Last month, I finally got round to reading A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Woolstonecraft. I wish I’d read it five years ago.

Woolstonecraft’s core argument is that women are just as human as men, and therefore deserve the same degree of education. It is not an easy (or pleasant) read, being somewhat verbose by modern standards.

It was most disconcerting that Woolstonecraft was having to make these arguments in the first place, however. From her quotations of some of the other intellectuals of the day, it seems as if most considered the mere notion of gender equality a category error.

This, then is an indictment of both my education and reading patterns that this had previously passed me by. Worse yet, I have enjoyed many performances of pre-1900 opera in this same state of ignorance. Can one be said to truly appreciate art who does not understand its cultural context?1 Was there any point in seeing Princess Ida without knowing that this was part of the reaction against that which Woolstonecraft espoused? Perhaps so, but what a litany of missed opportunities!

  1. This hit me most forcefully when I first visited the Sacre Coeur in Paris. I had recently been reading about the period in French history from Revolution to the Commune’s fall. It is a beautiful building. However, being able to understand some of its meaning and context improved my visit immeasurably. ↩︎