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Aiming for a Middle Ground: Mary Hays’s Appeal to the Men of Great Britain and the Challenge of Perspective

Author:

Helena Christina Bergmann

Högskolan i Borås, SE
About Helena
Senior lecturer, Docent at University College Borås, Sweden
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Abstract

In 1798, a year after the death of the renowned feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, her friend, the Unitarian writer and polemist, Mary Hays, authored her own tract on the subject of women’s liberation. Entitled Appeal to the Men of Great Britain in Behalf of Women, the publication was not intended to compete with Wollstonecraft’s fiery A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Hays wished to address the major societal issue of inequality between the sexes from a less adversarial angle. As opposed to Wollstonecraft, in her introduction, Mary Hays assumes a posture of humility when stating her ambition: ‘to restore female character to its dignity and independence.’ This paper discusses the rhetorical devices employed by Hays to modify the engrained ideas of her anticipated male readers. Her tract is divided into a set argumentative sequences in the shape of seven chapters. The first of these calls in question the reliance on the Scripture as a foundation for the acceptance of the male-female hierarchy. The second seeks to invalidate the conviction that the subjection of women’s in society could be condoned through rational causes. The third and fourth chapters give an overview of some major, misconceptions of men with regard to women’s capabilities. Chapter five and six illustrate plentiful examples of unsavoury realities of female existence. In the last chapter of the Appeal, Mary Hays delivers a set of exhortations and hopeful recommendations for effectuating a change. The overall aim of the paper is to identify and analyse Hays’s strategy for converting the opposite sex, not through revolutionary ferocity or meek supplications, but through constructive persuasiveness. In a concluding section some supportive male intellectuals are introduced to illustrate Hays’s achievement of a middle ground on which to communicate.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.35360/njes.554
How to Cite: Bergmann, H.C., 2020. Aiming for a Middle Ground: Mary Hays’s Appeal to the Men of Great Britain and the Challenge of Perspective. Nordic Journal of English Studies, 19(5), pp.244–261. DOI: http://doi.org/10.35360/njes.554
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Published on 19 Dec 2020.
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