Feminine Essentialism and Compulsory Maternity in the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft

  • Amanda Scherr


Mary Wollstonecraft is often credited as the “aesthetic foremother of feminist expository prose” (Gubar 454), but her status as a feminist icon is problematized by her essentialist ideology regarding gender and motherhood. While her work presents a radical imperative for the civic equality of the sexes rooted in a fundamentally genderless capacity for reason, this imperative is nevertheless constructed around traditional notions of motherhood as the essential role of the female. This essay seeks to explore the dissonance between her clear feminist imperative for change and her tendency to err towards feminine essentialism.