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Breaking Down Patriarchy - Amy McPhie Allebest EPISODE 14, 23rd February 2021
The Subjection of Women, by John Stuart Mill
00:00:00 01:09:16

The Subjection of Women, by John Stuart Mill

Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. 

Today we are going to be reading our first and possible only male author in this series, John Stuart Mill. His book, The Subjection of Women, written in 1869, is important to me personally because it’s the first philosophical critique of patriarchy that I ever read. About six years ago I was searching for books on the history of Patriarchy - I had never read any - and this book “The Subjection of Women” popped up as a suggestion. I thought the title looked intriguing so I bought it and read it. It is not an exaggeration to say that it was life-changing for me - I saw so many of my own private thoughts and feelings represented as legitimate cultural and political issues, and I couldn’t believe that this analysis had been written a century and a half earlier. My copy is marked up and dog-eared, and I’m really excited to discuss it with my reading partner today, Franceskay Allebes. 


Hi, Franceskay!


Franceskay: Hi, Amy!


Amy: 


Franceskay and I are dear friends and are also in the same family! She is my husband’s aunt, and she has always been one of those cool, hip young aunts who is more like an older sister than an aunt. And I remember from the time I met you when Erik and I were engaged, you were so welcoming and warm to me… and then your children have been such an important part of my children’s lives. And as a bonus it turns out that we’ve discovered over the years that we are quite like-minded and kind of kindred spirits. So thank you so much for being here today. And so our listeners can get to know you a bit more, I’m going to share a brief bio that you wrote.


Franceskay is the youngest of 4 children. First generation American, she was born to Frans and Margaretha Allebes who immigrated to the United States from the Netherlands shortly following WW2 and after joining the LDS Church (or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). With their 3-year-old son Edward in tow (if you want you can add that this is your father in law😊) they decided to start a new life in the great American West starting in Salt Lake City then on to Wyoming and then to California. Franceskay was born in Northern California in a typical suburban community climbing trees, catching frogs, and popping wheelies on her Schwinn bike, anything her brother Brigham was doing cuz doing boy stuff was way more fun.

Her first foothold as a feminist probably started there - questioning adults why girls couldn’t do the same fun things as boys, wearing pants to elementary school and wondering why scientists, presidents and famous artists were mostly men.

Fast forward…with a degree from BYU she moved to Los Angeles in the mid 80’s and embraced the big city life, loving this treasure trove of arts, education and enrichment as well as a diverse ocean of people and ideas. She worked at UCLA as a special events planner for several years and after walking the bowels and bones of the university she walked with her diploma and a master’s in education and became a full-fledged Bruin. At the same time, she met her wonderful husband, Orell and they started their exciting lives together.

Her second career, as a teacher, started in her early 30s and a move back to Orange County, where she and Orell started their family. It was a soft landing, with jobs, home prices within reach and the help of an Oma and Opa (Dutch for grandma and grandpa) to help raise their kids. They have 3 amazingly creative and smart children. Soren who just graduated and now working as a Mechanical Engineer, Dane who should be graduating in a year in Applied Design and Holland who is a super star senior.

After a short retirement Franceskay went back to teach art at elementary schools and that became a springboard to what she does now, using art as therapy in rehab treatment centers for those dealing with addiction and mental health issues.   

She enjoys hiking, yoga, having everyone home to roost, and encouraging creativity in all people, in all places, and with all things.    


Amy: Another thing I like to ask my reading partners is what interested them in this project. Can you talk a little bit about why you agreed to do this with me? :) 


Franceskay: 


At an early age I identified as a feminist; I remember being called a women’s libber when I was in elementary school. I was outspoken, loud, and somewhat of a TomBoy as it was called in the day. In my teens I was busy being boy crazy with too much attention to attracting those boys. Still I was questioning why things were the way they were. In my 20’s these questions became more about patriarchy, social systems and gender roles.  Raised by a terrific and egalitarian father it was the institution of patriarchy that disturbed me, and the inequality I saw in my travels and my own culture. When I heard about your project Amy, I had several emotions whirling: joy, regret, resentment, embarrassment. In all my years of school and being fierce about women’s rights I had very little education or exposure to the foundations and theory behind what I believed, let alone the fundamental texts. Maybe it was the schools I attended or the time I grew up, I will set blame and excuses aside and just say I am so thrilled to be a part of this project but most importantly for my 17-year-old daughter who will be listening to all these podcasts with me. May my ceiling be her floor. I am grateful that you are taking on this incredibly important task of exploring foundational and historically important texts in an approachable way - to dialogue, detangle and break down patriarchy.  


Amy: Before we dive into the book, let’s talk a bit about this author and what led him to write The Subjection of Women. Franceskay, would you tell us about John Stuart Mill? 


Franceskay:

Sure!


John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) is known as  "the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century.” He was fluent in Greek and Latin by the age of 10;  by the age of 20 he had extensive knowledge of the arguments of the Greek philosophers and was a gifted practitioner of the art of rhetoric.


Mill was a nonconformist. He refused to subscribe to the thirty-nine articles of faith of the Church of England, and was therefore not eligible to attend Oxford or Cambridge. He attended University College London instead, and then went to work with his father for the British East India Company.


In 1851, Mill married Harriet Taylor after 21 years of intimate friendship. Brilliant in her own right, Taylor was a significant influence on Mill's work and ideas during both friendship and marriage. His relationship with Taylor reinforced Mill's advocacy of women's rights. He said that in his stand against domestic violence and for women's rights he was “chiefly an amanuensis (which means writing assistant or scribe), to my wife.” He called her mind a “perfect instrument”, and said she was “the most eminently qualified of all those known to the author”. He cites her influence in his final revision of his famous book On Liberty, which was published shortly after her death.


Between the years 1865 and 1868 Mill served as Lord Rector of the University of St Andrews in Scotland. At his inaugural address, delivered to the University, he made the now famous (but often wrongly attributed) remark that "Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing".


He was also a member of Parliament. In 1866, he became the first person in the history of Parliament to call for women to be given the right to vote, vigorously defending this position in subsequent debates. 


[Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Stuart_Mill]


In introducing Mill, we want to read a passage that he writes in The Subjection of Women, where he writes about the impact of the patriarchal system upon boys and men. Amy and I have never read anything like this and we think it’s really powerful. Amy, would you mind reading this passage?


Read passage:

“Think what it is to be a boy, to grow up to manhood in the belief that without any merit or any exertion of 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 and superior of an entire half of the human race: including probably some who are really superior to himself! If he is a fool, he thinks that of course she is not, and cannot be, equal in ability and 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.


[He goes on to say that in childhood boys don’t really pick up on the fact that they are going to be in charge of women. Boys aren’t allowed to domineer over their sisters, and they both have to obey their parents. But then Mill says that when boys are older they start figuring out that men are in charge of women, and that that has a really bad effect on the boy’s character. 


Is it imagined that all this does not pervert the whole manner of existence of the man, both as an individual and as a social being? It is an exact parallel to the feeling of a hereditary king that he is excellent above others by being born a king, or a noble by being born a noble. The relation between husband and wife is very like that between lord and vassal, except that the wife is held to more unlimited obedience than the vassal was. However the vassal’s character may have been affected, for better and for worse, by his subordination, who can help seeing that the lord’s was affected greatly for the worse? Whether he was led to believe that his vassals were really superior to himself, or to feel that he was placed in command over people as good as himself, for no merits or labours of his own, but merely for having taken the trouble to be born.” (81-82)


Amy: I think this excerpt is so powerful - like you said, Franceskay, it’s rare in any time period for people to take the time to examine and challenge systems that benefit them. And I like that he points out that that assumed sense of superiority is corrupting to the boy’s character as well. It takes a lot of courage to admit that, and it speaks to Mill’s character (and probably the influence of his wife). :)


On this episode we are going to take turns highlighting five different themes that emerge in Mill’s work. I’ll start with the first one. Sound good?


Franceskay: Sounds good!


  1. Amy: Liberty and equality of human beings should be the default.


The burden of proof is supposed to be with those who are against liberty; who contend for any restriction or prohibition; either any limitation of the general freedom of human action, or any disqualification or disparity of privilege affecting one person or kind of person, as compared with others. 

...those who maintain the doctrine that men have a right to command and women are under an obligation to obey, or that men are fit for government and women unfit, are on the affirmative side of the question, and... they are bound to show positive evidence for the assertions, or submit to their rejection. (2)


So here Mill is pointing out that women have always been placed in the position of having to prove that they were worthy of equal rights.  And he says that that is wrong: the default should be equal rights, and if someone proposes that a certain group should not have equal rights, then they need to come up with a good reason why not. “The burden of proof is supposed to be with those who are against liberty - they are bound to show positive evidence for the assertion.”


This made me think of our episode on Olympe de Gouges, where Lindsay and I were feeling frustrated that women are so often in the position of petitioning, or begging, men for the same rights that men already enjoy. Trying to convince men that they should grant us greater autonomy can feel humiliating, and we were frustrated thinking of men saying “sorry, we don’t see it that way.”  We couldn’t think of a philosophical argument to make that men would listen to, and Mill provides that argument!



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  1. Amy: [Men create laws (and I would add, all kinds of social systems, including religions) by observing the world around them and then codifying the systems they observe. We often accept things we are used to, that we would never introduce into our societies if they didn’t already exist. 


Mill says: 

“It arose simply from the fact that from the very earliest twilight of human society, every woman (owing to the value attached to her by men, combined with her inferiority in muscular strength) was found in a state of bondage to some man.”



This is exactly what Gerda Lerner says in The Creation of Patriarchy. Starting with the Agricultural Revolution the relationship between males and females had changed very gradually to a system where men owned and controlled females, and by the time humans wrote down laws they just took for granted that men were in charge of women. 


It’s like myths: the Greeks observed the cycles of the seasons, and created a story to explain them: Persephone goes underground to Hades for half the year and while she’s gone the Earth goes into mourning and nothing can grow, and that’s winter!


I guess there’s no danger in creating explanations about nature (except that it might keep you from seeing the real, scientific explanation). But it can be REALLY dangerous if you look at how human beings are treated and create a theological explanation for it. 


Which reminds me of the LDS Church with their explanations of white supremacy. Brigham Young observed that people of African descent were enslaved, deprived of opportunities, so he and others created a story that Africans had descended from Cain, and their souls had been “less valiant” before they came to earth. And that story persisted in Mormon culture for generations - I heard it when I was a kid and even a BYU professor when I was in college was still teaching it in the 2000’s. Only in the past few years has the church publicly disavowed that horrible myth that did so much damage to people of color and corrupted so many white people by teaching them racist views.



  1. As a sub-point of this concept, Mill says: It is a political law of nature that those who are under any power of ancient origin, never begin by complaining of the power itself, but only of its oppressive exercise. (14) 


This reminds me of so many conversations I have had with people who defend patriarchy. In the LDS church there’s this phrase “unrighteous dominion” that people use to describe what Mill calls the “oppressive exercise” of power. So let’s say there’s a husband who is extremely controlling with the finances and makes his wife beg for an allowance, and buys himself fancy cars but doesn’t let her have grocery money, so a lot of people I know would say they agree that that’s not ok - that’s “unrighteous dominion.” But they defend the system where girls are discouraged from having a career, and are encouraged to be financially dependent on their husbands, and thus completely dependent upon him being nice about sharing the money. This leads to the husband always having the final say about the finances, and he can make the entire family move to a different place if he decides it’s best for his career, etc. What people don’t see is that that system is unjust and inequitable EVEN IF THE HUSBAND IS BEING NICE. 




  1. Another sub-point to this concept is this quote: 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. (20)



The mental differences supposed to exist between women and men are but the natural effect of the differences in their education and circumstances, and indicate no radical difference, far less radical inferiority, of nature. ...consider how sedulously they are all trained away from, instead of being trained towards, any of the occupations or objects reserved for men. (53)


This echoes Mary Wollstonecraft, who emphasized that concept that if women were perceived as less intelligent, it was because they were deprived of education. If women were perceived as weak and easily fainting, it was because they were deprived of outdoor exercise. We’ll see this also articulated by Simone de Beauvoir in the 1940’s. 


Franceskay, do you have anything you want to add from this section?


Franceskay:

I really liked this next quote he makes about the “fitness of women”. 

Women who in their early years have shared in the healthful physical education and bodily freedom of their brothers, and who obtain a sufficiency of pure air and exercise in after-life, very rarely have any excessive susceptibility of nerves which can disqualify them for active pursuits. (60) 


That speaks very much to my life, With a brother just one year older I was outside exploring, running around, getting tough competing and building confidence. 

-

Ok Let’s shift gears to the next theme-----which is..


3. Franceskay: [This system can make every single man a tyrant, and because it takes place in the most intimate relationships, women have to appease their oppressors]

There is a long history of women’s oppression and Mill shares a part of that here in this quote -

Originally women were taken by force, or regularly sold by their father to the husband. Until a late period in European history, the father had the power to dispose of his daughter in marriage at his own will and pleasure, without any regard to hers. [Still happens all over the world] The Church, indeed, was so far faithful to a better morality as to require a formal “yes” from the woman at the marriage ceremony; but there was nothing to show that the consent was other than compulsory; and it was practically impossible for the girl to refuse compliance if the father persevered. ...After marriage, the man had anciently (but this was anterior to Christianity) the power of life and death over his wife. She could invoke no law against him; he was her sole tribunal and law. For a long time he could repudiate her, but she had no corresponding power in regard to him. (29)

Women had to submit to father’s, husband’s and even brothers. This is patriarchy, not just administered on high but in the household as well. The atrocious inequities of ancient times established systems of beliefs and behaviors that inform our today. Mills' focus spoke to his current era where women could not own property,  be considered the guardian of their own children or let alone divorce. This tyranny Mill states was in women's most intimate relationships, making it so personal.

Change has been slow and certainly not everywhere in our world. These gross inequities still exist in many countries. My mother in law who grew up in progressive Sweden, married at an early age a much older wealthy husband, she was a bit of a trophy and he was a bit abusive. For more than a decade she could not get a divorce until the first female attorney in Sweden fought her case. She finally got a divorce when my husband was 5 years old and then could marry his dad. This was in my lifetime.


The wife is the actual bond-servant of her husband. She vows a lifelong obedience to him at the altar, and is held to it all through her life by law. [Mormons used to; Baptists still do.] (30)


Mill’s claim that womanhood was a form of slavery seems unnerving and probably was intended to shock, to get readers to take gender inequality more seriously. The use of the idea, of bondage or slavery of women is important and will be discussed in this and later episodes.

Throughout the book, Mill describes women as existing in a state of “bondage” to men, who act as their “masters.” With so few legal rights that they end up effectively enslaved to their husbands, who wield absolute control. His use of these terms, which jolts our attention, is also where Mill draws on the momentum of the abolitionist movement.

It is important to note, the book, The Subjection of Women, was published in 1869, 58 years after slavery was abolished in the British colonies and four years after it was abolished in the U.S. Wow, just 4 years after slavery was abolished in our country. That is why the comparison is rather poignant. 

It is important to note the flaw in Mill’s use of the slavery metaphor as it misunderstands the reality of slavery. The oppression of white women is nowhere near the severity of the oppression of enslaved black people. Let alone black women as slaves. Just consider the lag time of 


When we put together these three things - first, the natural attraction between opposite sexes; secondly, the wife’s entire dependence on the husband, every 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. (16)


 

Franceskay:

Oh my! When I read this for the first time I had to pause. It had so much current relevance. When you think of the beauty industry, how media, movies and magazines (that used to be our messenger of how to be beautiful) has so shaped our view of the world and ourselves. We all underwrite this story, both men and women.

“The polar star of feminine education and formation of character is the pursuit of attractiveness”. We are obsessed with it today you can say we are enslaved by it. There is so much to say here. Just think of it in your lives or your daughters lives. Ugggg.

Then the part where Mill says that men hold women in subjection by signifying that sexual attractiveness means being meek and submissive. I can’t help but connect this to the myriad of studies in education to understand why girls' interest in math and sciences takes a deep dive in middle school. Well, they have been programmed to think that boys don’t like girls that are as smart or smarter than them.



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4. Amy: The problem with prescribing gender roles.


Mill begins by referencing the class system that has been in place in Europe and was starting to change - it just occurred to me that this was written only 20 years before the beginning scene of Downton Abbey! :)


He says...


Human beings are no longer born to their place in life, and chained down by an inexorable bond to the place they are born to, but are free to employ their faculties… to achieve the lot which may appear to them most desirable.” (16)


So as society is changing and allowing people to determine their own destiny, rather than being locked into the social class in which they were born, he says this:


“Nobody thinks it necessary to make a law that only a strong-armed man shall be a blacksmith. Freedom and competition suffice to make blacksmiths strong-armed men, because the weak-armed can earn more by engaging in occupations for which they are more fit.”


Then he says it’s unnecessary to make a rule “that certain persons are not fit to do certain things. ...Even if it be well grounded in a majority of cases, which it is very likely not to be, there will be a minority of exceptional cases in which it does not hold: and in those it is both an injustice to the individuals, and a detriment to society, to place barriers in the way of their using their faculties for their own benefit and for that of others. (17)


I love this argument that if someone wants to be a blacksmith, then let him try to be a blacksmith! If he’s not good at it, then he won’t be successful. But what if he is?? Why would you make a law that says he can’t, when he might be the best blacksmith in the world? And conversely, allowing all people to be blacksmiths if they want to, does not force anyone to be a blacksmith. 


This argument has been made all through history: Women don’t want the burden of civic engagement - don’t force them to vote! That will stress them out!

Women don’t like being educated - don’t waste a spot in a university that could have gone to a man on a woman! 


Women don’t want to be pilots, or Marines, or engineers…. So men make rules (and some women support them!!) that women CAN’T be those things. 


I even had an argument with a really good friend a few years ago about our church’s outdoor girls’ camp, and I was arguing that girls should have more opportunities for high adventure, like rock climbing, longer hikes, etc., in better locations, like the boys did. And she replied “girls don’t like to do stuff like that!” And I said “so they shouldn’t be allowed to??” What I wish I would have added is that a lot of 12 year old boys don’t like doing those things either - they have to be encouraged. It’s hard!! But we have expectations of them that they can, and so they grow into that expectation and acquire self-esteem because of it. And if someone can’t physically do it - like participate in the Marines or something, then fine, let that be the determining factor. But don’t make a law that says they can’t even try.



I must add an interesting side note. When my husband and I had to make decisions about starting a family Orell occasionally used his background in economics to frame the discussion. He studied and skied with Gary Becker, Nobel laureate in Economics, who was the first to apply economic theory to aspects of human behavior, looking at division of labor, specialization, and cost of children. At that point I was the one with the stable income, secured our benefits and guaranteed the loan on our new home. Even though we could almost put our lives on a spreadsheet there still would be no way to detangle all the deep roots of our socialization and gender expectations.

Amy, will you  join me in posthumously honoring John Stuart Mill with the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on equality.    


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5. Franceskay: Thoughts on Marriage


What marriage may be [is]... that best kind of equality, similarity of powers and capacities with reciprocal superiority in them - so that each can enjoy the luxury of looking up to the other, and can have alternately the pleasure of leading and of being led in the path of development. ...I maintain with the profoundest conviction, that this and this only, is the ideal of marriage; and that all opinions, customs, and institutions which favour any other notion of it, or turn the conceptions and aspirations connected with it into any other direction, by whatever pretences they may be coloured, are relics of primitive barbarism. The moral regeneration of mankind will only really commence, when the most fundamental of the social relations is placed under the rule of equal justice, and when human beings learn to cultivate their strongest sympathy with an equal in rights and in cultivation. (95)


Franceskay:

This quote really stood out to both of us, right, Amy?

Amy 

Yep, it sure did.


Franceskay:

We talked about it a lot afterward, and we  think it’s important to remember that at the time Mill wrote this in 1892, it was pretty radical to say that women were superior to men in any way, let alone that men would look up to women in any context. And it was absolutely scandalous to think of a man allowing a woman to be his leader. So Mill is saying something really progressive and almost revolutionary here. 


Amy:

Yes, and as I read it I kept wondering what people in conservative religious communities would think of it. So I sent an email survey to a ton of people I know - both men and women - and asked what they thought of the quote. I asked questions like “do you agree with this quote?”  “Do you believe that men and women both have areas of superiority?” “What is an example of an instance of men leading women in your personal life or your church?” “What is an example of women leading men in your personal life or your church life?” And the results of the survey were really interesting.


Franceskay:

Yes, we sat at the beach and talked about this a few weeks ago. Do you want to share some of your findings?


Amy:

Yeah, I will just say that overwhelmingly, Mormon men said “Yes, I absolutely agree with this quote. I do not think I’m superior to my wife in any way. She has her realm that she is in charge of in our marriage, she’s more a leader than I am in some ways… etc.” And then two sentences later they would say “but men preside.” or to quote one of my friends, “In our church, the men lead.” And they just didn’t see any contradiction between the two. As a woman, that has always made me feel like men are handing out $10 bills and they’re like “I get $10, you get $10. See? It’s equal!” But then I notice that my $10 is Monopoly money. When I go to barter with it, it turns out it has no value. And actually I got some surveys back from women too who said, “yep, we are totally equal in my marriage and in my church!” But as they answered further questions about the quote, they wrote me notes that said things like “wait a second, now this isn’t really adding up.” 


Franceskay

Right. So you told me that one thing both the men and the women in the surveys mentioned was that their gender-defined roles were “different, but complementary.” So we looked up “Complementarianism” and found some really interesting stuff.


So in many denominations of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, “Complementarianism” is a theological concept, which holds that men and women are equally valuable in personhood and dignity,  but that they have different and complementary roles in the home and in the religious community. Those complementary roles are determined by men and exclude women from leadership. Wikipedia describes complementarianism this way:


“Complementarians assign primary headship roles to men and support roles to women, based on their interpretation of certain biblical passages. One of the precepts of complementarianism is that while women may assist in the decision-making process, the ultimate authority for the decision is the purview of the male in marriage, courtship, and in the polity of churches subscribing to this view.

The main contrasting viewpoint to complementarianism is egalitarianism, which maintains that positions of authority and responsibility in marriage and religion should be equally available to females as well as males.”

 

So given that definition, what Mill is advocating for is Egalitarianism. He is explicitly rejecting the notion of automatic male headship. He says that sometimes the male will be the head and sometimes the female will be the head, and that those areas are determined by each partner’s strengths and talents and interests, not automatically determined by gender.

 

And I have to say, looking at Complementarianism and Egalitarianism side by side, I just don’t see how people can say that Complementarianism is equitable. I think if one person is a leader and the other person is the follower, and the leader determines the rules of engagement, to keep saying “we’re equal” or “the system is equitable” is disingenuous. 


[Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complementarianism]



Amy: Yep, I absolutely agree. And that framework of complementarianism vs. egalitarianism is so useful for me! That helps me put words to something I’ve been frustrated with for a long time. I would say that this time around as I read it, that was my biggest, most practical takeaway.

Franceskay:

What had bothered me for a while in the LDS faith is the Proclamation of the Family. Which  is exactly what we are talking about here, identifying roles that are said to compliment each other. The male role is to preside, provide and protect. The female role is to nurture children. So men rule and women serve. I don’t find that a compliment, do you?


Was there one nugget of wisdom that you gained from this book, Franceskay?


Franceskay:


Mill’s ideas were radical in his time to assert equal rights for women and issues with gender roles. We are dealing with this today, now; equal pay, domestic violence, sex trafficking, political representation, these can all be tied back to many of Mill’s arguments.

This book was so rich there were parts we couldn’t get to like how men hold women in subjection by establishing that sexual attractiveness means being meek and submissive and how being attractive becomes “the polar star of feminine education and formation of character.

Or his discussion of the Empty nest syndrome – the difficulty when your life’s work (children) has moved on leaving you void of worth and purpose.

Mill’s insights and clarity on the issues of equality and ideals of liberty for men and women are relevant and timely even 150 years later.  I am just so happy to have been a part of this podcast and excited for the next installment to uncover, discover and discard I mean break down patriarchy.. Thank you Amy.   


Amy:


Thank you so much for being here, Franceskay!!


Franceskay: Thank you! (and whatever you want to say)


Amy:

For our next episode, we will be reading a short work of fiction: it’s Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 novella, The Yellow Wallpaper. I read this book as a freshman in college and thought of it as a horror story, and it kind of is! But reading it again, I found that it was horrifying for different reasons than those I thought of as an 18-year-old. It’s very short and a super quick read, it’s also on audible, if you want to listen to it, and it’s a landmark work of literature because it’s one of the first examples of a female narrator telling the story from inside her own head. Very worth reading, or reading again. But of course even if you don’t read it, we’ll share why it’s important in our discussion. So join us next time for Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, on Breaking Down Patriarchy.






All Quotes from The Subjection of Women (some of which didn’t make the cut):


Think what it is to be a boy, to grow up to manhood in the belief that without any merit or any exertion of 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 and 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 ability and 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? And men of the cultivated classes are often not aware how deeply it sinks into the immense majority of male minds. For, among right- feeling and well-bred people, the inequality is kept as much as possible out of sight; above all, out of sight of the children. As much obedience is required from boys to their mother as to their father; they are not permitted to domineer over their sisters.

...Well brought- up youths in the higher classes thus often escape the bad influences of the situation in their early years, and only experience them when, arrived at manhood, they fall under the dominion of facts as they really exist. Such people are little aware… how early the notion of his inherent superiority to a girl arises in his mind; how it grows with his growth and strengthens with his strength; how it is inoculated by one schoolboy upon another; ...and how sublime and sultan-like a sense of superiority he feels, above all, over the woman whom he honours by admitting her to a partnership of his life. Is it imagined that all this does not pervert the whole manner of existence of the man, both as an individual and as a social being? It is an exact parallel to the feeling of a hereditary king that he is excellent above others by being born a king, or a noble by being born a noble. The relation between husband and wife is very like that between lord and vassal, except that the wife is held to more unlimited obedience than the vassal was. However the vassal’s character may have been affected, for better and for worse, by his subordination, who can help seeing that the lord’s was affected greatly for the worse? Whether he was led to believe that his vassals were really superior to himself, or to feel that he was placed in command over people as good as himself, for no merits or labours of his own, but merely for having… taken the trouble to be born. 


(81-82)



Main points:


  1. Liberty and equality of human beings should be the default.


The burden of proof is supposed to be with those who are against liberty; who contend for any restriction or prohibition; either any limitation of the general freedom of human action, or any disqualification or disparity of privilege affecting one person or kind of persons, as compared with others. 

...those who maintain the doctrine that men have a right to command and women are under an obligation to obey, or that men are fit for government and women unfit, are on the affirmative side of the question, and... they are bound to show positive evidence for the assertions, or submit to their rejection. (2)


[In our episode on Olympe de Gouges, Lindsay and I were feeling frustrated as women, being in the position of petitioning, or begging, men for equal rights. Trying to convince men that they should grant us greater autonomy can feel humiliating, and we were frustrated thinking of men saying “sorry, we don’t see it that way.”  I wish I had thought of this argument!!!  


---

The advantage of having the most universal and pervading of all human relations regulated by justice instead of injustice. 


He who would rightly appreciate the worth of personal independence as an element of happiness, should consider the value he himself puts upon it as an ingredient of his own. (96)


What citizen of a free country would listen to any offers of good and skilful administration, in return for the abdication of freedom? (97)


The injudiciousness of parents, a youth’s on inexperience, or the absence of external opportunities for the congenial vocation, and their presence for an uncongenial, condemn numbers of men to pass their lives in doing one thing reluctantly and ill, when there are other things which they could have done well and happily. But on women this sentence is imposed by actual law, and by customs equivalent to law. 


What, in unenlightened societies, colour, race, religion, or in the case of a conquered country, nationality, are to some men, sex is to all women. (101)



  1. Systems where one group of people make the rules for the other group of people are unjust at their foundations


If the authority of men over women, when first established, had been the result of a conscientious comparison between different modes of constituting the government of society; if, after trying various other modes of social organisation - the government of women over men, equality between the two, and such mixed and divided modes of government as might be invented - it had been decided, on the testimony of experience, that the mode in which women are wholly under the rule of men, having no share at all in public concerns, and each in private being under the legal obligation of obedience to the man with whom she has associated her destiny, was the arrangement most conducive to the happiness and well-being of both; its general adoption might then be fairly thought to be some evidence that, at the time when it was adopted, it was the best: though even then the considerations which recommended it may, like so many other primeval social facts of the greatest importance, have subsequently, in the course of ages, ceased to exist.


[But no], the adoption of this system of inequality never was the result of deliberation, or forethought, or any social ideas, or any notion whatever of what conduced to the benefit of humanity or the good order of society. It arose simply from the fact that from the very earliest twilight of human society, every woman (owing to the value attached to her by men, combined with her inferiority in muscular strength) was found in a state of bonage to some man. (4)


According to all the principles involved in modern society, the question rests with women themselves - to be decided by their own experience, and by the use of their own faculties. There are no means of finding what either one person or many can do, but by trying - and no means by which anyone else can discover for them what it is for their happiness to do or leave undone. (26)


**Whether the institution to be defended is slavery, political absoluteism, or the absolutism of the head of a family, we are always expected to judge of it from its best instances; and we are presented with pictures of loving exercise of authority on one side, loving submission to it on the other - superior wisdom ordering all things fro the greatest good of the dependents, and surrounded by their smiles and benedictions. All this would be very much to the purpose if anyone pretended that there are no such things as good men. Who doubts that there may be great goodness, and great happiness, and great affection, under the absolute government of a good man? Meanwhile, laws and institutions require to be adapted, not to good men, but to bad. Marriage is not an institution designed for a  select few. Men are not required, as a preliminary to the marriage ceremony, to prove by testimonials that they are fit to be trusted with the exercise of absolute power. 


[I, Amy, argue, however, that even when the dictator is benevolent, it is still unjust because dictatorship is unjust at its foundation. Apartheid is NEVER excusable, no matter how nice the white guys are. The caste system in India is NEVER excusable, even if the Brahmins give little gifts to the lower castes and make them feel special.] (34)


[Pages 38-39 Argument that the man doesn’t always need to be in charge in a marriage. This would sound archaic and horrifying, but it’s an argument I have ALL THE TIME among Mormons.]


The reason [for women’s subjugation] was not women’s unfitness, but the interest of society, by which was meant the interest of men. ...In the present day, power holds a smoother language, and whomsoever it oppresses, always pretends to do so for their own good: accordingly, when anything is forbidden to women, it is thought necessary to say, and desirable to believe, that they are incapable of doing it, and that they depart from their real path of success and happiness when they aspire to it. (48)


Would it be consistent with justice to refuse to them their fair share of honour and distinction, or to deny to them the equal moral right of all human beings to choose their occupation (short of injury to others) according to their own preferences, at their own risk? Nor is the injustice confined to them: it is shared by those who are in a position to benefit by their service. To ordain that any kind of persons shall not be physicians, or shall not be advocates, or shall not be Members of Parliament, is to injure not them only, but all who employ physicians or advocates, or elect Members of Parliament, and who are deprived of the stimulating effect of greater competition on the exertions of the competitors, as well as restricted to a narrower range of individual choice. (51)


They are declared to be better than men; an empty compliment, which must provoke a bitter smile from every woman of spirit, since there is no other situation in life in which it is the established order, and considered quite natural and suitable, that the better should obey the worse. (76)


The complaint against them resolves itself merely into this, that they fulfil only too faithfully the sole duty which they are taught, and almost the only one which they are permitted to practise. (77)


[People claim that “men and women are just different,” but they sometimes mean that men are superior and women inferior. And women are kept inferior by denying them opportunities to better themselves] (94)



  1. [Men create laws (and I would add, religions) by observing the world around them and then codifying the systems they observe. We often accept things we are used to, that we would never introduce into our societies if they didn’t already exist. Sounds like Montaigne]


Laws and systems of polity always begin by recognising the relations they find already existing between individuals. They convert what was a mere physical fact into a legal right, give it the sanction of society, and principally aim at the substitution of public and organised means of asserting and protecting these rights, instead of the irregular and lawless conflict of physical strength. Those who had already been compelled to obedience became in this manner legally bound to it.  ...The inequality of rights between men and women has no other source than the law of the strongest. (5)


[An extreme example of this is slavery]: Institutions and customs which never had any ground but the law of force, last on into ages and states of general opinion, which never would ahve permitted their first establishment. Less than forty years ago, Englishmen might still by law hold human beings in bondage as saleable property: within the present century they might kidnap them and carry them off, and work them literally to death. This absolutely extreme case of the law of force… was the law of civilised and Christian England within the memory of persons now living: and in one half of ...America three or four years ago, not only did slavery exist, but the slave-trade, and the breeding of slaves expressly for it, was a general practice between slave-states. (9)


Was there ever any domination which did not appear natural to those who possessed it? There was a time when the division of mankind into two classes, a small one of masters and a numerous one of slaves, appeared, even to the most cultivated minds, to be natural, and the only natural condition of the human race. No less an intellect, and one which contributed no less to the progress of human thought, than Aristotle, held this opinion without doubt or misgiving. (11)


So true is it that unnatural generally means only uncustomary, and that everything which is usual appears natural. The subjection of women to men being a universal custom, any departure from it quite naturally appears unnatural. But how entirely , even in this case, the feeling is dependent on custom, appears by ample experience. Nothing so much astonishes the people of distant parts of the world, when they first learn anything about England, as to be told that it is under a queen; the thing seems to them so unnatural as to be almost incredible. To Englishmen this does not seem in the least degree unnatural, because they are used to it, but they do feel it unnatural that women should be soldiers or Members of Parliament. (12)


It is a political law of nature that those who are under any power of ancient origin, never begin by complaining of the power itself, but only of its oppressive exercise. (14) [Like slaves complaining only of cruel masters, or women complaining of “unrighteous dominion”]


The least that can be demanded is, that the question should not be considered as prejudged by existing fact and existing opinion, but open to discussion on its merits, as a question of justice and expediency. ...Standing on the ground of common sense and the constitution of the human mind, 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. (20)


Experience cannot possibly have decided between two courses, so long as there has only been experience of one. (20)


The mental differences supposed to exist between women and men are but the natural effect of the differences in their education and circumstances, and indicate no radical difference, far less radical inferiority, of nature. ...consider how sedulously they are all trained away from, instead of being trained towards, any of the occupations or objects reserved for men. (53)


It will be said, perhaps, that the greater nervous susceptibility of women is a disqualification for practice, in anything but domestic life, by rendering them mobile, changeable, too vehemently under the influence of the moment, incapable of dogged perseverance, unequal and uncertain in the power of using their faculties. I think that these phrases sum up the greater part of the objections commonly made to the fitness of women for the higher class of serious business. Much of all this is the mere overflow of nervous energy run to waste, and would cease when the energy was directed to a definite end. Much is also the result of conscious or unconscious cultivation; as we see by the almost total disappearance of “hysterics” and fainting-fits, since they have gone out of fashion. ...When people are brought up, like many women of the higher classes.. A kind of hot-house plants, shielded from the wholesome vicissitudes of air and temperature, and untrained in any of the occupations and exercises which give stimulus and development to the circulatory and muscular system… it is no wonder if [they] grow up with constitutions liable to derangement from slight causes. But women brought up to work for their livelihood show none of these morbid characteristics. Women who in their early years have shared in the healthful physical education and bodily freedom of their brothers, and who obtain a sufficiency of pure air and exercise in after-life, very rarely have any excessive susceptibility of nerves which can disqualify them for active pursuits. (60) - Connect to “The Yellow Wallpaper.” 


[Women can’t focus deeply on one thing; they flit from one thing to the next]: They perhaps have it from nature, but they certainly have it by training and education, for nearly the whole of the occupations of women consist in the management of small but multitudinous details, on each of which the mind cannot dwell even for a minute, but must pass on to other things, and if anything requires longer thought, must steal time at odd moments for thinking of it. (We will see Virginia Woolf address this in “A Room of One’s Own” and Simone de Beauvior address it in The Second Sex) (63) --- same issue on page 73:


There are other reasons...that help to explain why women remain behind men, even in the pursuits which are open to both. For one thing, very few women have time for them. [“Who must raise a family and run the home so Papa’s free to read the holy book?” and Woolf and de Beauvoir] The time and thoughts of every woman have to satisfy great previous demands on them for things practical. (73)


All this is over and above the engrossing duty which society imposes exclusively on women, of making themselves charming. A clever woman of the higher ranks finds nearly a sufficient employment of her talents in cultivating the graces of manner and the arts of conversation. ...the great and continual exercise of thought which all women who attach any value to dressing well must bestow upon their own dress, perhaps also upon that of their daughters, would alone go a great way towards achieving respectable results in art, or science, or literature, and does actually exhaust much of the time and mental power they might have to spare for either. (73) (Compare to Mary Wollstonecraft)


Independently of the regular offices of life which devolve upon a woman, she is expected to have her time and faculties always at the disposal of everybody. … everything a woman does is done at odd times. Is it wonderful (hard to understand) then, if she does not attain the highest eminence in things which require consecutive attention, and the concentration of them of the chief interest of life? (Woolf and Beauvoir) (74)


To so ridiculous an extent are the notions formed of the nature of women, mere empirical generalisations, framed, without philosophy or analysis, upon the first instances which present themselves, that the popular idea of it is different in different countries. (65)




  1. [This system can make every single man a tyrant, and because it takes place in the most intimate relationships, women have to appease their oppressors]


Whatever gratification of pride there is in the possession of pwoer, and whatever personal interest in its exercise, is in this case not confined to a limited class, but common to the whole male sex. Instead of being, to most of its supporters, a thing desirable chiefly in the abstract, or, like the political ends usually  contended for by factions, of little private importance to any but the leaders, it comes home to the person and hearth of every male head of a family, and of everyone who looks forward to being so. The (man) exercises, or is to exercise, his share of the power equally with the highest nobleman. And the case is that in which the desire of power is the strongest: for everyone who desires power, desires it most over those who are nearest to him, with whom his life is passed, with whom he has most concerns in common, and in whom any independence of his authority is oftenest likely to interfere with his individual preferences. 


We must consider, too, that the possessors of the power have facilities in this case, greater than in any other, to prevent any uprising against it. Every one of the subjects lives under the very eye, and almost, it may be said, in the hands, of one of the masters - in closer intimacy with him than with any of her fellow-subjects; with no means of combining against him, no power of even locally overmastering him, and on the other hand, with the strongest motives for seeking his favour and avoiding to give him offence. ...If ever any system of privilege and enforced subjection had its yoke tightly riveted on the necks of those who are kept down by it, this has. (10-11)


All men, except the most brutish, desire to have, in the woman most nearly connected with them, not a forced slave but a willing one, not a slave merely, but a favourite. They have therefore put everything in practice to enslave their minds. ...The masters of women wanted more than simple obedience, and they turned the whole force of education to effect their purpose. All women are brought up from the very earliest years on the belief that their ideal of character is the very opposite to that of men; not self-will, and government by self-control, but submission,and yielding to the control of others. All the moralities tell them that it is the duty of women, and all the current sentimentalities that it is their nature, to live for others; to make complete abnegation of themselves, and to have no life but in their affections.


When we put together these three things - first, the natural attraction between opposite sexes; secondly, the wife’s entire dependence on the husband, every 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. (16)


The truth is that the position of looking up to another is extremely unpropitious to complete sincerity and openness with him. The fear of losing ground in his opinion or in his feelings is so strong, that even in an upright character, there is an unconscious tendency to show only the best side, or the side which, though not the best, is that which he most likes to see: ...thorough knowledge of one another hardly ever exists, but between persons who, besides being intimates, are equals. How much more true, then, must all this be, when the one is not only under the authority of the other, but has it inculcated on her as a duty to reckon everything else subordinate to his comfort and pleasure, and to let him neither see nor feel anything coming from her, except what is agreeable to him. (24)


Originally women were taken by force, or regularly sold by their father to the husband. Until a late period in European history, the father had the power to dispose of his daughter in marriage at his own will and pleasure, without any regard to hers. [Still happens all over the world] The Church, indeed, was so far faithful to a better morality as to require a formal “yes” from the woman at the marriage ceremony; but there was nothing to show that the consent was other than compulsory; and it was practically impossible for the girl to refuse compliance if the father persevered. ...After marriage, the man had anciently (but this was anterior to Christianity) the power of life and death over his wife. She could invoke no law against him; he was her sole tribunal and law. For a long time he could repudiate her, but she had no corresponding power in regard to him. (29)


The wife is the actual bond-servant of her husband. She vows a lifelong obedience to him at the altar, and is held to it all through her life by law. [Mormons used to; Baptists still do.] (30)


No slave is a slave to the same lengths, and in so full a sense of the word, as a wife is. Hardly any slave, except one immediately attached to the master’s person, is a slave at all hours and all minutes, in general he has, like a soldier, his fixed task, and when it is done, or when he is off duty, he disposes, within certain limits, of his own time, and has a family life into which the master rarely intrudes. (31 [Compare Frederick Douglass quote. Also point out the “double bind” of black women and the default of “women” meaning “white women” and slaves meaning “male slaves”]


However brutal a tyrant [a wife] may unfortunately be chained to - though she may know that he hates her, though it may be his daily pleasure to torture here, and though she may feel it impossible not to loathe him - he can claim from her and enforce the lowest degradation of a human being, that of being made the isntrument of an animal function contrary to her inclinations. (31)


[Men had all rights of property, including legal custody of the children]


Because men in general do not inflict, nor women suffer, all the misery which could be inflicted and suffered if the full power of tyranny with which the man is legally invested were acted on; the defenders of the existing form of the institution think that all its iniquity is justified, and that any complaint is merely quarelling with the evil which is the price paid for every great good. (33)


It is part of the irony of life, that the strongest feelings of devoted gratitude of which human nature seems to be susceptible, are called forth in human beings towards those who, having the power entirely to crush their earthly existence, voluntarily refrain from using that power. (33) [Men are afraid women will laugh at them; women are afraid men will kill them. - Margaret Atwood]


[****BUT, this system is unjust even if the man is nice.]

The sufferings, immoralities, evils of all sorts, produced in innumerable cases by the subjection of individual women to individual men, are far too terrible to be overlooked. Unthinking or uncandid persons, counting those cases alone which are extreme, or which attain publicity, may say that the evils are exceptional. BUT...it is a power given, or offered, not to good men, or to decently respectable, men, but to all men, the most brutal, and the most criminal. 



  1. [Women’s Rights Movements emerging - many more women would be demonstrating if they thought they could!]


 How many more women there are who silently cherish similar aspirations, no one can possibly know; but there are abundant tokens how many would cherish them, were they not so strenuously taught to repress them as contrary to the proprieties of their sex. (13)


I readily admit (and it is the very foundation of my hopes) that numbers of married people even under the present law live in the spirit of ajust law of equality. Laws never would be improved if there were not numerous persons whose moral sentiments are better than the existing laws. Such persons ought to support the principles here advocated, of which the only object is to make all other married couples similar to what these are now. But persons even of considerable moral worth, unless they are also thinkers, are very ready to believe that laws or practices, the evils of which they have not personally experienced, do not produce any evils.


Women do not complain of it (77)


The case of women is now the only case in which to rebel against established rules is still looked upon with the same eyes as was formerly a subject’s claim to the right of rebelling against his king. A woman who joins in any movement which her husband disapproves, makes herself a martyr, without even being able to be an apostle, for the husband can legally put a stop to her apostleship. Women cannot be expected to devote themselves to the emancipation of women, until men in considerable number are prepared to join with them in the undertaking. (78)


  1. [Don’t prescribe gender roles]


Human beings are no longer born to their place in life, and chained down by an inexorable bond to the place they are born to, but are free to employ their faculties, and such favourable chances as offer, to achieve the lot which may appear to them most desirable. (16)


Nobody thinks it necessary to make a law that only a strong-armed man shall be a blacksmith. Freedom and competition suffice to make blacksmiths strong-armed men, because the weak-armed can earn more by engaging in occupations for which they are more fit.In consonance with this doctrine, it is felt to be an overstepping of the proper bounds of authority to fix beforehand, on some general presumption, that certain persons are not fit to do certain things. ...Even if it be well grounded in a majority of cases, which it is very likley not to be, there will be a minority of exceptional cases in which it does not hold: and in those it is both an injustice to the individuals, and a detriment to society, to place barriers in the way of their using their faculties for their own benefit adn for that of others.In the cases, on the other hand, in whcih the unfitness is real, the ordinary motives of human conduct will on the whole suffice to prevent the incompetent person from making, or from persisitng in, the attempt. (17)


We ought… not to ordain that to be born a girl instead of a boy, any more than to be born black instead of white, or a commoner instead of a nobleman, shall decide the person’s position through all life (18)


...any limitation of the field of selection deprives society os some chances of being served by the competent, without ever saving it from the incompetent. (18)


The disabilities of women are the only case... in which laws and institutions take persons at their birth, and ordain that they shall never in all their lives be allowed to compete for certain things. (18)


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. ...men, with that inability to recognise their own work which distinguishes the unanalytic mind, indolently believe that the tree grows of itself in the way they have made it grow, and that it would die if one half of it were not kept in a vapour bath and the other half in the snow. (21) [what is a woman? No one knows! They STILL have not been allowed to just be what they want to be]


In regard to that most difficult question, what are the natural differences between the two sexes - a subject on which it is impossible in the present state of society to obtain complete and correct knowledge -- while almost everybody dogmatises upon it (22)


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… 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. (26)


I should like to hear somebody openly enunciating the doctrine (it is already implied in much that is written on the subject - “It is necessary to society that women should marry and produce children. They will not do so unless they are compelled. Therefore it is necessary to compel them.” ...I believe that men [who have antipathy to the equal freedom of women] are afraid, not lest women should be unwilling to marry, for I do not think that anyone in reality has that apprehension; but lest they should insist that marriage should be on equal conditions; lest all women of spirit and capacity should prefer doing almost anything else, not in their own eyes degrading, rather than marry, when marrying is giving themselves a master, and a master too of all their earthly possessions. (27)

[Thomas Skousen/Handmaid’s Tale]


We are perpetually told that women are better than men [this has changed since the Greeks and the early Church fathers!], by those who are totally opposed to treating them as if they were as good; so that the saying has passed into a piece of tiresome cant, intended to put a complimentary face upon an injury. ...If women are better than men in anything, it surely is in individual self-sacrifice for those of their own family. But I lay little stress on this, so long as they are universally taught that they are born and created for self-sacrifice. (41)


It will be said, perhaps, that the greater nervous susceptibility of women is a disqualification for practice, in anything but domestic life, by rendering them mobile, changeable, too vehemently under the influence of the moment, incapable of dogged perseverance, unequal and uncertain in the power of using their faculties. I think that these phrases sum up the greater part of the objections commonly made to the fitness of women for the higher class of serious business. Much of all this is the mere overflow of nervous energy run to waste, and would cease when the energy was directed to a definite end. Much of all this is the mere overflow of nervous energy run to waste, and would cease when the energy was directed to a definite end. Much is also the result of conscious or unconscious cultivation; as we see by the almost total disappearance of “hysterics” and fainting-fits, since they have gone out of fashion. ...when people are brought up, like many women of the higher classes as a kind of hot-house plant, shielded from the wholesome vicissitudes of air and temperature, and untrained in any of the occupations and exercises which give stimulus and development to the circulatory and muscular system, while their nervous system, specially in it emotional department is kept in unnaturally active play, it is no wonder if those of them who do not die of consumption grow up with constitutions liable to derangement from slight causes, both internal and external, and without stamina to support any task, physical or mental, requiring continuity of effort. But women brought up to work for their livelihood show none of these morbid characteristics. Women who in their early years have shared in the healthful physical education and bodily freedom of their brothers, and who obtain a sufficiency of pure air and exercise in after-life, very rarely have any excessive susceptibility of nerves which can disqualify them from active pursuits. (59-60)


I shall presently show that even the least contestable of the differences which now exist, are such as may very well have been produced merely by circumstances, without any difference of natural capacity. (56) [But then he proceeds on 56-57 to make all kinds of generalizations about women, some of which are very different than how women are perceived today. Men have always done this!]


  1. Thoughts on Marriage


What marriage may be [is]... that best kind of equality, similarity of powers and capacities with reciprocal superiority in them - so that each can enjoy the luxury of looking up to the other, and can have alternately the pleasure of leading and of being led in the path of development. ...I maintain with the profoundest conviction, that this and this only, is the ideal of marriage; and that all opinions, customs, and institutions which favour any other notion of it, or turn the conceptions and aspirations connected with it into any other direction, by whatever pretences they may be coloured, are relics of primitive barbarism. The moral regeneration of mankind will only really commence, when the most fundamental of the social relations is placed under the rule of equal justice, and when human beings learn to cultivate their strongest sympathy with an equal in rights and in cultivation. (95)


[I could share the results of my survey]



An active and energetic mind, if denied liberty, will seek for power: refused the command of itself, it will assert its personality by attempting to control others. To allow to any human beings no existence of their own but what depends on others, is giving far too high a premium on bending others to their purposes. Where liberty cannot be hoped for, and power can, power becomes the grand object of human desire; those to whom others will not leave the undisturbed management of their own affairs, will compensate themselves, if they can, by meddling for their own purposes with the affairs of others. Hence also women’s passion for personal beauty, and dress and display; and all the evils that flow from it. ...The love of power and the love of liberty are in eternal antagonism. Where there is least liberty, the passion for power is the most ardent and unscrupulous. The desire of power over others can only cease to be a depraving agency among mankind, when each of them individually is able to do without it: which can only be where respect for liberty in the personal concerns of each is an established principle. (98) [But men who are free seek power as well. Power-seeking is a negative human attribute that we see in both women and men. It’s just that women who are not free are constrained to seek any power they can get.]


[Empty nest depression]: There are abundant examples of men who, after a life engrossed by business, retire with a competency to the enjoyment, as they hope, of rest, but to whom, as they are unable to acquire new interests and excitements that can replace the old, the change to a life of inactivity brings ennui, melancholy, and premature death. Yet no one thinks of the parallel case of so many worthy and devoted women, who, having paid what they are told is their debt to society - having brought up a family blamelessly to manhood and womanhood - having kept a house as long as they had a house needing to be kept - are deserted by the sole occupation for which they have fitted themselves; and remain with undiminished activity but with no employment for it. ...Of such women, and of those others to whom this duty has not been committed at all - many of whom pine through life with the consciousness of thwarted vocations, and activities which are not suffered to expand - the only resources, speaking generally, are religion and charity. (99)