Over 200 years ago, Mary Wollstonecraft (27 April 1759 – 10 September 1797) an eighteenth-century British writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights wrote the following:
" Another instance of that feminine weakness of character, often produced by a confined education, is a romantic twist of the mind, which has been very properly termed sentimental. Women subjected by ignorance to their sensations, and only taught to look for happiness in love, refine on sensual feelings, and adopt metaphysical notions respecting that passion... These are the women who are amused by the reveries of the stupid novelists, who knowing little of human nature, work up stale tales, and describe meretricious scenes, all retailed in a sentimental jargon, which....tend to corrupt the taste.... Unable to grasp anything great...they [are] necessarily dependent on the novelist for amusement.... When, therefore, I advise my sex not to read such flimsy works, it is to induce them to read something superior... In fact the female mind has been so totally neglected, that knowledge was only to be acquired from this muddy source, till from reading novels some women of superior talents learned to despise them."
- exerpt from A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft
That was two hundred years ago. She was fighting for women's rights; writing that women were driven to sentiment only because they didn't have the proper access to education or the motivation to read higher lit because of their extreme limitations due to their sex. Also that "Females, in fact, denied all political privileges, and not allowed, as married women...a civil existence, have their attention naturally drawn from the interest of the whole community to that of the minute parts." Yet there I sat, 2011, after having completed a degree in political science with other educated, well read women watching and for the most part enjoying being entertained by a story very much dedicated to sentiment. Women are more educated now then ever before and Twilight - dripping with sentiment and cheese - is hugely successful. I wonder if Mary is rolling over in her grave at this phenomenon.
I think Mary was right in encouraging women to read challenging texts however I think she may have been misguided in trying to purport the idea that women's fondness of sentiment is a weakness. Sometimes I wonder if in the pursuit of equality, women have shamed one another out of indulging in sentiment and taking serious note of their emotional selves because if it's not important to men - it shouldn't be important to women. I'm finding with being a mother that understanding my emotional self is hugely important in my job as their primary caregiver - an asset, not a liability, not a weakness, not something to be ashamed of. Being pregnant, my emotions are very much at the forefront of my life and my gut tells me there might be a good reason for it.