John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection Of Women

2396 words - 10 pages

There is a prevalent desire in history to determine the right place for women in society, especially as the modern period ushers out the end of the Victorian era, though women have existed as the counterpart to man for all time. John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women as a pedagogic composition will be used for better understanding the nature and predicaments of Thomas Hardy’s Sue Bridehead as she determines her place in society in his novel Jude the Obscure. Mill’s essay explores the basis of social institutions which encourage and reinforce the subordination of women as the weaker gender to highlight the inherent wrongness of this practice. As Mill’s essay describes the existence of female intelligence and individuality that is constantly suppressed, Hardy presents his female protagonist Sue Bridehead as a woman entirely unique for her time and place in society. Sue Bridehead’s nature and way of life conflicts with what society prescribes her to be as a woman, as she tries to balance living happily without social pressures infringing on her individuality. Unfortunately for Sue, as Mill’s essay explains, the customs of society are so engrained within its people, not even Sue can abscond from what is expected from her as a woman. J.S. Mill and Sue Bridehead converge with the belief in natural law and equality of the sexes, in the rejection of marriage as a social reform, and on the detrimental effects of social pressure on a woman. Sue Bridehead embodies many of the characteristics of Mill’s ideals about women, though as Mill’s essay explains, Sue is also a product of her society, and unable to escape its pressures, in her breakdown, forfeits her individuality and independence to ease her anxiety and guilt.
By succeeding the practice of subjecting women with equality amongst the genders, John Stuart Mill’s position advocates for a new social order that involves the faculties of women, and would grant Sue Bridehead legal recognition of the independence that serves to fulfill her in Hardy’s novel. Mill sees women only as different, not weaker, than men and wants to celebrate their femininity as a fruitful and crucial addition to society’s progression into the modern age. History plays a problematic role in social progress, as Mill discovers, because the perpetuation of female subordination by society continues as a way to “protect old institutions and customs” (Mill 4). Mill emphasizes the shift into the modern era as the ideal time to celebrate the abilities of the individual and to grant women equal rights within natural law, based on his idea that, “human beings are no longer born into their place in life […] but are free to employ their faculties […] to achieve the lot which may appear to them most desirable” (Mill 19). The modern age comes with a paradox, as new opportunities appear for men in thinking about the world and how it should be arranged, the role of women continues to be reduced next to their male peers until,...

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