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Dialogue and Universalism

Volume 31, Issue 3, 2021

Do We Need a New Enlightenment for the Twenty-First Century? Part II

Debra Berghoffen
Pages 19-37

The Body of Rights: The Right to the Body

This paper examines the ways that feminists have built on and transformed Mary Wollstonecraft’s Enlightenment idea that women’s rights are human rights. It argues that Wollstonecraft’s marginal attention to the issue of sexual violence reflects the mind-body dualism of her era where reason divorced from the body established our dignity as persons. Today’s feminists reject this dualism. They have adopted and retooled Wollstonecraft’s idea that women’s rights are human rights to (1) create solidarity among women of different places, races, classes, religions etc., (2) break the silence surrounding the experience and meaning of rape, and (3) create grassroots, national and international forums that expose the fact that sexual violence is one of the crucial anchors of patriarchy. Wollstonecraft believed that human rights were guaranteed by reason and God. We find that these rights are embodied and fragile. They depend on us to make them real. Addressing this responsibility, the paper ends with a question: Are we up to the task?