J.S. Mills and Wollstonecraft's concerning rights on women

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Dalia Hamzah – URN:6133897

Compare Mill and Wollstonecraft on the topic of equal rights for women. Which thinker do you prefer?

In this essay, I will outline the similarities among the two thinkers’ main points of their books which are: Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘Vindication on women’ (1792) and J.S. Mill’s ‘The subjection of the women’ (1869), and I shall draw comparisons on the topic of equal rights for women and attempt doing so by dividing it based on their main views over education, marriage and political involvement. During the Enlightenment period, the immergence of debate over women’s rights generated discussions among theorists and the opinions over this issue was based from the institution of marriage. During the 77 year difference in their publication, it showed that there were clear distinction between the sexes throughout this period but also that this process of making women’s voices heard or spreading equality, did take time; Mill even published his book at a late period of his life so that he would not be criticized by his peers despite the fact that he mentioned that he had this idea in his mind long before. For Wollstonecraft’s publication, it was dedicated to Talleyrand (– minister of education in France) that women deserve equal education as to what men receive but also a response to Rousseau whose view was of a traditionalist one that women are inferior to men (Hoffman and graham, 2006, p174).

To start with, we can draw similarities over the two theorists on their views on education. Mary Wollstonecraft’s main argument is that women must be given knowledge and education so that they can make rational choices (Bryson. 1992 p.23) as she bases her argument that ‘if all individuals are born free and equal bearers of such rights, then it is ‘both inconsistent and unjust’ to exclude women from their enjoyment: reason to itself demands ‘JUSTICE for one half of the human race’ (Coole, 1988 p.120 which is quoted from Wollstonecraft, Vindication, pp.11, 13). Further to that reason, she explains, quoting Rousseau: ‘make women rational creatures and free citizens, and they will quickly become good wives and mothers’ where she expresses how ‘without the protection of civil rights and rational education, women cannot perform their domestic duties properly’ (Coole, 1988 p.124). I believe she puts forward this idea in a rather utilitarian thought; that rational education for women would serve the public by becoming more intellectual, thus mothers would be then able to teach their children better. as well to education for all would be developing the individuals resulting in a better society. This is where we can relate how Mill also believed the same that educating women up to men’s level as a partner will raise good citizens (Coole. 1988, p. 124). But the problem according to Mill was that educating women at that time was made to enslave their minds, as they were taught in a specific way to serve men or ‘masters’ since Mill identified the wife ‘as not a forced slave but a willing one’ (mill, 1869, p. 26-27). Sharing Wollstonecraft’s argument, Mill emphasized that education is an essential part of the process of woman emancipation; that education in its widest sense is a key means to social improvements because despotism and submission are replaced by those of partnership and equality (Bryson, 1992, p.64) which as a result improves the relationship between the husband and wife. As a social problem, both Mill and Wollstonecraft addressed the issue that the wife lacked rights over in several topics such as property or even her children, that is why if women were educated, not only would this injustice be gone but also they would be able to distinguish what is good for them and what civil or legal rights they ought to have.

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Moving onto the views over the topic of marriage and family, and how they thought in terms of equal rights on women, we see that there are several overlaps between marriage and education. In Mill’s book, he argues in his second chapter that marriage should be a ‘partnership or contract based upon voluntary mutual consent of the two parties, and that this voluntary contract should also include the division of household duties and functions’ (oll.libertyfund.). Similarly, Wollstonecraft believed that if men and women marry by choice and for companionship, the husband is more likely to be at home and to ...

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