Mary Astell

Mary Astell had a tart tongue. You might think she was countering Rousseau, of “men are born free, but everywhere they are in chains” fame, but she published Some Reflections on Marriage in 1700, 12 years before he was born, and 62 years before The Social Contact appeared. Her target was John Locke, who contrasted freedom, the right of all men, with slavery. “Humph!” thought Astell. And then she asked her question:

If all men are born free, how is it that all Women are born slaves? as they must be if the being subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary Will of Men, be the perfect Condition of Slavery? and if the Essence of Freedom consists, as our Masters say it does, in having a standing Rule to live by?

Indeed. A different question in 1700 than it is today, but fascinating, nevertheless.


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