Friday Feminist – Mary Astell (2)

I’ve used this quote from Mary Astell before, ‘though not in my Friday Feminist series. However, this week I have been working on John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government with my students, and I have been struck, again, by the tartness in Mary Astell’s writing.

Locke wrote:

§22. THE natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but to have only the law of nature for his rule. … but freedom of men under government is, to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it; a liberty to follow my own will in all things, where the rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man: as freedom of nature is, to be under no other restraint but the law of nature.

John Locke, from Chapter IV, “On Slavery”,
in Two Treatises of Government, 1689

To which Mary Astell replied:

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?

Mary Astell, Some Reflections Upon Marriage, 1700

It tastes like biting into a raw quince.


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