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The subjection of women today Wendell, Susan Dorothy

Abstract

In The Subjection of Women, John Stuart Mill proposed that 'all honourable employments' and the training and education that qualifies one for them be made as freely open to women as to men. Today feminists call for equality of opportunity in employment and education for many of the same reasons Mill gave in his essay. In my thesis I examine the implications of both Mill's proposals and the comparable modern goal, equality of opportunity. I analyze the meritarian and the various utilitarian criteria of equal opportunity to determine what sorts of measures they require us to take. I show that certain common and good utilitarian criteria of equal employment opportunity require us to give boys and girls 'the same early education' and to eliminate sex prejudice from our society. Then I argue that the best interpretation of J.S. Mill's proposals requires the same measures. Giving boys and girls 'the same early education,' as I define it, includes treating them the same in the matter of their psychological development, i.e. not influencing either sex more than the other to develop or not to develop particular psychological traits or desires. Eliminating sex prejudice, I contend, is necessary to solving the problem of de-facto sex discrimination; it demands, among other things, that we come to value people's activities, achievements, and traits according to their contributions to human happiness and regardless of their sex. I further argue that if we try to bring about 'the same early education' before we have dealt with our sex prejudice, we will endanger the female psychological traits and many of the special contributions to human happiness hitherto made by women. I conclude that we should first cast off our sex prejudice and then take whatever further steps are necessary to give women and men equality of opportunity to fill any useful role in society.

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