In this first unit, one of the readings that really caught my attention was John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women. In his essay, Mill’s presents a very compelling argument that the subordination of one sex to another is wrong and that there should be instead, perfect equality amongst the sexes. Having previously studied about gender inequality issues from another class, I have a broad understanding of how and why gender inequality has been perpetuated through various historical, political, and social contexts. Incorporating this knowledge as well as information learned through the readings and lectures, I hope to share my thoughts on the subjection of women and its relationship to slavery in this personal response paper.
As an advocate for women’s rights and suffrage, the Utilitarianism view of Mill had a profound influence in his writing and it is very much evident in this essay. Mill felt that the oppressions of people of any kind cannot possibly bring about the greatest benefit to society (which is the central point to the Utilitarianism theory). The subordination of the weaker sex to the stronger rests upon theory only. There is no evidence to support the idea that one sex is superior over another as Mill expresses in the quote below.
The adoption of this system of inequality never was the result of deliberation, or forethought, or any social ideas, or any notion whatever of what conduced to the benefits of humanity or the good order of society (Mill, 1995, pg.11).
This idea of gender superiority/inferiority is just a social construct of oppression. There are no significant differences between man and women (besides biologically) that signifies their superiority/inferiority other than what only society believes them to be.
Instead, according to Mill, the subjection of women arose from the fact that since the earliest days of human society, “every women (owing to the value attached to her by men, combined with her inferiority in muscular strength) was found in a state of bondage (Mill, 1995, pg.16). Women were always seen as being inferior or “weak” to men; that they couldn’t do the same things men did because they lacked the physical strength to do so. Because women were physically inferior, it became easy to oppress them due to this difference in power.
Throughout history, women were “conditioned” to believe that it was their duty to be obedient to men. That it was their “nature to live for others….and to have no life but their [men’s] affections” (Mill, 1995, pg.16). Thus, it seemed natural that women were to be subservient to the needs of the men in their lives. They gave up their lives in order to serve and be accepted by them. Mill, however, claims that this was not the case. The subjection of women was not brought upon by natural development, but rather, through customary power relationships that went on to become institutionalized in the same way that slavery was.
Although the subjection of women arose the same way as...