John Stuart Mill and the Feminist Theory
John Stuart Mill [1806-1873] was a philosopher and one of the earliest feminists in history. Mill’s famous essay ‘Subjection of Women ‘ written in 1869 campaigns strongly for women’s rights, suffrage and equal access to education for women. The essay is an argument for gender equality. The feminist movement was recognized, the day Mill’s amendment was passed in the parliament in 1867.
The nineteenth century witnessed the progress in political rights for men. The emancipation of women was however hampered by the doctrine of separate spheres and by the double standard of sexual morality. John Stuart Mill’s essay rallied against this. His essay is an important feminist text of the nineteenth century and still inspires feminists around the globe.
Mill belonged to a time when the concept of working women was unthinkable. He was of the opinion that women would prefer to choose household duties and bringing up of a family after they are married. He was actually supporting the opinion that women would prefer being a dependent housewife rather than competing on equal terms with men.
John Stuart Mill said that people were freed from custom and regulations. The medieval apprenticeship laws, which were enforced for preventing competitions, were being repealed. People were freed from these rules. Women were however not free to choose. “Men hold women in subjection by representing to them meekness, submissiveness resignation of all individual will into the hands of a man as an essential part of sexual attractiveness.” [Subjection of women, Chapter 1, p.272].
Girls are brought up to believe that their primary role in life is to be a loving wife. Infatuation leads to blind love. Women suffer abuse even in the modern era. Centuries of subjugation have led women to voluntarily impose regulations upon themselves. Women have to liberate themselves from the submissive attitudes.
Mill recognizes that women have strengths and capabilities that men do not wish to acknowledge. He was of the opinion that women will achieve near equality with men. The time in which he lived saw this as a ridiculous idea. Mill instilled a character of practical good sense and moderation in the feminist movement. Mill strongly argued that if the women suffered, then the entire society would be doomed. Women perform many tasks without selfishness both inside and outside their houses. He said that if women were not kept happy and fulfilled, society may be destined to fail.
John Stuart Mill worked hard to make the people believe that the contribution of women was necessary for the progression of mankind. Mill said in reply to the women question 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 on the one side nor disability on the other” .
The industrial revolution opened up opportunities for people. New innovations made it possible for women to find work outside their houses that paid. Mill’s contribution in parliament and his work made it possible for feminists to seek equality. Mill argued that human beings are free to employ their faculties. He worked hard for the equality of women and is considered to be one of the pioneers of the feminism movement.
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