Term Paper: John Mill and De Behavior

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John Mill and De Beaviour

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) and Simone De Beauvoir (1908-1986) both write meaningful treatise regarding the position of women in society. Both contend that women are subjected to men in legal and political functions, but the depart on several key points, perhaps in part due to De Beauvoir's unique perspective as a women in a society far progressed in egalitarianism. Taken out of the context of their lifetimes, the conversation they might have had regarding the sweeping changes that made De Beauvoir's society more progressive toward women and Mill's, society nearly completely oppressive toward women, would still garner interest. This work will attempt to do just that, create a conversation between these two very like minded individuals, utilizing a comparison and contrast between the two works the Subjection of Women by Mill and the Second Sex by De Beauvoir. This work will argue that Mill, though progressive in thought never intended to take women out of the position of economic dependence on a husband, while De Beauvoir, having seen the "progress" made was largely only on paper and not in reality, would have women become wholly independent of men economically and maybe even physically.

According to Mill, gender equality is a state where women have an equal voice in the political and the right to pursue her own "suitabilities" as long as such pursuit did not interfere with her ability to manage a household and raise a family. While De Beauvoir stresses that the encumbrances of this sort of equality make women totally dependent on men, and for real gender equality to ensue, the pursuit by women of economic independence must be ingrained in the social order. Gender inequality to Mill is women lacking political voice and the right to pursue outside interests while to De Beauvoir anything short of total female economic and physical independence is clearly proof of inequality. It would then be fair to say that Mill was progressive indeed, and that his and the works of many others aided in female suffrage as well as a limited political and social voice for women but De Beauvoir, living in a time after some such changes had taken place, stressed that this de jure "equality" was by de facto simply not true equality as in practice women are still fully dependant on men, for both opinion and action as without economic independence women, are beholden to men.

Mill begins in a promising fashion, expressing that his belief in the need for equality between the sexes has not weakened with age and experience but has in fact endured and become even stronger. He articulates the thesis of his lengthy work as the following:

…the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes -- the legal subordination of one sex to the other -- is wrong 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. (Mill 1)

Mill then goes on to do several things, first he defends his position, adamantly as he states that an individual with an opinion that goes against common belief and practice requires the individual with that opinion prove that the opinion is valid with a mighty force, including but not limited to substantial evidence. The individual who seeks to question a "truth" that is accepted in popular opinion requires more diligence in that quest than anyone seeking any other redress. Mill then goes on to compare the subjection of women to an overt abuse of power by men, using slavery and military despotism as correlations to the subjugation of women. When he does this he counters contradiction by stating that many would argue against this analogy because women are the weaker sex and therefore must be protected and subjugated. To this he answers that this assertion is based on a history of might over right, which no longer exists in this culture and should therefore not be used as a "modern" ideation of reason to support continuing to subjugate women. He contends that there is no possible way in which this assertion can be made, because it is being made within a society that is wholly voiced by men. Women have no voice, excluding writing and these writings are the exception rather than the rule, and are often dismissed and ignored because they have no place in the patriarchal rule of politics. "But was there ever any domination which did not appear natural to those who possessed it?" (Mill 20-21)

For women to truly be equal, according to Mill, must have a political voice, and according to Mill this should include not only the right to suffrage but the right to hold political office and have their voice be heard as lawmakers rather than simply as citizens with a vote. Mill speaks frankly of the fact that many dismiss such thinking, and such comparisons of women to slaves, because women do not complain, and therefore they are not truly ruled by force.

…it will be said, the rule of men over women differs from all these others in not being a rule of force: it is accepted voluntarily; women make no complaint, and are consenting parties to it. In the first place, a great number of women do not accept it. Ever since there have been women able to make their sentiments known by their writings (the only mode of publicity which society permits to them), an increasing number of them have recorded protests against their present social condition: and recently many thousands of them, headed by the most eminent women known to the public, have petitioned Parliament for their admission to the Parliamentary Suffrage. (Mill 24-25)

Mill goes on to say that not only are these respected and well thought women seeking the right to vote, but they are also seeking other rights which would equate them greater ability to be free and productive members of society; "The claim of women to be educated as solidly, and in the same branches of knowledge, as men, is urged with growing intensity, and with a great prospect of success; while the demand for their admission into professions and occupations hitherto closed against them, becomes every year more urgent." (Mill 24-25)

De Beauvoir on the other hand begins her treatise on the subjugation of women with a strong argument in favor of women's economic emancipation. Within her work is the sentiment that women have won all these "rights" and yet none has been fully realized as she is for the most part still subject to men based on economics.

According to French law, obedience is no longer included among the duties of a wife, and each woman citizen has the right to vote; but these civil liberties remain theoretical as long as they are unaccompanied by economic freedom. A woman supported by a man -- wife or courtesan -- is not emancipated from the male because she has a ballot in her hand; if custom imposes less constraint upon her than formerly, the negative freedom implied has not profoundly modified her situation; she remains bound in her condition of vassalage. It is through gainful employment that woman has traversed most of the distance that separated her from the male nothing else can guarantee her liberty in practice. Once she ceases to be a parasite, the system based on her dependence crumbles; between her and the universe there is no longer need for a masculine mediator." (De Beauvoir 679)

De Beauvoir uses incredibly unkind language, claiming that women are parasites and that until this is no longer the case society will continue without question to be one of inequality. When De Beauvoir speaks of this subjugation she gives examples of the minimal way in which women have been afforded to seek their independence, economically from men;

It is quite understandable, also, that the milliner's apprentice, the shopgirl, the secretary, will not care to renounce the advantages of masculine support. I have already pointed out that the existence of a privileged caste, which she can join by merely surrendering her body, is an almost irresistible temptation to the young woman; she is fated or gallantry by the fact that her wages are minimal while the standard of living expected of her by society is very high. If she is content to get along on her wages, she is only a pariah: ill lodged, ill dressed, she will be denied all amusement and even love. (681)

The opportunities open to women for economic equality are according to De Beauvoir, so paltry that women have no real choice in the matter. If she wants to have love, children and a better standard of living she must submit to a man. If she chooses not to she will be seen as in a perpetual state of pity, with no real prospects for her future happiness… [END OF PREVIEW]

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