Confrontation of Gender Roles in the Works of Mill, Tennyson, and Woolf
Although women in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries faced oppression and unequal treatment, some people strove to change common perspectives on the feminine sex. John Stuart Mill, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Virginia Woolf were able to reach out to the world, through their literature, and help change the views that society held towards women and their roles within its structure. During the Victorian era, women were bound to domestic roles and were very seldom allowed to seek other positions. Most men and many women felt that if women were allowed to pursue interests, outside traditional areas of placement that they would be unable to be an attentive wife and mother. The conventional roles of women were kept in place by long standing values and beliefs that held to a presumption, in which, women were inferior to men in every way. In The Subjection of Women, The Lady of Shalott, and A Room of One's Own, respectively, these authors define their views on the roles women are forced to play in society, and why they are not permitted to step outside those predetermined boundaries.
John Stuart Mill, in his essay The Subjection of Women, makes a daring exclamation about the position of women in society. He wrote this piece with the hope of opening other's eyes to the same conclusion he felt all of his life, in regards to equality.
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; admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other. (1156)
The Subjection of Women has been used as a literary cornerstone for the women's suffrage movement because of its accurate analysis of women's position in society. Mill makes a very strong argument that the position women have in society is not the only possible way to structure societal hierarchy. The reason it seems unnatural to change its structure, he claims, is because it is uncustomary.
He says that one cannot keep a certain sex bound by a stereotype, on the basis of their nature, when nature, in this sense, is biased to what is known and allowed by society. "Custom [...] however universal, affords no presumption and ought not to create any prejudice, in favour [sic] of woman's subjection to man" (Pyle 89). What is considered a woman's nature is not a well-rounded viewpoint because it does not allow for the differences that might occur if situations were different.
If men had ever been found in society without women, or women without men, or if there had been a society of men and women in which the women were not under the control of the men, something might have been positively known about the mental and moral differences which may be inherent in the nature of each. (1160-1161)
The commonly held theories that...