Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, April 25, 2016

Post One- John Stuart Mill: An Early Feminist

Emily Blalock
Section 4
Dr. Oliver

John Stuart Mill: An Early Feminist

            John Stuart Mill, the educational experiment of his father James Mill and the utilitarian Jeremy Bentham, was one of the most influential philosophers of the nineteenth century. He impressively began studying Ancient Greek at age three, Latin at eight, and had an appreciation of a wide range of subjects including history, economics, mathematics, and politics by the age of twelve.  This education shaped his thinking and influenced his philosophy. His essay, On Liberty, continues to be read and discussed today, along with some of his other writings. 

Of his many contributions, one of the most important may have been his radical campaign against injustice. He stressed the importance of individuality, and was known as an early feminist. His promotion of equality, which he argued for in The Subjection of Women, was extremely radical for his time. The opening paragraph of the essay establishes his opinion:

‘The object of this Essay is to explain as clearly as I am able grounds of an opinion which I have held from the very earliest period when I had formed any opinions at all on social political matters, and which, instead of being weakened or modified, has been constantly growing stronger by the progress reflection and the experience of life. That the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes - the legal subordination of one sex to the other - is wrong itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other.”
In other words, he establishes the fact that the unequal status of the sexes, both socially and economically, hinders the progress of society as well as the progress of humankind. 
He argued women are excluded from certain statuses in an effort by those in power asserting their will to remain in power.

He fought for both social and legal change for equality, and challenged the widely held belief of the time that women were naturally inferior to men. During his time as a member of Parliament, Mill petitioned for woman’s suffrage. 
           He argued that the cult of domesticity, or the societal roles and expectations placed on women, prevented women from reaching their full potential, and that they should have access to more opportunities.  This expectation for women to solely rely on their husbands forced women into a state similar to slavery, according to Mill.  The role of women in their marriage status is interconnected with their role in the social world. He argued that equality would not only be good for individuals, but for society as a whole.   

            Obviously, Mill’s ideas about equality are still very relevant and important to us today.  He played a key role in advocating women’s rights, and we have experienced many social changes since his time.  Some J.S. Mill quotes….

 "I consider it presumption in anyone to pretend to decide what women are or are not, can or cannot be, by natural constitution. They have always hitherto been kept, as far as regards spontaneous development, in so unnatural a state, that their nature cannot but have been greatly distorted and disguised; and no one can safely pronounce that if women’s nature were left to choose its direction as freely as men’s, and if no artificial bent were attempted to be given to it except that required by the conditions of human society, and given to both sexes alike, there would be any material difference, or perhaps any difference at all, in the character and capacities which would unfold themselves.” 
― John Stuart MillThe Subjection of Women

“After the primary necessities of food and raiment, freedom is the first and strongest want of human nature.” 
― John Stuart MillThe Subjection of Women

Every great movement must experience three stages: ridicule, discussion, adoption. - John Stuart Mill

1 comment:

  1. Well done, Emily. Mill was perfectly consistent in applying his commitment to liberty indiscriminately, and I'll be he'd be applauding the decision to put Harriet Tubman (he was a fan of Harriets in general!) on the $20.