Freedom as Independence: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Grand Blessing of Life
Hypatia, 2014 Forthcoming
23 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2014
Date Written: May 30, 2013
Independence is a central and recurring theme in Mary Wollstonecraft’s work. Independence should not be understood as an individualistic ideal that is in tension with the value of community but as an essential ingredient in successful and flourishing social relationships. I examine three aspects of this rich and complex concept that Wollstonecraft draws on as she develops her own notion of independence as a powerful feminist tool. First, independence is an egalitarian ideal that requires that all individuals, regardless of sex, be protected to a comparable extent in all areas of social, political, and economic life, no matter whether this is in the public or private sphere. Second, so long as this egalitarian condition is not compromised, independence allows for individuals to perform differentiated social roles, including along gendered lines. Finally, the ongoing and collective input of both women and men is required to ensure that the conditions necessary for social independence are maintained. In Wollstonecraft’s hands, then, independence is a powerful ideal that allows her to argue that women must be able to act on their own terms as social and political equals, doing so as women whose perspectives and interests may differ from men’s.
Keywords: Wollstonecraft, Freedom, Autonomy, Independence, Non-Domination, Feminism, Republicanism, Motherhood
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