Dear Mary Wollstonecraft,
Today is International Women’s Day so there was really nobody else who I could write today’s letter to. Especially a few days after Jeremy Corbyn decided that it’s time a statue of you is built. You are Britain’s first feminist. You were the forerunner to the whole Suffragette movement. You’re the woman who started it all off. You stood up and demanded that women and men be equal. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is so stuffed full of wonderful quotes that I could just spend this whole post continually quoting from it.
I haven’t always been the best kind of feminist. Obviously, I’ve always been pro-women’s rights and pro-equality. However, I’ve experienced the kind of shyness that made it difficult to admit it. I’m painfully British so I didn’t want to upset the status quo. I didn’t want to make a fuss by going on about it too much. Even during my university years I openly tried to stay away from openly feminist literature just in case people thought I was stirring up trouble. Now? I don’t give a shit what people think. I’ve read your work so many times at this point that I had to learn something eventually.
“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” It’s your most oft quoted maxim and for such good reason. So many times do you find yourself having to explain to men too stubborn to listen that, no, as a feminist I don’t want to take rights from men but, instead, ensure all women have the same rights. I struggle to do it quite so eloquently as you did but I’ll always try. I realise that the feminist movement has moved on since you first published your responses to The Rights of Men but you’re still my inspiration. Having the strength, especially during the period in which you were writing, to stand up for yourself and your gender is something I can’t fathom. You continue to inspire me to be better. To continually fight. You’re everything we needed.
Although, despite all of this respect I can’t, in all honesty, say that I have loved you since I first heard your name. It wasn’t reading your political writing that caused me to truly embrace you. That came by getting to know you personally… I mean not personally, obviously. You’d been dead for a fair bit before I was born. But allow me to take some artistic licence for a second. During my postgraduate degree I read Letters Written During a Short Residence for one of my modules. Now I’ve always been a bit obsessed with reading other people’s letters: probably because I’m so bloody nosy.
What I wasn’t expecting was to completely fall for you. Your husband, William Godwin, once wrote the following quote: “If ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book.” Never have I agreed with Godwin more, although I would change the word “man” to “person” for obvious reasons. Your letters are emotional, intelligent and beautifully written. You bared your soul and, at times, it was heartbreaking. Yet you hold yourself with such grace that’s impossible not to love you. Despite your psychological pain, you engage with your audience and create a gripping narrative. Making it absolutely impossible for a young woman not to fall in love with you as Godwin once had.
And it’s getting out of control. Having read Mary and discussed it in my postgraduate dissertation I felt confident enough to recommend it to a friend. I knew almost instantly that she wouldn’t like it but couldn’t help it. You’re writing has wormed its way into my brain and has taken up residence. Other people should find out how good that feels. I could carry on writing this letter and talk about how important you are. How influential a figure you’ve been in British history. How vital you were to modern-day feminism. I could talk about how desperate I am to thrust a copy of your writing into the hands of young women so they can have the kind of enlightening experience that I once had. I could but I won’t. I will simply say, there is no woman I would rather be celebrating here today than you.
The beginning is always today,