During the early nineteenth century, women and slaves had few rights. From birth to their deathbeds, other people, their parents, spouses and slave owners, told them how to act, think, and even speak. Women and slaves weren’t allowed to do anything for themselves. The cruel treatment of slaves and the slave trade lasted for over 300 years and into the Romantic period in Britain. The buying and selling of slaves helped boost the economy in Britain, which became the main driving force for the English to keep African-American’s from their homes in Africa and selling them to the highest bidders.
British men during this century kept the same mindset when dealing with the slaves as they did when they dealt with their women that they were married to.
Men during the time considered women to be their property and, in their minds, the women didn’t deserve any rights of their own. Mary Wollstonecraft and Olympe de Gouges took a stand against this injustice towards women, while Mary Prince and Maria Edgeworth voiced different positions on slavery.
There is much evidence that advocates on both sides of the issues, abolition of slavery and women equality, that relies on the moral and economic arguments for their positions. Even though med considered themselves to be superior to women and slaves during the early nineteenth century, women and slaves didn’t stop fighting for their social equality from the men who held an arbitrary power over both groups.
As mentioned, the Romantic-era was anything but romantic for women.
Women had no rights over their own lives. They had no power to take out a loan, own property unless they were a widow, they were even denied legal custody over their children if their husband decided they wanted a divorce, they were not allowed to conduct any business at all, and they could not go against their father’s pick of who they were going to marry. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1798) by Mary Wollstonecraft states how “… viewing the living world with anxious solicitude, the most melancholy emotions of sorrowful indignation have depressed my spirits…” (139).
Wollstonecraft is saddened over how unfair women have been treated during this period. She believes that a lack of good education for women is one of the causes of women not being treated with respect like the men. Wollstonecraft believed that women’s education was boiled down to women just focusing on pleasing the men in their lives instead of being able to go to school and better themselves and gain their own independence “I wish to persuade women to endeavor to acquire strength, both of mind and body, and to convince them that the soft phrases, susceptibility of heart, delicacy of sentiment, and refinement of taste are almost synonymous with epithets of weakness, and that those beings who are only the objects of pity and that kind of love, which has been termed its sister, will soon become objects of contempt” (141).
Mary Wollstonecraft’s prose piece A Vindication of the Rights of Woman charts women’s vexed relationships to the conceptual categories of the human and the animal in eighteenth-century writing (Ramos 41). In this essay, “Species Thinking: Animals, Women, and Literary Tropes in Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” Adela Ramos analyzes “Wollstonecraft draws from the modern species concept in order to make a progressive argument about gender equality—she relegates animals to an inferior moral status” (41). Ramos notes how the use of similarities between humans and other animals prompted naturalists to ponder both the place of the human in the natural order (45) which compares to Wollstonecraft when she made several comparisons of women to animals in her prose.
Ramos, in her piece, believes that in order for women to become an equal to men, then they need to put animals second to them and to stop being on their level below the men. She states that “Ultimately, her progressive assertion of gender equality comes at a cost that must appear troubling to advocates of animal rights: the division of human rights from animal rights and the relative value assigned to each category” (60). As both women constantly reinstated throughout the prose piece and the essay, is that the only way that women can rise up in this world is not through marriage but by putting themselves above the animals that men seem to compare them too. By fighting for their rights to be treated equally just as the men in England are treated.
The Rights of Woman (1791) by Olympe de Gouges, who was a French novelist, wrote this piece that matched several points that Wollstonecraft’s prose the previous year. Gouges’s prose covers the importance of women’s education, profession but it also covers the comparison between the treatment of the women and slaves. This prose demonstrated how men during the early nineteenth century had such a corrupt mind over both women and slaves.