Saturday, April 4, 2015

A compressed 500-word summary of 'The subjection of women' by John Stuart Mill (1869)

     While Christian Europe has abolished the enslavement of men, women are still enslaved. Although the enslavement of women is "a milder form of dependence," they may properly be called bondservants. Wives cannot own property and cannot act without their husband's permission. Slaves can be freed for "ill usage" but there is no such provision for English wives "without adultery superadded." They accompany their husbands all the time and have no lives of their own. The "rule of force" has been abandoned in theory, yet is still practiced on women.
     Women are sometimes compensated for their loss of freedom by gaining excessive power in political or family matters. However, the gain of improper rights does not solve the problem of their having been stripped of their proper rights.
     When this issue is debated, it is more rooted in feeling than in reason. People on both sides will come up with new arguments if their side is attacked.
     Most men know nothing significant about the thoughts and feelings of their own female family members. If they know anything about their own wives, they extrapolate it to all women.
     Men claim that women won't marry unless they are compelled. What they really fear is marriage on equal conditions. In primitive societies, "to be an equal is to be an enemy." Men worship themselves because they're in power. Men are not satisfied with their wives' outward obedience, but want them to be wholly devoted in heart and mind.
     Many women don't report "ill usage by their husbands" because they're afraid the abuse will worsen. Moral systems instruct women to live for others and share their husbands' tastes, insisting it's in their nature, and warning them they'll be unattractive if they don't.
     To the contrary, however, the subjection of women is not natural. It is a matter of custom. It has existed in every society since the beginning of civilization. Because no one has ever tried a female-dominated society, no one can say it wouldn't work.
     If women are contriving, it is because inequality pushes them to stand up for themselves in this fashion. Men should try being more unselfish, as they wish women to be.
     Women and "negro slaves" commit crimes less frequently, not because they're morally better, but because servitude strips them of moral autonomy.
     The Bible should not be used as a tool against social progressivism.
     Christianity defends human equality in theory, but unfortunately will never do so in practice.
     Modern society brings increasingly domestic roles for men. As such, they need female companions who are their intellectual equals.
     If women don't create or invent, it's because they haven't had the same scholarly preparation that men have had. Women need to believe they can be involved in the intellectual world. It is neither useful nor just to employ a less competent person just because he is male. All humans must love their occupation to find happiness. Women should not be condemned to boredom.

John Stuart Mill. The Subjection of Women. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2001. Originally London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1869.

This summary was written in 2005, along with a series of other 500-word summaries of philosophy books, as an exercise in brevity.

No comments: