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Feminist Theory Vision of John Stuart Mill and Mary Wollstonecraft

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Introduction

Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill are two different feminist political philosophers. One of them is liberal feminist and the other is radical one. Each of them developedtheir own political theory and have different vision of feminism, but both of them understand the importance of equality and friendship between the two sexes. I will try to analyze both theories and find the similarities and differences between both.

Main Body

John Stuart Mill was one of the important British philosophers of the 19 century. He received an excellent education from his father, the Scottish philosopher James Mill. He was also familiar with Ancient Greek and Latin Scholarship. At the age of 20, young man suffered from nervous disorder which became a turning point in his life. During the depression, he determined the importance of education and emotions for the life of ordinary people. (Lewis, 2018) His famous work “The subjection of women”raised the questions about social inequality between men and women. Mill lived in a period of history when women were subordinate to men by law and custom. (Macleod, 2016) John Stuart Mill lived in Great Britain in the 19th century where the industrial revolution that caused rapid development of capitalists’ production has recently ended. The responsibilities of the womankind in the 19th century included parenting and housework, while men worked in different political, social and economic spheres of human activity. (Macleod, 2016) In most cases, women didn’t have the rights to higher education, to vote in governmental elections (which became the key element into Mill’s vision theory), engaged in professions intended only for men, to have private property and others.

Also, the situation was influenced by religious factor. The Scriptures reflect “the world-historical” defeat of the female sex. The Bible claimed that: “Wives, obey your husband’s as the Lord, because the husband is the head of the family, as Christ is the head of the church”. From this statement, occurred the absolute disempowerment of women in marriage and family. (Mill, 1986) According to our British philosopher, this thesis is wrong and false. He also actively communicated and interacted with various women’s activists including Elizabeth C. Stanton, the woman who was the founder and leader of first organized women’s movement in the United States of America and the author of manifesto articulating the demand for equality between sexes known as Declaration of Sentiments.Also John Stuart Mill’s feminism theory had some key influence from some individuals. According to Lewis (2019), the first one was his father, James Mills. The other ones were English and French socialists, including William Thompson, Charles Fourier and the followers of Comte de St. Simon. The third stimuli was from radical, intellectual women whom he met in France and England, but influence of only one woman helped the philosopher to write his famous book, “The subjection of women”. Her name is Harriet Taylor and she was his wife. Harriet Taylor also was English philosopher and feminist. She helped to transform his interest in sphere of inequality into a real awareness of women’s subordinate, legal and social status. (Macleod, 2016) However, their feminist theory vision was not same because Harriet Taylor was more pessimistic on the status of women in society and wanted more radical reforms than John Stuart Mill.

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Mill’s case for women’s equality had utilitarian roots. (Lewis, 2019) John Stuart Mill suggested that subordination of women is one of the important elements that prevent the development of male and whole society. Mill believed that freedom is natural state of man and he defended the various specters of freedom for the individuals. (Macleod, 2016) His most famous phrase was “Free only that a society in which all kinds of freedoms exists for all its members.” In the Subjection of Women, John Stuart Mill considered 4 problems of his time: emancipation of women in society, lack of rights of women in marriage, admission of women to all profession and benefits that will brought by equality of rights of women and men. I will try to shortly expound the looks of J. S. Mill to these difficulties. He wrote that it was very difficult to attack opinions that ingrained and enjoyed universal authority. “From the dawn of human society every woman was in a state of bondage to some man, because she was of value of him and she had less muscular strength than he did”. (Mill, 1986)Times changed and female slavery gradually became softer, but the bases of slavery remained – physical power. Men not only demanded obedience, they wanted to completely control over the souls of women. (Mill, 1986) This is especially evident in family relationships. A spouse is nothing without her husband. Only he has the right over the children and the right to earn money. In the hands of the husband are concentrated all the rights and obligations, and such power greatly corrupts. Mill believed that family’s responsibilities should be evenly distributed between a woman and a man.That would make British families happier because only a just-made family could become a real school of all the virtues generated by freedom. Then, women should be given the right to earn money in order to make them independent. According to Mill (1986), “The prohibition of competing with men on the part of such activities is flagrant injustice against women and a significant loss to society.” Female thinking and Male thinking should not conflict; on the contrary, both thinking should complement each other in different areas. Also, women’s ability to participate in the election will help them to participate in governmental work and fight for women’s rights at the state level. What benefits will society gain by freeing women from dependence and giving them equal rights? The most important result will be an upgrading of the relations between two opposite sexes. The relationship “will be ruled by justice instead of injustice, the moral being of men won’t be distorted”. (Mill, 1986) This book helped John Stuart Mill became the most famous feminist philosopher in the history. His feminist theory vision became an important part of the women’s movement and didn’t lost relevance even in our modern world.

Mary Wollstonecraft grew up in completely different atmosphere and family. According to Meany (2019), she was born on April 27, 1759, in Spitalfields, London. Her father was a drinker. Edward John Wollstonecraft was unsuccessful farmer and therefore the financial condition of the Wollstonecraft was instable. Her family often had to move from place to place, furthermore Edward constantly beat Mary’s mother that made indelible impression on the little girl. After the death of her mother, Mary decided to set out to earn her own livelihood. In 1978, Mary together with her sister Eliza and best friend, Fanny, opened her own school for girls at Newington. (Taylor, 2004) When this educational institution was closed, Mary had to look for a new job. After spending some time in Ireland, Wollstonecraft returned to the capital city of Britain. In London, she began working as a translator and advisor of famous publisher Joseph Johnson. Mary performed well in this position and Joseph even published some of her works. During the French Revolution, Mary Wollstonecraft came to Paris, where she wrote and published her famous work, “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”.

The main stimulates of writing this book were French Revolution and Enlightenment discourse. Her work proclaimed that educational system deliberately trained women to be frivolous and incapable. (Taylor, 2004) Mary Wollstonecraft said that currenteducation doesn’t give any chances to young girls to work in different professions. Instead, education forced women became adornments of a household chores. The key, which can solve this problem, is radical reform of national educational system. This radical reform must give women full access to the same educational opportunities as man and according to Mary’s opinion; this will have a beneficial effect not only on women but also on men and society. (Meany, 2019) During her life, women’s education was sharply differing from men’s. The academic system did not allow women to reveal their full potential.Wollstonecraft believed that people since birth are influenced by “the effect of an early association of ideas”. It means that people are born without any prior knowledge; they acquire knowledge through education and habits. (Taylor, 2004) That is why women’s education occupies a key place in Wollstonecraft’s feminist’s theory vision. Also, according to Meany (2019), Mary strongly criticized the justification of hierarchies which happened during her life and believed that “God has made all things right”.Mary’s feminist’s theory vision have some similarities with others early feminist’s theories, but her work was exclusive because only she proposed the improvement of the status of women through the radical reform. However, the publication of “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” did not bring any significant reform in academic system, but the influence of this feminist philosopher and her bookmanifested in the 1840s during American and European women’s movement. (Meany, 2019)

Conclusion

The feminist theory vision of both British philosophers has difference and similarities. The most important part in Mary Wollstonecraft’s theory was education of women, John Stuart Mill, on the contrary, asserts that the most important thing is to give the weaker sex the right to vote and make its own decision. However, both philosophers actively opposed injustice, sexism and racism which formed that developed in British society at the end of the 19th century. They understood the problems that women faced in the men’s society and tried to solve them.

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Feminist Theory Vision of John Stuart Mill and Mary Wollstonecraft. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/feminist-theory-vision-of-john-stuart-mill-and-mary-wollstonecraft/
“Feminist Theory Vision of John Stuart Mill and Mary Wollstonecraft.” Edubirdie, 18 Mar. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/feminist-theory-vision-of-john-stuart-mill-and-mary-wollstonecraft/
Feminist Theory Vision of John Stuart Mill and Mary Wollstonecraft. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/feminist-theory-vision-of-john-stuart-mill-and-mary-wollstonecraft/> [Accessed 25 Nov. 2022].
Feminist Theory Vision of John Stuart Mill and Mary Wollstonecraft [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Mar 18 [cited 2022 Nov 25]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/feminist-theory-vision-of-john-stuart-mill-and-mary-wollstonecraft/
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