• "Parents of the mind": Mary Wollstonecraft and the Aesthetics of Productive Masculinity

    Dustin Friedman (see profile)
    TC Sexuality Studies
    Romanticism, Feminism
    Item Type:
    Gender and sexuality
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    Although Mary Wollstonecraft's analysis of masculine sexuality and sensibility in the Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1791) and The Wrongs of Woman, or Maria (1797) mostly concerns the ways in which the oppression of women results in the unnatural encouragement and consequent perversion of male sexual desire, I believe that these two texts also offer a subtle consideration of a positive form of masculine sexuality, one which is vital to her egalitarian sexual politics. Specifically, many moments in the Vindication gesture towards a socially oriented and benevolent type of masculine sensibility that concerns itself with aesthetic production rather than with heterosexual reproduction. Wollstonecraft embodies this type of socially useful masculine sensibility in the character of Maria's uncle in Maria. Although the novel ostensibly rep resents this character as heterosexual, Maria's uncle exhibits gender and sexual behaviors that differ both from those associated with eighteenth century concepts of masculine sentimentality as well as male reproductive sexuality. These behaviors are positively valued in the novel because they al low for the sublimation of reproductive energies into a didactically useful form of masculine sensibility. Furthermore, Maria characterizes her uncle's benevolent, non-reproductive masculinity as absolutely essential to the maintenance of society, insofar as he becomes the example par excellence of a socially useful sensibility that allows sympathy to be directed outward, unselfishly, towards others, as well as producing a new concept of marriage, one liable to divorce. Such a reading of the Vindication and Maria allows one to recognize in Wollstonecraft's project a theory of the political importance of non-reproductive sexual identities within an egalitarian society and also, I believe, provides the starting point for an analysis of a particular genealogical branch in the history of sexuality in the figure of the "benevolent uncle."
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    3 years ago
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