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“The principle which regulates the existing social relationship between the two sexes is wrong in itself.” (J.S. Mill)

Ques. “The principle which regulates the existing social relationship between the two sexes is wrong in itself.” (J.S. Mill)


  • Introduction- J.S. Mill as a feminist
  • Mill on subjection on women and rejection of inequality
  • Limitations of Mill’s arguments
  • Conclusion
  • S. Mill is regarded one of the most important thinkers on concepts of liberty, ethics, human rights and economics. At the same time, Mill is also invoked as an early feministgiven his work, ‘On the Subjection of women’,wherein he argues for education of women and for “perfect equality” for women.
  • Mill applied his principles of liberalism to the question of women and advocated improving their position by providing them with education, suffrage and employment opportunities. This he regarded as a concern of entire humankind, rather than women alone.
  • Mill in his work, ‘On the Subjection of Women’ proposed that the society should be organized on the basis of ‘reason’ and not on the grounds of ‘accident of birth’ like sex. Mill held that human character is wholly a product of upbringing, rather than the result of one’s biological sex.
  • Equality as a legal rightwas the main concern for Mill. Marriage—which in this period deprived the wife of property and legal personhood, and forced total obedience to a husband—was, Mill held, similar to slavery.
  • Mill’s reference point for the legal subordination of women was the mid-19th Century English lawof the marriage contract. Women were only taught to live for others and selfless devotion was used to glorify womanhood. Mill also cited the absence of laws on marital rape to prove the inequality suffered by the Englishwomen of that time.
  • Mill contested two arguments that were used to justify subjection of women:
    • The first argument for women’s inequality which Mill refuted was that since historically it has been a universal practicetherefore there must be some justification for it. He used the example of slavery to question universality of practice as a justification.
    • Secondly, like Wollstonecraft, Mill rejected the view that women’s nature differed from that of men.The women’s natures as they were in society were due to years of suppression and domination.
  • Mill saw women as free rational beingswho needed to be given the freedom to choose the way they lead their lives rather than giving into societal pressure. Mill also refuted the argument that women were accepting this subjugation voluntarily as there were numerous instances of protests and discontent.
  • However, Mill was criticized by Feminist scholars like Moira Gatens for his instrumentalist approachin arguing for women’s equality which was driven on grounds of grounds of “social expediency” and benefit for human-kind rather than genuine emancipation of women. Despite these criticisms, in many ways Mill transcended his own time, and many of his views are still relevant today.

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