Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill: An Analysis of their Feminist Views

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Mouloud Mammeri University of Tizi-Ouzou


In this dissertation, I suggest to research the feminist themes in two of the most important essays in British literature : Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and John Stuart Mill's On the Subjection of Women. Nevertheless, before analyzing their essays, I have shed light on the main important factors that awakened women's consciousness; the ideas of the Enlightenment thinkers, the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. History showed us that the factors mentioned above influenced greatly women, motivated them to question their Status, and therefore, to ask for their rights. Under these circumstances, Mary Wollstonecraft sprang out in order to defend women's rights. She wrote her pamphlet entitled A Vindication of the Rights of Women, where her ideas were fully expressed. Wollstonecraft's Vindication has long been recognized as a central text in late eighteenth century British or even Anglo-American feminism. It offers a powerful critique of women's education and the assumptions surrounding marriage and family life. Moreover, even more important are the complex discussions of gender difference and its elaboration of the ways in which construction of feminity, both at an ideological level and in terms of conduct of everyday life, serve the interests of male desire. Her work is significant also because of possibilities Of change in gender order and a transformation of the sexual hierarchy is both desirable and possible, which serves to differentiate feminism from a mere concern within the woman question. John Stuart Mill was another advocator of women's rights; he wrote an essay entitled On the Subjection of Women. Mill asserted that women needed a larger ethical framework to change laws that denied their rights, because they were deeply imbedded in contemporary ethical beliefs pertaining to marriage and family life. Therefore, during the nineteenth century, feminists aimed to change the laws pertaining to women including married women's property rights, access to divorce, and child custody. In addition to this, Mill claimed that women's suffrage is an essential step toward the moral improvement of humankind. The essay written by John Stuart Mill was considered as the best for women's demands. Mill described the status of women in Britain as being marginalized. He argued that the legal, political and cultural limitations on women were part ofbygone era characterized by command and obedience. Therefore, women, he argued, have the right to be educated as men and work hand in hand with men in order to contribute in the evolution of society. It follows from what is mentioned above that both Wollstonecraft and Mill were appealing for the equality of the sexes. Thanks to their ideas, great reforms had been achieved in different fields: education, politics and the laws relating to marriage.