J.S. Mill, "The Subjection of Women"


1.     Overview

        a.      Written in 1869

        b.     Only man to devote a book to this topic in the history of political philosophy (Mill clearly a feminist)

        c.      Main argument: Legal (and social/moral?) subordination of women to men is wrong and a chief hindrance to human improvement


2.     Mill's positive position on women's role

        a.      Replace subordination with perfect equality; no power or privilege or disability on one side rather than the other


3.     Description of women's status in Mill's day

        a.      Authority of man over women: women wholly under rule of men

        b.     No share of public concerns

        c.      In private under legal obligation to obey husband

        d.     Women barred by law from numerous occupations

        e.      Required to turn over property and earnings to husband

        f.      All women need to get married (except the most unattractive ones)

        g.     Wives pledge life-long obedience to man in everything (except participation in crime)

        h.     Can't own property without husband

                 i.      Her property becomes his (not vice versa)

        i.      He is responsible for consequences of her actions (like owning an animal)

        j.      Children by law belong to the father (she must get is okay before directing them; she doesn’t necessarily get them with his death)


4.     Description of women's subordination today

        a.      Other countries:

                 i.      Places where women can’t vote, can’t get education, participate in public life

                 ii.     In Korea, wife-beating common and accepted


                 iii.    Female genital cutting

        b.     This country

                 i. Women's pay

                 ii. Occupations women barred from? (priests? military?)

                 iii. S.C. State Senate has no women (0 out of 46)


                 iv. Taking husband’s name

                 v. Continued incredibly high rate of assault on women


5.     Does the fact that subordination of women is widespread give us any evidence in its favor? (No)

        a.      Generality of a practice sometimes gives us a presumption that it serves good ends

                 i.      Conservative view: lasting a long time and existing is something in favor of a situation

        b.     But only if it was adopted based on comparison with alternatives (equality, women over men)

        c.      And it wasn't; it's based on theory only, not experiential test of alternatives to see which produced best results

        d.     No presumption in favor of subordination of women from fact that it exists


6.     Origin of subordination 

        a.      Not adopted deliberately

        b.     Came about because in earliest human societies every woman was in bondage to a man

                 i.      Due to his desire and greater strength

        c.      Women’s subordination is a primitive state of slavery lingering on

                 i.      Law of the strongest that has lasted


        d.     Example where law recognizes existing relations and turns them into a legal right enforced by society

                 i.      Those who were formerly compelled to obedience by physical strength and violence, now become legally bound to it.


7.     *Objection: Women accept this subordination voluntarily, consent to it

8.     Reply: Many women don't accept it and have written against it

        a.      Fact that they haven't rebelled doesn't mean they have consented to it.

9.     *Reply: In so far as true women accept subordination, men have succeeded in making women into willing slaves

        a.      Not just service/obedience required of women, like other slaves

        b.     But enslavement of their feelings and beliefs as well

        c.      Men don't rule out of fear, but out of desire on the part of the ruled

        d.     Greater degree of slavery (willing slavery)

        e.      Enslave the mind

        f. Using force of education to enslave


10.    *Women's education about women's nature (536)

        a.      Taught that women’s character is opposite of men’s

        b.     Not self-willed or self-governing or in control

        c.      But submissive and yielding to control of others

        d. Women’s nature is to live for others

                 i.      Deny oneself and live for husband and children

                 ii.     Success and ambition can only be gotten through husband and children

        e.      Socialize young girls with dolls, frilly dresses, etc.


11.    *Women's job is to get a man; wherein lies her fulfilment

        a.      So appearance and sex appeal become of paramount importance

12.    That women pay so much attention to their appearance is a sign they are subordinate to men

        a.      "Polar star of feminine education and character formation is to become attractive to men" 536


13.    *Men use a certain conception of sexual attractiveness to further solidify women's subordination

14.    *Men exploit the fact that women must have a man to succeed by making meekness and submissiveness an essential part of their (sexual) attractiveness

        a.      Very powerful means of subjection

        b.     True of males today?

                 i. Vulnerable meek women more attractive?

                 ii. Big, strong, tough women aren't attractive

                 iii.    Interested in dating a woman who is dominating and a leader and strong and powerful

                 iv.     Interested in dating a women who is in an elite fighting unit?


15.    *Mill on ideal marriage: Between two equals is by far the best

        a.      Marry someone of equal power and stature as you

        b.     Each can lead and be led and each look up to the other

        c.      If man marries an inferior woman, she drags him down

        d.     Do you accept this? Marry a woman with a career as important as your own? Marry a man whose career is no more important than yours?


16.    *Does the nature of sexes justifies subordination?

        a.      Yes: Women by nature are inferior and subordinate to men

                 i.      Look around; this is how women are; look at your typical mother

17.    *Replies

        a.      Can't know nature of the sexes, when only seen them in socialized condition (where nature and nature are mixed)

        b.     If by nature they are subordinate, why then interfere with laws and customs on nature's behalf?

                 i.      If women are by nature subordinate, then we don't need laws to keep them that way

                          (1)    The will automatically be that way

                 ii.     That we are so concerned to educate women to keep them in their place shows that it is not their nature to be subordinate

                 iii.    Giving them freedom will let this natural condition unfold


18.    *Ways women/wife worse off than slaves

        a.      May be treated better than slaves, but

        b.     Willing slave (they like being enslaved), control of inner mind

        c.      Wife’s property (earnings and inheritance) becomes husbands (slaves can own property apart from master in many countries)

        d.     No off duty where have own time after job is done

                 i.      24 hours a day; no slave is as fully a slave as is a wife

        e.      Wife can't refuse sex from husband; female slave can refuse sex.

                 i.      Husbands can be convicted of raping their wives in all states, though in over 50%, some sort of exemption (or special status) to marital rape continues to exist


19.    Women’s power of retaliation does not give them equality

        a.      By being scolding and shrewish (ill-tempered)

                 i.      “Power of the scold and shrewish sanction”

        b.     But this works best over least tyrannical husbands (where least needed)

        c.      Withholding sex (their peculiar from of power)


20.    Need leader in family?

        a.      Why one leader on all issue, instead of splitting role?

        b.     Why man the leader? Why by law?


21.    Homemaker's job takes more physical/metal energy than wage earner's job

        a.      Bears children

        b.     Responsibility for rasing and educating children

        c.      Decides how to spend the $ he makes for what's best of the family

        d.     If she starts to earn money too, seldom does this result in him taking over some of the household work

                 i.      The super mom of today


22.    Stay-at-home wife a suitable division of labor?

        a.      In just situations (marriage an equal contract) not desirable for wife to work

                 i.      Is the traditional role of women as homemakers and child raisers a career of equal stature to a career in the paid working world?

        b.     In unjust situations, working is her way of getting power and becoming more valuable to the man (who likes the $)

23.            The power of earning is essential to the dignity of women (if no other means of property)

        a.      In general, first duty should be to the family, and outside work shouldn't interfere

        b.     Some exceptional women with special talent can have a career, as long as make other arrangements for home duties.

        c.      He seems to be assuming that default is women must arrange for child care, instead of joint decisions

                 i.      Mill a sexist after all?

        d.     Isn’t women making way in world essential to their dignity?


24.    *Women should not be prohibited from any occupations

        a.      Preventing women from doing this is a way to continue the subordination of women (in family especially)

        b.     Agree? Any jobs you think are unsuitable for women? Or men?


25.    Exclusion of women from occupations can't be justified by the argument that women are not as good on average as men 539

        a.      But that no women are fit for those jobs/roles

        b.     And that the most inferior man is better than best women


26.    Subordination of women great loss and harm to society

        a.      By banning ½ humankind from using talents to the fullest is a great loss.

        b.     Double the amount of mental ingenuity available to benefit society

27.    All selfish tendencies and self-worship has source/root in unjust relation of men to women

        a.      Boy growing up knows that he's better than ½ human race totally independent of merit, simply because born a male

        b.     Bad effect on character by this lesson

28.    Moral regeneration of humans an only begin when most basic social relationship is ruled by justice/equality