Books that Changed Humanity | A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Presented by ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences

Books that Changed Humanity is an initiative of the Humanities Research Centre, based at the Australian National University. The HRC invites experts to introduce and lead discussion of major texts from a variety of cultural traditions, all of which have informed the way we understand ourselves both individually and collectively as human beings.

Join us as Associate Professor Karen Green (University of Melbourne) introduces and discusses Mary Wollstonecraft's groundbreaking 1792 work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

It has been claimed that ‘the first major feminist voice belongs to Mary Wollstonecraft’ (1759-1797), and her Vindication of the Rights of Woman is often described as the origin of the ‘first wave of feminism’. It was written in the early years of the French Revolution and argued against male authors, most centrally Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who had helped develop the ‘prevailing opinion of a sexual character’ which Wollstonecraft claimed had reduced women to ‘a state of degradation’. This book was widely translated and disseminated in the years following its first publication, and the fame, or notoriety, of its author was helped by a ‘warts and all’ biography written by her husband William Godwin. This talk will provide an introduction to Wollstonecraft’s most famous work, and situate it in relation to Wollstonecraft’s other writings. It will also discuss the influence on Wollstonecraft of some of her less famous female contemporaries, and in particular, the republican historian, Catharine Macaulay.

Associate Professor Karen Green has taught philosophy at many Australian universities, on a wide variety of subjects, including existentialism, feminism, political philosophy, and philosophy of language. She currently holds a research fellowship at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of A History of Women’s Political Thought in Europe, 1700-1800 (Cambridge University Press, 2014), A History of Women’s Political Thought in Europe, 1400-1700, with Jacqueline Broad (Cambridge University Press, 2009), Dummett, Philosophy of Language (Polity, 2001), and The Woman of Reason (Polity, 1995). For some years she has been engaged in research that aims to foster philosophical discussion of the works of women in the history of philosophy, and she is currently completing a book on the eighteenth-century historian and republican, political theorist, Catharine Macaulay.