Q: Explain Mill’s account of the voluntary servitude of women. Servitude can be defined as slavery or bondage in any kind. Mill wrote a critique of voluntary slavery of women as a criticism of paternalism that was present in the Victorian England. Mill portrays feministic attitudes in his book, the Subjection of Women. He takes an analysis of the historical conditions that have led to inequality within the male and female sex, the oppressive nature of marriage law in Victorian England and his proposals for marriage law reform. Mill also talks about the injustices of excluding women from public life and also advocates for women suffrage. In the final part of his argument, Mill sets forward his vision of the ways in which equality can be achieved within society. Hence Mill’s account of the voluntary servitude of women takes a feminist approach as he advocates for equality between the sexes. Mill asserts that the adoption of this system of inequality between the sexes was never the result of deliberation or forethought or any social ideas. It arose simply from the fact that from the earliest twilight of human society, every woman owing to the value attached to her by man, combined wither inferiority in muscular strength, was found in a state of bondage to some man (Pyle 1995:87). Mill portrays that society is responsible for creating the status of women in his society. He further advocates a principle of equality for the relations between the sexes adding by way of explanation that the principle admits no power or privilege on either side. The main focus of his work was to portray the attitudes of society and come up with a framework that would redress the inequalities present. He notes:-
“That the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes – the legal subordination of one sex to the other – is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege over the one side, no disability on the other”. (Pyle 1995:79). He argued that the inequality of women was a relic from the past, when "might was right," but it had no place in the modern world. Mill argued that it was not justifiable to discriminate and oppress women as a result of nature, but that they had to be given a chance to prove themselves. Mill’s analysis of the condition of women revealed that they are brought up to act as if they were weak, emotional, and docile and their role in society lies within taking responsibilities of the household such as raising the family. As such, women were not entitled to education as their responsibility lay in the home. He further argues that men took advantage of this situation and as a result, they used it to enslave the brains of the women to achieve maximum obedience. “...all women are brought up from the very earliest years in the belief that their ideal of character is the very opposite to that of men; not self will and government by self control, but submission and yielding to the other. All the moralities tell them that it is the duty of women and all the current sentimentalities that it is their nature, to live for others, to make complete abnegation of themselves." (Pyle 1995:83) This was the attitude of the patriarchal society that comprised the Victorian England society. Hence women from the onset were subject to indoctrination from the early years of livelihood. Thus for Mill, reforming this structure was essential to change attitude within society and this would, as a result, achieve equality within society. Marriage law according to Mill played a crucial role to the subjection of women in Victorian England. Mill was against the marriage law that existed and on several occasions, he worked as a Member of Parliament to influence legislation and public issues concerning women, (Skorupski 1998). The economic and social status of society gave women little alternative...
References: Annas, J, “The Subjection of Women” in Philosophy 52, 1977, 179-194
Mill, JS “ The Subjection of Women”, in Mill, JS “Three Essays”, Oxford University Press.
Skorupski J, (1998), The Cambridge Companion to Mill, Cambrigde University Press.
Smith E,Joun Stuart Mills “The Subjection of Women”: A Re-Examination. Vol 34 No2, 2001
Pyle A, 1995, The subjection of women : contemporary responses to John Stuart Mill, Bristol : Thoemmes,
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