John Stuart Mill

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John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women

August 8, 2012 by Marina DelVecchio

We tend to focus on women who write about women and the issues that prevail around the experiences of the feminine, but we hardly introduce the work of men who write on our behalf. Such a man is John Stuart Mill, a 19th century philosopher and political economist who centered his work, The Subjection of Women (Dover Thrift Editions, 1997), originally published in 1897, on the revolutionary idea that women should be free to choose, to live, and to strive.

Mill begins his essay with the fact that “the legal subordination of one sex to the other — is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement.” He argues that this subordination should be eliminated and replaced with perfect equality between men and women. In this equal state he imagines, women are not weak and disabled simply because they are women, and men are not superior and privileged simply because they are men.

He imagines logic in his argument, asserting that men think women’s place beneath them is ”natural,” not because it is, but because historically, domination has always been seen as “natural” by those who possess it. From the ancient Greeks’ domination over slaves to the British nobility’s domination over the serfs to the United States’ enslavement of Africans in the south, Mill demonstrates that the ones who perceived their power over others as ”natural,” did so because they were the dominant figures of the time. This domination does not make it right, as history has shown us.

On an interesting note, Mill brings to light that what seems “unnatural” to us is simply “uncustomary.” We are not used to seeing certain things, and so they seem unnatural to us. Men in Mill’s time were not accustomed to seeing women as strong, physically or intellectually, and so they considered them weak and delicate. Mill counters this perception of women by citing historical examples of women who...
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