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Mary Wollstonecraft would have been proud of Bee Rowlatt. On the last day of the 10th Zee Jaipur Literature Festival, the 45-year-old British writer and journalist found herself on a panel titled “Manelists, Misogyny and Mansplaining”, with writers Antara Ganguli, Anuradha Beniwal, Ruchira Gupta, Amrita Tripathi and Suhel Seth (who really should have done his homework). While shutting down Seth’s blind arguments about the nature of misogyny, Rowlatt quoted Wollstonecraft from her 1792 book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: “I do not wish them (women) to have power over men; but over themselves”. Indian Twitter lit up with the quote and a good morning was had by all feminists.
For over two centuries, Wollstonecraft has had a profound influence on feminists from all over the world, but two years ago, Rowlatt went a step ahead. She set off to Scandinavia, retracing Wollstonecraft’s footsteps when, in 1795, the latter embarked on a treasure hunt on behalf of her lover, Gilbert Imlay. “While the affair didn’t survive the journey, she wrote a remarkable travelogue, Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. She travelled there with a baby, and she remarked on the ‘curious tenderness’ that people showed towards her. I felt the same way when I went — my infant son Will and I were a curious unit, and people were drawn to us and protective towards us. It was a really good way to connect with people one wouldn’t have connected with otherwise,” says Rowlatt, who wrote In Search of Mary:
The Mother of All Journeys (Bloomsbury) about her travels following Wollstonecraft through Norway, Paris, and even a trip across the pond to California. While gender-parity was the norm in Norway, Paris, like London, made Rowlatt feel “rather defensive” of motherhood. “But I have changed my perception after living in India. Here, I feel motherhood is inappropriately prized,” she says. But since her arrival to Delhi in February 2015 with her husband and their four children, Rowlatt says that living in India has allowed her to engage with feminism and activism in varying ways.
“I am a mentor with the Sheroes Foundation. There’s a juncture in women’s lives that I find is a very fragile position — to return to work after having children, and to find that the odds are stacked against you. All of the mentoring I do is for women caught in that space. People write to me and I reply. Financial independence and self-fulfillment for women of all backgrounds is the be-all and end-all for women,” she says.