Wollstonecraft considered friendship to be the most profound of all relationships that could be established between mutually agreeable individuals. Reason, virtue and equality were all embodied in the dimensions of friendship – satisfying all emotional pleasures of the recipient. Eger (2009, p.110) argues that Wollstonecraft had, “a political impulse to define friendship and particularly friendship between women, against heterosexual love, as an alternative realm that might offer women a measure of independence and dignity denied by the social institution of marriage.”
However, to what extent do the friendships within her writings truly empower and promote female solidarity within the companionship? Does Wollstonecraft convey an air of steadfast sister-hood or unsympathetic hostility amongst females? In this essay I will endeavour to argue that Wollstonecraft’s rigorous dedication to promote female empowerment and friendship as a rational virtue was in a fact corrupted by its functionality to fulfil self -interests rather than express genuine emotion. Although she strives to empower females through mutual friendships, she does so only for personal gain with no limited intent in improving the lives of women as a collective sex.
In examining the characters of Jemima and Maria in ‘Maria: The Wrongs of Women’, I will argue that although the pair demonstrate some degree of compassion for each other’s situation, one of the novels main requisite is to address female participation in a regime of male terror, the violence women do to themselves and to one another. In examining the novel alongside ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ I will argue that Wollstonecraft’s idealistic idea of friendship often becomes distorted and tainted due to her own harsh ridicule of women and sensibility.
Alluding to herself as a renegade of her own sex, Wollstonecraft heavily blamed female degradation on their own desire to be more feminine. She set herself aside from this speculation. In ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ she states, “This desire of always being women is the very consciousness that degrades the sex” (VRM, 1992, pg.107) Wollstonecraft desired that women should forget their sex and acquire more masculine characteristics. These startling declarations, which are strewn throughout the text, display hostility towards the female sex as a whole. Instead of advocating the female voice she is in some respect yearning to eliminate them, rather than release them from the constraints of a male world. She seems to be implying that the only way women can truly empower themselves is to disregard any characteristics of femininity entirely. This desire to be masculine is echoed in ‘Maria: The wrongs of Woman’ through Maria’s exclamation, “Why was I not born a man, or why was I born at all? (M, 2004, pg.105) Maria believes that had she been born a man, her life would have been more fulfilling. Wollstonecraft does not commend any of Maria’s physiognomies of sensibility but condemns her to a life of servitude to men and childish fancies simply for expressing her womanly traits.
Wollstonecraft’s elevation above women and her critical attitude towards females perhaps stems from her own difficult past and her relationship failures. Her vicious assaults on the many women portrayed in ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ and to womankind in general were perhaps illustrated an eagerness to set herself aside from the rest of her sex. Therefore, it could be said that ‘A Vindication on the Rights of Woman’ functions only as a condemnation of the actions of women, and also to separate herself from the follies of her own sex. Taylor (2003, p.17)