A ll good arguments should seem to state the obvious.
What is wrong with notions of "the angel in the house"? Why are literary women an incomplete source concerning women's character and desires? On which issue do people most often judge differently for themselves and for others? Mill gives several reasons for men wanting to hold women into subjection. To what audience might these words have been addressed?
His language is so precise and his logic so penetrating that it brooks no opposition. And yet in , when Mill's essay first appeared, it provoked impassioned debate.
He was the first male philosopher to argue vociferously for the emancipation of women in Victorian society and for the recognition of their personal, legal and political rights, including the right to work outside the domestic sphere, the right to higher education and the right to suffrage. Mill's contention is that we cannot know that something will not work unless we try it.
He states that the opposition to female emancipation is thus driven by prejudice rather than rationality. They were expected to marry, rear children, and devote themselves to their families.
In most cases they could not pursue a formal education, own property or amass wealth, vote, serve on juries, practice a profession or trade, seek a divorce, even from an abusive husband, or travel alone. Women lived in the shadow of their de facto masters, their husbands. Mill's case for women's equality reflects his Utilitarian roots.
The subordination of women, he argues, is not only "wrong in itself" but "one of the chief hindrances to human improvement. Mill asks.
Because, he says, our customs and laws are a carryover of the law of the strongest. Mill argues that the progress of society requires that all people, men and women, not be imprisoned in the "fixed social position" in which they are born but instead be given opportunities to develop their talents and to pursue their desires as long as they pose no threat to the rights of others.
The only way to measure the potential of women is to free them from domestic bondage, give them the same opportunities as men, and observe the results. To the skeptic who opines that the liberation of women will destroy marriage and the family, Mill answers that a marriage which is attractive to women, one based on equality and mutual respect instead of subordination, will prosper indefinitely.
In a nutshell, then, Mill argued nearly years ago that the liberation of women will produce two important results.