Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman, first published in 1792, has proved a problematic ‘classic text’ for feminism. This paper focuses on the liberal concept of self-ownership to show how the Vindication both confronts and perpetuates the dilemmas of ‘liberal feminism’. Self-ownership is not a term used by Wollstonecraft herself, but I make use of it in this paper because I believe it captures what she means by ‘independence’, arrived at by a combination of reflection, self-government and labour. It implies a natural right to resist oppression and arbitrary government and so reaches the heart of Wollstonecraft's argument against patriarchy as a particular form of arbitrary power. As Alan Ryan argues, ‘each of us is obliged to obey the government so long as it upholds our natural rights, but if it violates them, we are not obliged to obey’. As a liberal concept, self-ownership is fraught with ambiguity for feminism. Donna Dickenson argues that it can be interpreted both as ‘masculinist through and through’ and as ‘the essence of feminism’. Its very ambiguity makes it an appropriate conceptual lens through which to view Wollstonecraft's own contradictory arguments.