “The battle was won, what does this have to do with me?”  But it has everything to do with you, living as you do in a fluid society.  There will always be those who seek to diminish the power of the Other, that threatening presence of those who place ones own view of themselves into stark  and frightening contrast: the women, the poor, and those who are sexually, ethnically and religiously different.

And in Wollstonecraftian feminism there lies a universality.  She writes that her “affection for the whole human race”  and the “rights of humanity” are the motivation for her work.  It is not an argument that seeks only to benefit her personally.

I call with the firm tone of humanity; for my arguments […] are dictated by a disinterested spirit – I plead for my sex – not for myself.

And thus Wollstonecraftian feminism couldn’t be more pertinent to today’s modern world, as indeed it will be pertinent for as long as there is society itself.

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