Life lessons from our foremothers strengths and shortcomings through their challenges and wisdom.
“It is essential to know our roots…for we are sacred blossoms that continue to bloom and branch off the tree of life.”
Shannon Hogan Cohen
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December 15th, 2014
By: Shannon Hogan Cohen
Not everyone will understand, appreciate or embrace you. These three independent and influential statements summarizes our first Daring Dame, Mary Wollstonecraft born April 27th 1759.
I do not know how it is for you, but for years I have struggled with relating in this world as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend
and member of society. I often felt lost, un-fulfilled and needed someone or something to relate to without being judged. Over time, nothing satisfied my hunger for curiosity, connectivity and intellectual stimulation - except books. I was constantly on the quest for evidence that I was not alone, and there were others who were feeling similar frustrations. My family, my children, my civic duties were a portion of who I was, but there was something else not present; I was determined to locate this missing link in any way I could. By reading about captivating, yet discontented women of the past, I was able to relate and feel at peace with how I was not alone in my quest.
The woman who really made me reflect and reached me was Mary
Wollstonecraft, one of our foremothers of feminism in the 18th
century. She did not march through life toward specific goals of feminism, but fought her way to personal freedom. Proving a tenacious intensity at a time when women were presumed inferior by the laws, customs and religious beliefs. What I most admire about her is that she demanded an allocation of contentment and intellectual fulfillment. She refused to imitate the obedient and
ornamental model of a woman. She aspired for individuality, intellectual achievement, a career, family, affection and love. I think many of us can relate to this yearning in some manner.
She was the daughter of an unsuccessful farmer who happened
to be a brutal drunk. Many nights, Mary laid outside the door of her mother’s bedroom to stop him from entering and engaging in his enraged fits. This may have been the unconscious foundation
to her advocacy for equality and education of women. She felt enlightening oneself was the key to achieving a sense of self- respect. “A new self-image could enable women to put their skills and capabilities to good use and not need to depend on anyone but
themselves.” She would ponder and practice this mantra patiently throughout her life.
Mary attempted suicide in her first marriage, unhappy with her relationship, reportedly compromising her self-worth for her husband. In many of her books, she counseled women to seek tranquility through reason and restraint. She wrote numerous interpretations and reviews revealing her increasingly awareness of women’s secondary status. Mary was often a voice of reason,
supporting either sex. Her reputation flourished after she wrote, “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” her repertoire included other novels, travel narratives and even a children’s book.
She set out to help women achieve a better life not only for themselves and their children, but also for their husbands. In fact, before she wrote A Vindication of Rights for Women; this forward- thinking woman wrote “A Vindication of the Rights of Men.”
Mary Wollstonecraft passed at age 38, as a result of an infection
from giving birth to her second daughter. This daughter named Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin became an accomplished writer herself. Many of you know this famous poet and novelist by her pen name, Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.
Mrs. Wollstonecraft is now regarded as one of the founding
feminist philosophers, however it took nearly a century to catch up with her mode of thinking. The emergence of the feminist movement at the turn of the 20th century gave her work credibility. It took a bold individual to question the gap between society standards with one’s own vision of what co-existence between men and women should look like. Her second husband, a well-known philosopher and theorist himself wrote a biography entitled “Memoirs” after her sudden death. It reveals her unconventional lifestyle and critical thinking skills that guided her for almost a century. I often wonder did the public’s lack of acceptance and rejections affect her.
We continue to live in a parallel world today as Mary Wollstone- craft did back in the 18th century. While resilience remains programmed into our genetic coding, we are still searching for contentment within ourselves and relationships. We cannot lose who we are unless we give it away to someone. Ms. Wollstonecraft understood this and she embarked on a mission to empower women and men alike. Moving forward we need to continue promoting this partnership where gender recognition, respect and the fostering of individual growth is mutually supported. “Be yourself everyone else is already taken” is an old adage that always warms my heart. It was important for me to find peace with my restlessness and understand its origin by sharing my journey to fulfillment with others.
I leave you with one of her prudent proverbs, “A cultivated mind is necessary to render a woman or man contented.” Continue to be curious, always seek radiance within yourself and learn to not be afraid of anything. These three powerful statements summarize what Mary Wollstonecraft accomplished in her short-lived life whether people understood, appreciated or embraced her. She encouraged many to make every effort for a higher level of self.
Let’s join in her vision as Daring Dames and be beacons that guide and inspire the less daring.
Shannon Hogan Cohen