Interlude: Mary Hays on Female Dependence

The Memoirs of Emma Courtney provide much food for thought. I especially enjoy reading Hays’ exclamations on the unfairness towards women at the time. She truly seems a great author to read as a companion to Mary Wollstonecraft:

Cruel prejudices! – I exclaimed – hapless woman! Why was I not educated for commerce, for a profession, for labour? Why have I been rendered feeble and delicate by bodily constraint, and fastidous by artificial refinement? Why are we bound, by the habits of society, as with an adamantine chain? Why do we suffer ourselves to be confined within a migic circle, without daring, by a magnanimous effort, to dissolve the barbarous spell?

7 thoughts on “Interlude: Mary Hays on Female Dependence

  1. Violet

    I get her point, but would she rather be slaving away as a servant or working in a factory? Would she rather have been one of the thousands of prostitutes who had no other way to earn money? Middle and upper class women got to travel and read. They didn’t have it as tough as working class women. And yes, my socialist hackles are slightly raised. :)

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  2. Emily

    I think Violet makes an interesting point that would also be an intriguing lens for viewing Wollstonecraft: she (Wollstonecraft) obviously has class-consciousness, what with her belief that rich folks are just as useless and enervated as women through misdirected education and privilege. But it’s possible that taking that view sort of downplays how miserable it was to be poor. I think there’s one passage when Wollstonecraft says explicitly that she’s addressing the middle class, which she think has the best hope for ending up well-adjusted…

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  3. nymeth

    The class angle is definitely relevant for early feminism (and the same goes for race, of course). But part of me worries that comparing who has it worse will be a futile exercise, as these are simple some very different ways of being unhappy. Of course, class privilege is very much real, and I’d take being confined to working 16 hours a day and still not making enough to eat any day. But I also wouldn’t want to be an upper class woman in the 18th or 19th centuries.

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  4. Violet

    Nymeth: I do get your point about bourgeois women being, and feeling, stifled in previous centuries. However, for me, class is of prime importance when viewing history. Privileged women were themselves oppressors of servants and tradespeople, etc and supported the oppression of people in other countries via
    colonial rule. I don’t think we can extract economically privileged women from their social & political milieau & treat them as a special case. Yes, they were oppressed by the patriarchy, but how much did they collude in their own oppression, and in that of others? Big questions. :)

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