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On the Subjection of Women (Anglais) Broché – 13 août 2008

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Revue de presse

'All good arguments should seem to state the obvious. John Stuart Mill's eloquent essay 'The Subjection of Women' manages this 140 years after publication. His language is so precise and his logic so penetrating that it brooks no opposition.' --The Observer

Présentation de l'éditeur

Convinced that the subordination of women was an irrational and outmoded social custom John Stuart mill and his wife Harriet Taylor Mill set about arguing for equality between the sexes. The essay they wrote is a striking and clearsighted denunciation of the status quo, carefully demolishing ancient, lingering prejudices and setting out a new agenda for human progress. At the time a radical clarion call for change, their passionate and eloquent arguments still have the power to challenge and confront the prevailing patriarchal bias in modern culture.

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Par Steven H Propp - Publié sur Amazon.com
John Stuart Mill, (1806-1873) was a British philosopher (known as a Utilitarian), political economist and member of Parliament. He wrote many books, including Selected Writings of John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Theism, Considerations On Representative Government, etc. It should be noted that Mill noted in his Autobiography that his wife Harriet Taylor Mill had been "the honour and chief blessing of my existence, as well as the source of a great part of all that I have attempted to do." Certainly, the present book is one of the books that Harriet Taylor [whose own works are available in The Complete Works of Harriet Taylor Mill] had a strong influence on.

He begins the first chapter with the statement, "The object of this Essay is to explain as clearly as I am able, the grounds of an opinion which I have held from the very earliest period when I had formed any opinions at all on social or political matters, and which... has been growing constantly stronger by the progress of reflection and the experience of life. That the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes---the legal subordination of one sex to another---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." (Pg. 15)

He observes, "When we put together three things---first, the natural attraction between opposite sexes; secondly, the wife's entire dependence on the husband, ever privilege or pleasure she has being either his gift, or depending entirely on his will; and lastly, that the principal object of human pursuit, consideration, and all objects of social ambition, can in general be sought or obtained by her only through him, it would be a miracle if the object of being attractive to men had not become the polar star of feminine education and formation of character. And this great means of influence over the minds of women having been acquired, an instinct of selfishness made men avail themselves of it to the utmost as a means of holding women in subjection, by representing to them meekness, submissiveness, and resignation of all individual will into the hands of a man, as an essential part of sexual attractiveness." (Pg. 31)

He argues, "It will not do... to assert in general terms, that the experience of mankind has pronounced in favour of the existing system. Experience cannot possibly have decided between two courses, so long as there has only been the experience of one... I deny that anyone knows, or can know, the nature of the two sexes, as long as they have only been seen in their present relation to one another. If men had ever been found in society without women, or women without men, or if there had been a society of men and women in which the women were not under the control of the men, something might have been positively known about the mental and moral differences which may be inherent in the nature of each. What is now called the nature of women is an eminently artificial thing---the result of forced repression in some directions, unnatural stimulation in others... no other class of dependents have had their character so entirely distorted form its natural proportions by their relations with their masters." (Pg. 37-38)

He points out, "What women by nature cannot do, it is quite superfluous to forbid them from doing. What they can do, but not so well as the men who are their competitors, competition suffices to exclude them from; since nobody asks for protective duties or bounties in favour of women; it is only asked that the present bounties and protective duties in favour of men should be recalled. If women have a greater natural inclination for some things than for others, there is no need of laws or social inculcation to make the majority of them do the former in preference to the latter. Whatever women's services are most wanted for, the free play of competition will hold out the strongest inducements to them to undertake... they are most wanted for the things for which they are the most fit; by the apportionment of which to them, the collective faculties of the two sexes can be applied on the whole with the greatest sum of valuable result." (Pg. 44) Of "Those who attempt to force women into marriage by closing all other doors against them," he says, "If they mean what they say, their opinion must evidently be, that men do not render the married condition so desirable to women, as to induce them to accept it for its own recommendations." (Pg. 45)

He suggests, "the generality of the male sex cannot yet tolerate the idea of living with an equal. Were it not for that, I think that almost everyone... would admit the injustice of excluding half the human race from the greater number of lucrative occupations, and from almost all high social functions; ordaining from their birth that they are not, and cannot by any possibility become, fit for employments which are legally open to the stupidest and basest of the other sex, or else that however fit they may be, those employments shall be interdicted to them, in order to be preserved for the exclusive benefit of males." (Pg. 69)

He notes in the closing chapter, "Think what it is to a boy, to grow up to manhood in the belief that without any merit or exertion on his own, though he may be the most frivolous and empty or the most ignorant and stolid of mankind, by the mere fact of being born a male he is by right the superior of all and every one of an entire half of the human race: including probably some whose real superiority to himself he has daily or hourly occasion to feel; but even if in his whole conduct he habitually follows a woman's guidance, still, if he is a fool, he thinks that of course she is not, and cannot be, equal in judgment to himself; and if he is not a fool, he does worse---he sees that she is superior to him, and believes that, notwithstanding her superiority, he is entitled to command and she is bound to obey. What must be the effect on his character, of this lesson?" (Pg. 103-104)

Until the Women's Movement in the 1960s, this book [as Susan Brownmiller points out in her Introduction to the book] was commonly regarded as one of Mill's "minor" works. Fortunately, we can now see this as a historically pathbreaking work, that deserves serious study by anyone even remotely interested in women's rights.
Power relationships 9 février 2006
Par Mary E. Sibley - Publié sur Amazon.com
In former ages the law of superior strength was the law of life. Spartan women were more free to act than others and were trained in physical exercise. Women, like royalty, are born to the status. Male human beings are not under legal ban. The social subordination of women is a relic of old thought.

What is called the nature of women is an artificial thing. Literary women are becoming more free-spoken. Women resemble sailors in a press gang. A wife acts for the children through delegation of the husband. Husband and wife are one, and the husband is the one. Actual treatment may be better than the legal position indicates. A wife has means of retaliation at her disposal for mistreatment. Inequality does not depend upon the law of marriage but rather the general society.

Mill argues for the fitness of women to vote and to participate in the professions. Women's relative lack of intellectual and artistic achievement is explicable in terms of deficiencies in education and opportunity. Women are frequently held to be advantaged morally. Mill recognizes that personal independence is an element of happiness.

This remains a compelling work detailing regrettable recent history and the reasons a change in the status of women was inevitable. The reasoning is forceful, clear and balanced. Mill achieves a sort of perfection in this small book.
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