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The Subjection of Women (Dover Thrift Editions) Paperback – April 24, 1997
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From the Back Cover
Written in 1861 and published eight years later, this influential essay by the great English philosopher and economist is still relevant and its arguments significant. Believing that the subjugation of women was primarily political and psychological in origin, Mill urged the establishment of 'complete equality in all legal, political, social and domestic relations' between men and women.
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John Stuart Mill was an English philosopher and independent thinker who was born in 1806 and died in Avignon, France in 1873. I recently read and reviewed On Liberty (Dover Thrift Editions), liked it, and decided this topical work would be next. Mill was the first Member of Parliament to call for women’s suffrage. Eight decades before Simone de Beauvoir published her classic work The Second Sex on woman’s subordinate position in society, Mill published this one. Mill had a long-term collaborative relationship with Harriet Taylor, whom he would eventually marry after her husband died. Mill seems to have “practiced what he preached” and felt their marriage and work was one of equality. He credits her for both inspiration as well as actual writing of this work. Specifically, he says: “Who can tell how many of the most original thoughts put forth by male writers, belong to a woman by suggestion, to themselves only by verifying and working out? If I may judge by my own case, a very large proportion indeed.” (Of course, he did not actually credit her as the co-author!)
The work commences like a legal brief, and much of his tone and argument are in the best traditions of tight rationale discourse. In the first paragraph he says: “… the legal subordination of one sex to the other – is wrong in 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.” Mill observes the duality of the claims, for example, in America, that “all men are created equal” but maintained the institution and practice of slavery. So too with the ancient Greeks, who considered themselves “free,” but utilized slaves. As Mill states, with women, “from the very earliest twilight of human society, every woman…was found in a state of bondage to some man.” In all these cases, much intellectual effort was expended justifying these arrangements as the “natural order of things.”
A room of one’s own? Mill recognized the need for a woman to have independence and a bit of her own space, and finances independent of a man were essential when he said: “The power of earning is essential to the dignity of a woman, if she has not independent property.” Only in the last 20-30 years have women become accepted in traditional “male dominated fields”, from telephone lineman to CEO. In this work Mill proclaimed that “No occupation should be off-limits” and that women can beat men in many fields of endeavor and he questions if there are any innate mental differences at all, without those imposed by acculturalization. And he concedes they are often more incisive in their observations, particularly social: “With equality of experience and of general faculties, a woman usually sees much more than a man of what is immediately before her.”
Mill was enthralled with Madame de Stael, the “greatest enemy of Napoleon: “… there is not in all modern literature a more eloquent vehicle of thought than the style of Madame de Stael.” As a result of Mill’s recommendation, I finally read my first work of hers Geneviève de Brabant (French Edition).
A wise, ethical, and thoughtful man, far ahead of his times. 5-stars.
[Note: Posted on November 18 - like a lot of people, I made a bad prediction.]
This book is a good read and a good beginning study of the topic. The arguments are well thought out and well presented. I highly recommend this book to any thoughtful reader; you may enhance your insight, add to your wisdom, and sharpen your vision of a better and brighter future -- both individually and socially.
I am planning to keep your information so I can order more books in the future or for next semester.