Comparing John Stuart Mill's The Subjection of Women and Florence Nightingale's Cassandra
For thousands of years, women have struggled under the domination of men. In a great many societies around the world, men hold the power and women have to fight for their roles as equals in these patriarchal societies. Florence Nightingale wrote about such a society in her piece, Cassandra, and John Stuart Mill wrote further on the subject in his essay The Subjection of Women. These two pieces explore the same basic idea, but there are differences as well. While they both recognize its presence, Mill blames the subjection of women on custom, and Nightingale blames it on society. These appear to be different arguments, but they may be more similar than they seem.
Mill’s and Nightingale’s work both have the main theme of men dominating over women. Mill introduces his work with, “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 it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality” (Mill 1156), letting the reader know his stance on the issue right away. Nightingale’s article also starts off with a strong statement in the form of a question. She wonders why women are given such useful gifts if utilizing them is socially unacceptable: “Why have women passion, intellect, moral activity...and a place in society where no one of the three can be exercised?” (Nightingale 1734). Although these works both have the same thread running through them, they place the blame for the occurrence in different places.
In Mill’s essay, he places the blame for the suffrage of woman on custom. He says, “custom...affords in this case no presumption, and ought not to create any prejudice, in favor of the arrangements which place women in social and political subjection to men” (Mill 1159). He feels that because women have been in this position for so many years, it would feel irregular to deviate from it. “The subjection of women to men being a universal custom, any departure from it quite naturally appears unnatural” (Mill 1157). As he continues, he reveals his thoughts on the matter to the reader: “this relic of the past is discordant with the future, and must necessarily disappear” (Mill 1159). Mill explores many aspects of the issue. He attempts to uncover the differences between the sexes to provide maybe another solution to the problem, but to no avail, “nothing final can be known” (Mill 1162); nothing is as strongly stated as when he places the blame on custom. Later in his essay, while exploring the systems of past societies, he comes to the same conclusion as earlier. Only this time, he states that there has been some improvement in the system as time went by; however, equality has not yet been reached. He believes that the small increase in power over time is enough to suggest that equality is the solution: “Through...