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Mill, Marriage, and Feminism

April 10, 2011

Through reading and discussing Jon-Stuart Mill’s “The Subjection of Women,” it is apparent that Mill is somewhat of a feminist. This word “feminist” can take on many different definitions. The usual belief about feminists is that they are male bashing, bra-burning women. Although there are some feminists who possess these qualities, most feminists simply share the desire for equality between genders. Mill expresses his feminist views in “The Subjection of Women.”

In “The Subjection of Women” Mill states, “I believe that equality of rights would abate the exaggerated self-abnegation which is the present artificial ideal of feminine character, and that a good woman would not be more self-sacrificing than the best man: but on the other hand, men would be much more unselfish and self-sacrificing than at present…” (Wootton). Basically, Mill believes that if women and men had equal rights, women would have more say in their destiny and how they are treated, and men would be less narcissistic. Since the time Mill wrote “The Subjection of Women”, women have had great victories in moving towards equality—through suffrage, Title IX, reproductive rights, etc. However, the idea of dependency on men is still encouraged. He further explains the inequality of rights through his take on marriage.

“It is necessary to society that women should marry…” (Wootton). Here, Mill is outlining the situation in America during the 19th century. He explains that it is what everyone is thinking but not actually saying. This quote particularly stood out to me because it is still relevant today. Girls grow up watching the movie Cinderella: a classic tale where Prince Charming comes in and saves the helpless orphan girl through marriage. This is a common theme in many movies. Even in 2011, it seems that society still believes it is a woman’s destiny to get married. I remember having a life-size wedding Barbie doll when I was little. I loved to put on her white dress and twirl around in it. Little boys, on the other hand, grow up with Lego’s and Tonka trucks—they are definitely not trying on Ken mini-tuxedos and fantasizing about their wedding day.

Although the bride Barbie is by no means a brainwashing tool, I think it shows that getting married is still very much a core value for women in the United States; it’s what is expected of them from society. On television and in life, women are usually faced with the question, “should I work and pursue my dream career, or get married?” I know Mill would agree that this ought to change. Women should be able to be married or not, whatever they choose, and should maintain a career either as a single woman or concurrently with their marriage—the way men do, typically. It makes me wonder, is equality a realistic goal, or will there always have to be some sacrifice?

Wootton, David. Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche.
Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2008. Print.


  1. Chris J permalink
    April 11, 2011 11:51 PM

    I am surprised at how poorly received this post was. Though I feel some points got muddled, the core message was both legitimate and in line with Mill’s standpoint. Rianhandler brings up interesting concepts: such as how some women still see marriage as the end of their career and how we are often brainwashed into gender roles as we are raised. Look at any Disney movie: they are all rife with sexually differentiated roles and often slanted portrayals of men and women’s nature. There is a strong point presented in how we seem to be raised into this differentiation of roles and the expectations.

    There could be more clarification relating points and examples back to Mill, but they are at least on topic and clearly presented. The primes of this post is entirely valid, I see no reason to deem it a meager one star.

    • Chris J permalink
      April 11, 2011 11:53 PM

      I meant to say premise, but it auto-corrected to primes…oops

  2. arweil permalink
    April 12, 2011 2:38 PM

    I am going to have to agree with Chris J on this one. I am not sure why it got such poor remarks either. I agree with Rian on the fact that women are still bread to believe gender roles play an important factor into what becomes of one’s life these days. Like Rian described, the female gender role is often portrayed through television shows and movies when a bride to be is forced to choose between the married, stay at home wife/mother, role or the hard working employee life. This working role is almost always expected to be the male gender role, and is even made fun at times in movies where men act as the stay at home wife. Although the differentiation of roles is starting to drift in modern society, there still seems to be a natural difference in gender role expectations that we grow up with. This is what draws to me to the question you leave us with, is equality a realistic goal? Perhaps it is in our nature to have this differentiation and it is, in fact, not.

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