Saturday, 25 February 2017

Review of 'The Subjection of Women' by John Stuart Mill

Review of 'The Subjection of Women' by John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill is a name that has been bouncing around my ears for years. First he was a big figure on my A-Level Ethics course, and then he popped up again on my first-wave feminism studies module at uni. The Subjection of Women was first published back in 1869, and I imagined it would be so dry (read: Mary Wollstonecraft-esque) that I just skipped over reading it, but now that I've come back to it I can see how powerful it really is. 

The best (or worst?) thing about it, is that it lays out feminist goals in simple terms, and shows how little we've completely achieved. Mill calls for the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. And that's what we're still fighting for. He asks that marriage be determined on equal grounds: women should retain their own property and have the ability to be heirs in their own rights. 

The greatest focus of the essay is upon marriage, and as such he goes into great lengths about the equality of partners within marriage in the eyes of the law. He suggests that women ought to have the right to divorce a husband on the grounds of abuse, and that they ought to have hold over their own money.

This long essay went against much of European conventions at the time. Reading it from a modern perspective makes you notice how forward-thinking Mill was. Still we often have inequality within marriage: women are required by tradition to take a man's name, and often expected to bend to a man's will, like the quotation above suggests. 

Mill also defended the intelligence of women, making the logical claim that there would be more successful female scientists and mathematicians if as many women as men studied the subject. He disputed the argument that women have smaller brains and smaller intellects because of the size of their heads also. 

If you want to get to know more about first wave feminism I would definitely recommend not doing what I did and skipping over this, but going for it as it truly was very eye-opening.

Have you read this? What did you think?

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