‘The Goal of feminism is self fulfilment for woman.’ Discuss with reference to                              Wollstonecraft...
quality. Jennifer Ring, a modern feminist academic, Mill’s subjection of woman hasultimately disappointing work for modern...
suffrage was an essential step towards the moral improvement of humankind,        and that the relationship between husban...
relatively more equal status to woman. As such, Wollstonecraft calls on men rather thanwoman to initiate the social and po...
Mill’s and Wollstonecraft both are first and foremost exponents of the rights ofwoman and the so called liberal feminism i...
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The goal of feminism is self fulfilment for women

  1. 1. ‘The Goal of feminism is self fulfilment for woman.’ Discuss with reference to Wollstonecraft and Mill. Anurag Gangal Professor and Head Department of Political Science University of Jammu, Jammu Jammu and Kashmir, India John Stuart Mill’s subjection of woman written in 1869 and MaryWollstonecraft’s a Vindication of Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political andMoral Subjects written in 1972 constitute the first wave of liberal feminism startingobviously with the publication of Wollstonecraft’s book. Despite such exponentialworks by Wollstonecraft and Mill for the rights and equality of woman, Mill waswriting more from the view point of Chivalrous masculine perception whileWollstonecraft, despite calling for equality between the sexes in particular areas of lifesuch a morality etc., does not explicitly state that men and woman are equal. That iswhy, specially the second and third wave of feminist are generally critical about thegeneral approach and deeper meanings of the fight for woman’s right and equality byMill and Wollstonecraft. Main points of Wollstonecraft liberal feminism in her above mentionedmagnum opus include that woman cannot be forced to be “domestic” ; woman must beallowed education ; men and woman must keep away from extra marital affairs ; theremust be equitable laws for both husband and wife for choosing their own partners formarriage instead of being dictated by family and politics; woman must not be treated assubordinate beings; woman must acquire reason and intellect through education and astrong physical bodies through exercise. As regards John Stuart Mill’s subjection of woman and his other writingsconcerning utilitarian, he is regarded as an enormously influential theorist of modernliberalism. He advocated woman’s suffrage, controlled equality of woman and equalrights to woman not only at home but also in public spheres. His essay the subjection ofwoman is widely read and respected as a great classic on liberal feminism. Mill istherefore, respected for political courage and singularity of purpose empoweringwoman at a time when all females were regarded subordinate vis-a-vis men in society in
  2. 2. quality. Jennifer Ring, a modern feminist academic, Mill’s subjection of woman hasultimately disappointing work for modern feminist. Mill’s work for second and thirdwave feminists is full of contradictions and uncalled for Masculine Chivalry. Thesecond and third wave of feminist object to Mill’s esoteric statement on common natureof woman duly endorsed by his second wife Harriet Taylor in the following words: When two persons have their thoughts and speculations completely in common; when all subjects of intellectual or moral interest are discussed between them in daily life, and probed to much greater depths than are usually or conveniently sounded in writings intended for general readers; when they set out from the same principles, and arrive at their conclusions by processes pursued jointly, it is of little consequence in respect to the question of originality, which of them holds the pen; the one who contributes least to the composition may contribute most to the thought; the writings which result are the joint product of both, and it must often be impossible to disentangle their respective parts, and affirm that this belongs to one and that to the other (Mill, 1981:251).1 Shanley points out another critical observation on Wollstonecraft’s and Mill’ssolution for ending subjection of woman. Their suggestion was not so much on equalopportunity to woman but on spousal equal friendship.2 Despite varied criticism of utilitarian liberal feminism of John StuartMill and his wife Harriet Taylor, all writings of Mill especially in the later period of hislife are generally considered to have been thought about and written jointly with HarrietTaylor although official author mostly is John Stuart himself. In this context one notedauthor has an interesting statement to make; The extraordinary relationship between Mill and Taylor shaped not only their personal lives, but also the priorities of their thoughts and writings. They met in 1830, when Harriet was married to John Taylor. Her intimate friendship with Mill was a source of much criticism; the restrictiveness of Victorian morality made their relationship suspect. Their disgust at the ostracism they faced due to their close relationship may be recognized in the criticism of cultural conformity in On Liberty. In the Subjection of Woman, Mill discusses the situation of an intelligent woman confined by patriarchal institutions and customs that deny her individuality (see also Eisenstein, 1981): 114). Through his relationship with Taylor, Mill reached the strong conviction that women’s1 Mill, J.S., autobiography, in the collected works of John Stuart Mill, Volume-1, autobiography andliterary essays (Ed.), John M. Robson and Jack Stillinger, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1981,p.251.2 Szapuova, Mariana, “Mill’s liberal feminism; its legacy and current criticism”, prolegomena, 5 (2), 2006,pp.190-191.
  3. 3. suffrage was an essential step towards the moral improvement of humankind, and that the relationship between husband and wife had to be grounded in legal as well as real equality – that “marital slavery” should be replaced by “marital friendship”. In 1851, two years after John Taylor’s death, Mill and Harriet Taylor were married, subsequently working together on Mill’s Autobiography and On Liberty. Harriet died only seven years after their marriage, and The Subjection of Women was published after her death.3 As against prevailing criticism of liberal feminism of Wollstonecraft and Mill,Wendy Donner defends the traditional feminist moral and rational basis of humannature conceptions of value and self fulfilment. Although liberal feminist theories aresubject to intense discussion and criticism among modern feminists scholars,Wollstonecraft and Mill’s conception of self fulfilment individualism, self developmentare quiet radically egalitarian even in the modern context of these terms. The liberalfeminist conception value of humans involves essential self development and selffulfilment.4 As regards Wollstonecraft’s feminism, the words feminist and feminism werenot coined until 1890s. Moreover, there was no feminist movement at that time. In thiscontext, in the introduction to her seminal work on Wollstonecraft, Barbara Taylor says; Describing (Wollstonecraft’s philosophy) as feminist is problematic, and I do it only after much consideration. The label is of course anachronistic..... Treating Wollstonecraft’s thought as an anticipation of nineteenth and twentieth- century feminist argument has meant sacrificing or distorting some of its key elements. Leading examples of this... have been the widespread neglect of her religious beliefs, and the misrepresentation of her as a bourgeois liberal, which together have resulted in the displacement of a religiously inspired utopian radicalism by a secular, class-partisan reformism as alien to Wollstonecraft’s political project as her dream of a divinely promised age of universal happiness is to our own. Even more important however has been the imposition on Wollstonecraft of a heroic-individualist brand of politics utterly at odds with her own ethically driven case for women’s emancipation. Wollstonecraft’s leading ambition for women was that they should attain virtue, and it was to this end that she sought their liberation.5 Wollstonecraft’s style of writing and approach for securing rights of woman wasbased more on her approach to making request to the community of men for granting3 Ibid, pp. 181-182.4 Donner Wendy, “John Stuart Mill’s liberal feminism”, philosophical studies, 69, 1993,pp.155-166, Seeespecially p.155. See also http://jstor.org/pss/43203785 Taylor, Barbara, Marry Wollstonecraft and the feminist imagination, Cambridge, Cambridge UniversityPress, 2003, pp. 12, 55-57.
  4. 4. relatively more equal status to woman. As such, Wollstonecraft calls on men rather thanwoman to initiate the social and political changes she outlines in her works andwritings. It appears that she believes that men must come to the aid of woman becausewoman were uneducated at the time and therefore, could not help change their ownsufferings and bad situation. I then would fain convince reasonable men of the importance of some of my remarks; and prevail on them to weigh dispassionately the whole tenor of my observations. – I appeal to their understandings; and, as a fellow-creature, claim, in the name of my sex, some interest in their hearts. I entreat them to assist to emancipate their companion, to make her a help meet for them! Would men but generously snap our chains, and be content with rational fellowship instead of slavish obedience, they would find us more observant daughters, more affectionate sisters, more faithful wives, more reasonable mothers – in a word, better citizens.6 Modern day feminists are also highly critical of Wollstonecraft’s views on thequestion of Biological needs and sexual feelings of woman. Wollstonecraft is of theview that women should not be constrained by or made slaves to their bodies or theirsexual feelings. Modern feminists do not agree with Wollstonecraft and suggest that sheintentionally avoids granting woman any sexual desire. A modern feminist writer CoraCaplan says that this is negative and prescriptive assault on feminist sexuality andviolation of woman’s right. 7 Wollstonecraft’s argument for relative equality in favour of woman isstill a stand in contrast to her inherent respect for the superiority of Masculine Chivalryand strength. That is why Wollstonecraft says; Let it not be concluded, that I wish to invert the order of thing; I have already granted, that, from the constitution of their bodies, men seem to be designed by Providence to attain a greater degree of virtue. I speak collectively of the whole sex; but I see not the shadow of a reason to conclude that their virtues should differ in respect to their nature. In fact, how can they, if virtue has only one eternal standard? I must therefore, if reason consequentially, as strenuously maintain that they have the same simple direction, as that there is a God.86 Wollstonecraft, Marry, the vindications; the rights of men and the rights of woman, Eds. D.Mackdonald and Kathleen, Scherf, Toronto, Broadview literary text, 1997, p.887 Wollstonecraft, ibid, pp. 259-260. See also Cora Caplan, “wild nights; pleasure/ sexuality /feminism”,Sea changes; Essays on culture and feminism, London, Verso, 1986, pp.35.8 Wollstonecraft, ibid, pp 110.
  5. 5. Mill’s and Wollstonecraft both are first and foremost exponents of the rights ofwoman and the so called liberal feminism in their own and different ways. Despite theirlimitations, they must be regarded as initiators of a revolution for the cause of endingsufferings and subjection of woman in an age when such attempts were regarded as asocial and political taboo. Mill mostly writes from the standpoint of a man fighting to provide protection tosubjugated and subservient woman folk. This type of attitude cannot be regarded as amajor fault in the writings of Mill because he was writing in an era when fighting forthe rights and equality of woman was not in conformity with the prevailing socialnorms. Therefore, Mill in his subjection of woman writes in a tenure in which a man isextending with his strong arms for protecting woman from the social onslaughts ofdiversified atrocities. Such patronising attitude of John Stuart towards woman in his writing ultimatelybecomes highly disappointing to any modern feminist woman in the view of suchsecond and third wave of feminist writers and activists, Mill’s writing contains glaringcontradictions. The inherent superiority of the Masculine gender attitudes in the writingof Mill becomes highly questionable for modern feminists. These are indeed highlyobjectionable inconsistencies as well as examples of shallowness of Mill’s politicalconvictions. As against the aforesaid attitude of Mill and Wollstonecraft, modern feministsbelonging to the second and third wave of feminism are not ready to compromiseregarding any aspect of rights of woman, equality, identity and uniqueness of theposition and freedom of woman. Modern feminists do not want that it is the men folkwho should grant rights freedom equality identity and uniqueness to them. What theywant is every aspect of a human life which is contained in fuller self development ofmodern feminism. Hence there is a wide gap between liberal feminism of Mill’s andWollstonecraft and the third wave of feminism.