During the Victorian age, gender was a significant concern, considering the assigned roles that were given to each of them, and especially the customary roles of women at the time. Consequently, out of this fascination and concern arose the Woman Question that became a debate encompassing the sexual inequality issues as far as social interactions, education, economic life, and politics were concerned. This subject gradually evolved to the extent of causing conflict between genders as some men thought of their roles being divinely assigned and as such believing that appointing women with the same roles would be against Gods wishes. Others, on the other hand, viewed womens subordination as a form of slavery. As a result, a feminist crusade was started at the time aimed towards the recognition of gender equality.
According to Stanton, The awakening of the democratic spirit, the rebellion against authority, the proclamation of the rights of man, were almost necessarily accompanied by the growth of a new idea concerning the position of women, by the recognition, more or less defined and conscious, of the rights of women (2). Evidently, it was clear that men could not ignore improving the lot assigned to women while improving their own. The feminist crusade that had been started proved slow in convincing the masses taking into consideration that the first petition submitted to the parliament to give women voting rights was in the 1840s, though it came to be passed in 1918. A huge majority of the women who, at the time, fought to see their rights passed were considered a disgrace to their gender (Stanton 11). Despite most of the men being anti-feminist, some fought for gender equality. One of the few who stood to fight was John Stuart Mills, the author of The Subjection of Women who was also a major participant in solving the Woman Question.
During his time, Mill was living proof of what Crosby (2) describes to be an enormous increase of the value brought forth by women that went disregarded by most of his fellow men, which he viewed to be a setback towards the progress of humankind. As such, Mill, in 1867, proposed the reform bill, which was at the time, be amended so that the word man would be eliminated from the bill and the word person be used instead (Stanton 9). In his proposal Mill said, the only grounds on which the political suffrage could be justly withheld were personal unfitness or public danger, and these, he contended, did not exist in the case of the women it was proposed to enfranchize. Due to his convincing argument, the amendment was passed and the feminist crusade from this time forth received parliament recognition (Stanton 9).
According to Helsinger (25), it is evident that either Mill respected women greatly due to the association he had with them, or he felt an emptiness that could only be filled with women who were strong-minded given his gender equality petition during a time when the idea was considered by the society as being ridiculous. In this regard, he says it is only a man here and there that has any tolerable knowledge of the character even of the women of his own family. (Mill 1162). He identifies the capabilities and strengths of women as greater compared to what most men recognize. Although today gender equality seems like a normality, during the time of the Industrial Revolution, it was not an issue that could be taken lightly. According to Mill (1160), Through all the continuous period of human history, the condition of women has been approaching nearer to equality with men. This does not of itself prove that the assimilation must go on to complete equality, but it assuredly affords some presumption that such is the case. Exhibiting both rationality and intelligence, Mill was able to instill strength in the feminist crusade considering that his opinion was based on the suffering of women, which only meant a fated society in its entirety. This was because women did numerous unfulfilling yet needed tasks both outside and inside homes, and if they felt deprived of their fulfillments and happiness than the failure of the whole society was inevitable (Stanton 4).
Mills devotion and interest in figuring out the solution to the Woman Question resulted in his actions and writing to convince his fellow contemporaries that the improvement of the women assigned roles was vital if humankind was to progress. He summarized his answer to the Woman Question as, the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexesthe legal subordination of one sex to the otheris wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement, and that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other. (Mill 1156).
The issue of gender and womens role in the society was critical during the Victorian age. A change was brought forth by the Industrial Revolution as innovations, and arising opportunities enabled women to get work elsewhere. Due to the efforts of the likes of John Stuart Mills and his writings and actions towards gender equality, he convinced the world of the importance of including women.
Crosby, Christina. The Ends of History: Victorians and" the woman question". Routledge, 2012.
Helsinger, Elizabeth K. The Woman Question Social Issues, 1837-1883. Manchester University Press, 1983.
Mill, John Stuart. The subjection of women. Vol. 1. Transaction Publishers, 1869.
Showalter, Elaine. Sexual anarchy: Gender and culture at the fin de siecle. Penguin Group USA, 1991.
Stanton, Theodore. The woman question in Europe. GP Putnam's and Sons, 1884.
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