Step 2 Part 1 Fact Sheet 2: enlightened women

Enlightened Women

Mary Wollstonecraft

During the 18th century Enlightenment, intellectuals started to question the authority of religion over society. Some women also joined the discussion. In her A Vindication of the rights of women, English writer Mary Wollstonecraft made an indictment against the authority of men over women. She wrote that women were equal to men in ability. In her view, men accomplished more in society because it was much more difficult for women to get a good education. Once women would be educated as well as men, they would be able to have their own independent lives: “I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” The publication of A Vindication caused considerable controversy but failed to bring about any immediate reforms.

In 1789, revolutionaries in France drew up the Declaration of Rights of Man and the Citizen. In it, they demanded political rights and freedoms for men: male men. As a response, Olympe des Gouges, a woman deeply involved in cultural and political debate, wrote the Declaration of Rights for Woman and the Female Citizen (1791). The first article of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen proclaims: "Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be based only on common utility." The first article of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen responds: "Women are born free and remain equal to men in rights. Social distinctions may only be based on common utility." During the Reign of Terror (1793-1794), Des Gouges was tried and executed for her political writings.

Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen