Mill and the Women: Between Liberty and Equality
Mill thought that subjection of women was unjust and unsupported by the considerations of utility. He was also convinced that it was not voluntary, because women had been brought to subjection by ruse and tradition, without fully understanding what possible other choices in life they had had. Against those who claimed that subjection was a natural condition of women and that no one should be allowed to rebel against nature, he said that it was illogical to force someone to do what nature bent him/her to do anyway. Under the influence of Harriet Taylor he found it also desirable to encourage women to take paid employment and to earn their own income. He found the practice of unrewarded and unappreciated sacrifice for family unfair. But he was not prepared to promote this position publicly, as he feared that a rising number of people seeking jobs on the market would result in a rising unemployment. The authoress points out that this dilemma is still far from resolved today. J.S. Mill has been recently criticized by G. Himmelfarb for using double standards. Mill thought it was necessary to safeguard economic and social well-being of every individual, and having this end in mind, he supported universal suffrage, says Himmelfarb, but he was less eager to foster cultural, moral and spiritual development, which cannot thrive under conditions favored by individualism. Himmelfarb finds this position suspect. The authoress defends Mill against this criticism by showing that individualism is not to be judged entirely on utilitarian grounds. It is desirable because it emphasizes respect for the individual and its human dignity. These ends should be promoted even if they cause alienation of some individuals and destabilize the market.
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