The Subjection of Women is an essay by English philosopher, political economist and civil servant John Stuart Mill published in 1869, with ideas he developed jointly with his wife Harriet Taylor Mill. Mill submitted the finished manuscript of their collaborative work On Liberty (1859) soon after her untimely death in late 1858, and then continued work on The Subjection of Women until its completion in 1861. At the time of its publication, the essay's argument for equality between the sexes was an affront to European conventional norms regarding the status of men and women.
In his Autobiography, Mill describes his indebtedness to his wife and her daughter Helen Taylor for the creation of The Subjection of Women:
As ultimately published it was enriched with some important ideas of my daughter’s and some passages of her writing. But all that is most striking and profound in what was written by me belongs to my wife, coming from the fund of thought that had been made common to us both by our innumerable conversations and discussions on a topic that filled so large a place in our minds.
While scholars generally agree that John Stuart Mill was the sole author, it is also noted that some of the arguments are similar to Harriet Taylor Mill's essay The Enfranchisement of Women, which was published in 1851.
Mill was convinced that the moral and intellectual advancement of humankind would result in greater happiness for everybody. He asserted that the higher pleasures of the intellect yielded far greater happiness than the lower pleasure of the senses. He conceived of human beings as morally and intellectually capable of being educated and civilised. Mill believed everyone should have the right to vote, with the only exceptions being barbarians and uneducated people.
Mill argues that people should be able to vote to defend their own rights and to learn to stand on their two feet, morally and intellectually. This argument is applied to both men and women. Mill often used his position as a member of Parliament to demand the vote for women, a controversial position for the time.
In Mill's time a woman was generally subject to the whims of her husband and/or father due to social norms which said women were both physically and mentally less able than men and therefore needed to be "taken care of." Contributing to this view were both hierarchical religious views of men and women within the family and social theories based on biological determinism. The archetype of the ideal woman as mother, wife and homemaker was a powerful idea in 19th century society.
At the time of writing, Mill recognized that he was going against the common views of society and was aware that he would be forced to back up his claims persistently. Mill argued that the inequality of women was a relic from the past, when "might was right," but it had no place in the modern world. Mill saw that having effectively half the human race unable to contribute to society outside of the home as a hindrance to human development.
- "... [T]he legal subordination of one sex to another – is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a system of perfect equality, admitting no power and privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other."
Mill attacks the argument that women are naturally worse at some things than men, and should, therefore, be discouraged or forbidden from doing them. He says that we simply don't know what women are capable of, because we have never let them try – one cannot make an authoritative statement without evidence. We can't stop women from trying things because they might not be able to do them. An argument based on speculative physiology is just that, speculation.
- "The anxiety of mankind to intervene on behalf of nature...is an altogether unnecessary solicitude. What women by nature cannot do, it is quite superfluous to forbid them from doing."
In this, men are basically contradicting themselves because they say women cannot do an activity and want to stop them from doing it. Here Mill suggests that men are basically admitting that women are capable of doing the activity, but that men do not want them to do so.
Whether women can do them or not must be found out in practice. In reality, we don't know what women's nature is, because it is so wrapped up in how they have been raised. Mill suggests we should test out what women can and can't do – experiment.
- "I deny that any one knows or can know, the nature of the two sexes, as long as they have only been seen in their present relation to one another. Until conditions of equality exist, no one can possibly assess the natural differences between women and men, distorted as they have been. What is natural to the two sexes can only be found out by allowing both to develop and use their faculties freely."
Women are brought up to act as if they were weak, emotional, docile – a traditional prejudice. If we tried equality, we would see that there were benefits for individual women. They would be free of the unhappiness of being told what to do by men. And there would be benefits for society at large – it would double the mass of mental faculties available for the higher service of humanity. The ideas and potential of half the population would be liberated, producing a great effect on human development.
Mill's essay is clearly utilitarian in nature on three counts: The immediate greater good, the enrichment of society, and individual development.
If society really wanted to discover what is truly natural in gender relations, Mill argued, it should establish a free market for all of the services women perform, ensuring a fair economic return for their contributions to the general welfare. Only then would their practical choices be likely to reflect their genuine interests and abilities.
Mill felt that the emancipation and education of women would have positive benefits for men also. The stimulus of female competition and companionship of equally educated persons would result in the greater intellectual development of all. He stressed the insidious effects of the constant companionship of an uneducated wife or husband. Mill felt that men and women married to follow customs and that the relation between them was a purely domestic one. By emancipating women, Mill believed, they would be better able to connect on an intellectual level with their husbands, thereby improving relationships.
Mill attacks marriage laws, which he likens to the slavery of women, "there remain no legal slaves, save the mistress of every house." He alludes to the subjection of women becoming redundant as slavery did before it. He also argues for the need for reforms of marriage legislation whereby it is reduced to a business agreement, placing no restrictions on either party. Among these proposals are the changing of inheritance laws to allow women to keep their own property, and allowing women to work outside the home, gaining independent financial stability.
Again the issue of women's suffrage is raised. Women make up half of the population, thus they also have a right to a vote since political policies affect women too. He theorises that most men will vote for those MPs who will subordinate women, therefore women must be allowed to vote to protect their own interests.
- "Under whatever conditions, and within whatever limits, men are admitted to the suffrage, there is not a shadow of justification for not admitting women under the same."
Mill felt that even in societies as unequal as England and Europe that one could already find evidence that when given a chance women could excel. He pointed to such English queens as Elizabeth I, or Victoria, or the French patriot, Joan of Arc. If given the chance women would excel in other arenas and they should be given the opportunity to try.
Mill was not just a theorist; he actively campaigned for women's rights as an MP and was the president of the National Society for Women's Suffrage.
The way Mill interpreted subjects over time changed. For many years Mill was seen as an inconsistent philosopher, writing on a number of separate issues. Consistency in his approach is based on utilitarianism, and the good of society.
Nothing should be ruled out because it is just "wrong" or because no one has done it in the past. When we are considering our policies, we should seek the greatest happiness of the greatest number. This leads to attacks on conventional views. If you wish to make something illegal, you need to prove what harm is being done. Individuals know their own interests best.
Progress of society
The greatest good is understood in a very broad sense to be the moral and intellectual developments of society. Different societies are at different stages of development or civilisation. Different solutions may be required for them. What matters is how we encourage them to advance further. We can say the same for individuals. Mill has a quite specific idea of individual progress: (1) employing higher faculties; (2) moral development, with people placing narrow self-interest behind them.
We are independent, capable of change and of being rational. Individual liberty provides the best route to moral development. As we develop, we are able to govern ourselves, make our own decisions, and not to be dependent on what anyone else tells us to do. Democracy is a form of self-dependence. This means:
- Personal Liberty As long as we do not harm others, we should be able to express our own natures, and experiment with our lives
- Liberty to Govern our own Affairs Civilized people are increasingly able to make their own decisions, and protect their own rights. Representative government is also a useful way of getting us to think about the common good.
- Liberty for women as well as men All of Mill's arguments apply to both men and women. Previous ideas about the different natures of men and women have never been properly tested. Women can participate in determining their own affairs too.
- Annas, Julia (1977). "Mill and the Subjection of Women," Philosophy, Vol. 52, pp. 179–194.
- James, William (1869). "Women's Suffrage, by Horace Bushnell and the Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill,"The North American Review, Vol. 109, No. 225, pp. 556–565.
- Oliphant, Margaret (1869). "Mill on the Subjection of Women,"The Edinburgh Review, Vol. 130, pp. 291–306.
- Shanley, Mary Lyndon (1981). "Marital Slavery and Friendship: John Stuart Mill's The Subjection of Women," Political Theory, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 229–247
- Stove, David (1993). "The Subjection of John Stuart Mill", Philosophy, Vol. 68, No. 263, pp. 5–13.
- ^Mill, John Stuart (1869). The Subjection of Women (1869 first ed.). London: Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
- ^Mill, John Stuart (1873). Autobiography(PDF). p. 166.
- ^ abTong, Rosemarie (2009). Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction. Westview Press (Perseus Books). p. 17. ISBN 978-0-8133-4375-4.
- ^Mill, Mrs. John Stuart (1851). The Enfranchisement of Women (July 1851 ed.). London: Westminster & Foreign Quarterly Review. p. 27. Retrieved 4 June 2014.
- ^"To yield to force is an act of necessity, not of will; it is at best an act of prudence. In what sense can it be a moral duty ... once might is made to be right, cause and effect are reversed, and every force which overcomes another force inherits the right which belonged to the vanquished. As soon as man can obey with impunity, his disobedience becomes legitimate; and the strongest is always right, the only problem is how to become the strongest. But what can be the validity of a right which perishes with the force on which it rests? If force compels obedience, there is no need to invoke duty to obey, and if force ceases to compel obedience, there is no longer any obligation. Thus the word 'right' adds nothing to what is said by 'force'; it is meaningless. 'Obey those in power.' If this means 'yield to force' the precept is sound, but superfluous; it will never, I suggest, be violated. ... If I am held up by a robber at the edge of a wood, force compels me to hand over my purse. But if I could somehow contrive to keep the purse from him, would I still be obliged in conscience to surrender it? After all, the pistol in the robber's hand is undoubtedly a power." The Social Contract, Book I, Chapter 3: The Right of the Strongest (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1762).
- ^John Stuart Mill, On the Subjection of Women, Chapter I"... [T]he law of the strongest seems to be entirely abandoned as the regulating principle of the world's affairs: nobody professes it, and, as regards most of the relations between human beings, nobody is permitted to practice it. On the Subjection of Women, Chapter I (John Stuart Mill, 1869).
- ^On the Subjection of Women, Chapter I (John Stuart Mill, 1869).
- ^ abOn the Subjection of Women, Chapter I (John Stuart Mill, 1869).
- ^The family, justly constituted, would be the real school of the virtues of freedom.The Subjection of Women, Chapter II
- ^"The moral training of mankind will never be adapted to the adapted to the conditions of the life for which all other human progress is a preparation, until they practice in the family the same moral rule which is adapted to the normal constitution of human society." On the Subjection of Women, Chapter I (John Stuart Mill, 1869)
- ^The Subjection of Women, Chapter III.
Facts, information and articles about Women’s Suffrage Movement, the struggle for the right of women to vote
Women’s Suffrage summary: The women’s suffrage movement (aka woman suffrage) was the struggle for the right of women to vote and run for office and is part of the overall women’s rights movement. In the mid-19th century, women in several countries—most notably, the U.S. and Britain—formed organizations to fight for suffrage. In 1888, the first international women’s rights organization formed, the International Council of Women (ICW). Because the ICW was reluctant to focus on suffrage, in 1904 the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA) was formed by British women’s rights activist Millicent Fawcett, American activist Carrie Chapman Catt, and other leading women’s rights activists.
Women’s Suffrage In Europe
The first country to grant national-level voting rights to women was the self-governing British colony of New Zealand, which passed the Electoral Bill in September 1893. The British colony of South Australia granted full suffrage in 1894, giving women the right to vote and to stand for parliament. Australia federated in 1901 and country-wide women’s suffrage followed quickly in 1902; however, women of Australia’s indigenous people were specifically excluded until 1949, when the right to vote in federal elections was granted to all indigenous people. Remaining restrictions were abolished in 1962.
Other countries followed soon after New Zealand, with limited rights granted to women in Sweden, Britain, Finland, and some U.S. states by the early 20th century. When World War I began in 1914, many suffrage organizations shifted their focus to supporting the war effort, although some activists continued to fight for suffrage. Because of manpower shortages in warring countries, women took on many roles traditionally held by men and changed the dominant idea of what women were capable of doing, giving further momentum to the suffrage movement. Britain’s Parliament passed the Eligibility of Women Act in November 1918, which allowed women to be elected to Parliament. Ten years later, the Representation of the People Act granted women the right to vote. Following a path similar to Britain’s, many countries—Denmark, Iceland, the USSR, the Netherlands, Canada, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Sweden, Germany, Luxembourg, the United States—had granted the vote to women by 1920.
Other European countries did not grant women the right to vote until much later—Spain in 1931, France in 1944, and Belgium, Italy, Romania, and Yugoslavia in 1946. Later still were Switzerland (1971) and Liechtenstein (1984). In Latin America, national suffrage was granted to women between 1929 (Ecuador) and 1946 (Argentina). In Africa, the right to vote was generally conferred on both men and women as colonial rule ended and nations became independent—the same is true for India, which granted universal suffrage with its constitution in 1949. Middle Eastern countries granted women the right to vote after World War II, although some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, do not have suffrage at all or have limited suffrage and exclude women completely (Kuwait).
Women’s Suffrage In the United States
The suffrage movement in the United States gained prominence with the first women’s rights convention in the world: the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. The convention was organized by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, active members of the abolitionist movement who met in England in 1840 at the World Anti-Slavery Convention. In 1851, Stanton was introduced by a mutual friend to Susan B. Anthony, who was most active in the temperance movement at the time. The two would form a life-long friendship and collaboration focused on obtaining suffrage. They formed the Woman’s National Loyal League in 1863 to support the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery and to campaign for full citizenship for blacks and women.
The National Woman Suffrage Association
In 1869, with slavery abolished, a rift developed in the suffrage movement over how to gain suffrage. Anthony and Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and campaigned for a constitutional amendment for universal suffrage in America, and for other women’s rights, such as changes in divorce laws and an end to employment and pay discrimination. Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and Josephine Ruffin formed the less-radical American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) to focus on obtaining suffrage for black men with the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and on winning women’s right to vote state-by-state, ignoring the broader rights the NWSA was campaigning for.
By the 1880s, it became clear that the two organizations would be more effective if they merged back into one group, so they formed the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1890, with Stanton as president and Anthony as vice president. Stanton’s position was largely honorary—she departed on a 2-year European speaking tour shortly after being elected, leaving Anthony as acting president. NAWSA was a national, parent organization to hundreds of local groups that campaigned solely for women’s right to vote. However, NAWSA alienated the more radical activists like Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Olympia Brown who were campaigning for broader rights along with the right to vote.
In the early 20th century, NAWSA restructured itself and shifted it’s tactics, recruiting celebrities to draw attention to the cause, allying with local women’s clubs and some labor unions, and raising money to train and pay organizers to canvass for votes and enlist new members. NAWSA held many parades and rallies to draw attention to their cause, with its members wearing white uniforms and carrying banners to draw crowds and reporters.
In 1914, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns became dissatisfied with the leadership and direction of the NWSA and formed the Congressional Union. Both women had assisted and learned from the British suffrage movement, which was much more radicalized and militant than the NWSA. England’s more militant suffragists faced violent confrontations with authorities and jail sentences; some went on hunger strikes while imprisoned and were made to endure force-feedings to prevent them from dying behind bars, which might increase public sympathy for their cause.
The Congressional Union initially focused on putting pressure on the Democratic Party, which controlled both houses of Congress and the White House. In 1916, the organization was renamed the National Woman’s Party (NWP) and began a more militant campaign for suffrage, picketing and holding demonstrations in front of the White House.
Carrie Chapman Catt, NAWSA president from 1900 to 1904 and 1915 to 1920, was Anthony’s hand-picked successor as the driving force of the organization. She led the final push toward a constitutional amendment, setting up a publicity bureau in Washington, D.C., in 1916 to exert immediate, face-to-face pressure on Congressmen. At the beginning of World War I, the NWP criticized the government for supporting democracy abroad while denying women the right to vote at home—blatant hypocrisy, in their view. Chapman Catt publicly distanced herself and NAWSA from the NWP, calling their behavior unladylike and disapproving of the bad publicity they generated for the movement. In June 1917, NWP members were arrested on the technical charge of obstructing traffic. Arrests and jail time, hunger strikes and force-feedings would continue for activists until the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified.
Ratification Of The Nineteenth Amendment
Tennessee became the last battleground state for ratification. There, as in other Southern states, the woman’s suffrage movement was inextricably linked in the minds of many with the abolition movement, and old animosities still simmered. In Dixie, even more than in other parts of the country, feminism ran counter to a culture in which conservative religion, tradition, and respect for the law was deeply engrained. Too, powerful lobbying groups including liquor distilleries—the temperance movement and women’s rights movement had long been comrades in arms—textile manufacturers and railroads opposed expanding women’s rights. Additional opposition came from state’s rights advocates, some of whom wanted to see women get the right to vote but felt that should be dealt with at the state level, not the national. On August 18, 1920, the Tennessee legislature narrowly approved the 19th Amendment. On August 31, the Tennessee House of Representatives voted to rescind their previous vote, but the U.S. Secretary of State had already proclaimed the amendment ratified on August 26.
Women’s right to vote was achieved through the national and local efforts of both the NAWSA and the NWP. The labor shortage caused by World War I that allowed women to move into roles traditionally held by men also made it increasingly difficult for opponents to argue that women were unworthy of the vote on the grounds of physical and mental inferiority. With the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in sight, Chapman Catt formed the League of Women Voters during NAWSA’s last meeting on February 14, 1920, to help newly enfranchised women exercise their right to vote.
Articles Featuring Women’s Suffrage Movement From History Net Magazines
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National Woman Suffrage Procession
By Marlee Newman
NAWSA printed an elaborate program for the 1913 Washington, D.C., parade. (Library of Congress)
Sixty-five years after Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the landmark women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y., the first national demonstration for women’s suffrage took place in Washington, D.C. On March 3, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson’s presidential inauguration, 8,000 women gathered to march down Pennsylvania Avenue in support of women’s right to vote. Attorney Inez Milholland Boissevain heralded the grand procession clad in armor astride a white horse, a beautiful and intelligent epitome of the new generation of suffragists. Banners of purple, gold and white fluttered in the breeze on the crisp Washington morning. As the women and several male supporters set forth with 26 floats, a crowd of roughly half a million people watched with mixed emotions.
The murmurs of the crowd grew loud and angry as malicious bystanders crumpled parade programs and flung them at the women. The police that Congress promised would protect the parade stood aside as men poured onto the street, shouting insults and condescending remarks, and began to physically attack the marchers. Police ignored cries for help as the mob ripped banners from the hands of young girls. Many officers joined the fray; one was heard shouting, “If my wife were where you are I’d break her head!” A policeman roughly pulled a woman off her feet and tore her jacket because she slapped a man who spit on her. Reporters from newspapers around the country snapped photographs of men dragging elderly women through the streets. By evening, all that remained of the parade were scattered papers and scraps of purple and gold cloth.
The resulting press coverage and congressional investigation led to the first congressional debate over a federal amendment enfranchising women in 26 years. The parade successfully reintroduced the suffrage movement as a legitimate and formidable political force. Seven years later, the 19th Amendment passed by a margin of one vote.