Romanticism emerged in Europe towards the late 18th century, and is referred to as an “artistic, literary and intellectual movement”, that opposed many societal aspects such as family, government, and monarchical that were apparent during the Enlightenment period. This era created an atmosphere booming with ideas surrounding freedom, liberty and equality. However, these ideas appeared to be futile for women as they were not entitled to the same human rights as their counterparts were. Hence, female advocates argued that for Romanticism to exist, they too deserved to be treated and given the same opportunities as men were.
Many women writers contributed to the feminists wish to transgress towards a more liberal and equal state, and none more so than the ‘mother of feminism’, Mary Wollstonecraft. In her novel, A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1972), Wollstonecraft shaped new ideologies, partaking in what was known at the time as a public and masculine domain. In doing so, Wollstonecraft both refuted and responded to writers before her like Edmund Burke and Emile Rousseau. Her writing, commonly known as the first female manifesto influenced writers after her to begin debating similar topics and questioned the fairness of equality between genders. Whilst Wollstonecraft’s work did elicit debates within the literary world and was sometimes not agreed on, it can be agreed that it created a discourse in hopes of improving the lives of women.
Women in the Romantic period, despite their differences agreed that education was the source of their inequality. For example, whilst men were taught more valuable lessons, such as philosophy, politics, and economics; women were taught subjects such as how to dance, paint and sew. Thus, it could be argued that the focus of women’s education was primarily based on their ability to please society, and in turn charm themselves a husband. Women were said to be taught how to act, rather than act, and “so weak they must be entirely subjected to the superior faculties of men” (p.108, A Vindication of the Rights of Women). Wollstonecraft argued that instead of women being forced into a certain livelihood, a livelihood that was not in parallel with Romanticists ideas, women needed to be allowed to break free from such boundaries.
The notion of importance of education was supported by another female writer during the Romantic period, Mary Hays. Hays, like Wollstonecraft argued in her work Letters and essays, moral and miscellaneous that women were pawns within their own lives as she writes “that they deserve a better fate; and that it is to man alone to whom they owe their humiliating state in society” (pp. 112-113, Letters and essays, moral and miscellaneous). Both feminist authors argued that women deserved to have reason behind the way they acted, and if this was not provided to them their actions in everyday life was merely superficial and baseless.
Although many of the ideas brought forth by Wollstonecraft and the writers who followed behind her, the arguments they raised provided leeway for future feminists to create a possible solution to the ongoing inequality.