Front Page Titles (by Subject) 2.: Women—(Rights of) - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXI - Essays on Equality, Law, and Education
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2.: Women—(Rights of) - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXI - Essays on Equality, Law, and Education 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXI - Essays on Equality, Law, and Education, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by Stefan Collini (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984).
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the rights of women are no other than the rights of human beings. The phrase has come into use, and become necessary, only because law and opinion, having been made chiefly by men, have refused to recognize in women the universal claims of humanity. When opinion on this subject shall be further advanced towards rectification, neither “rights of women” nor even “equality of women” will be terms in use, because neither of them fully expresses the real object to be aimed at, viz. the negation of all distinctions among persons, grounded on the accidental circumstance of sex.
The present legal and moral subjection of women is the principal, and likely to be the latest remaining relic of the primitive condition of society, the tyranny of physical force. Society sets out from the state of lawlessness in which every one’s hand is against every one, and each robs and slays a weaker than himself when he has any object to gain by it: the next stage is that in which the races and tribes which are vanquished in war are made slaves, the absolute property of their conquerors, this by degrees changes into serfdom, or some other limited form of dependence, and in the course of ages mankind pass through various decreasing stages of subjection on one side and privilege on the other, up to complete democracy which the advanced guard of the human species are now just reaching: so that the only arbitrary distinction among human beings, which the one or two most advanced nations do not now, at least in principle, repudiate, is that between women and men. And even this distinction, although still essentially founded on despotism, has assumed a more mitigated form with each step in the general improvement of mankind, whether we compare age with age, people with people or class with class: which was also the case with all the other social tyrannies, in their progress towards extinction.
It deserves particular remark, that at every period in this gradual progress, the prevailing morality of the time (with or without the exception of a few individuals superior to their age) invariably consecrated all existing facts. It assumed every existing unjust power or privilege as right and proper, contenting itself with inculcating a mild and forbearing exercise of them: by which inculcation no doubt it did considerable good, but which it never failed to balance by enjoining on the sufferers an unresisting and uncomplaining submission to the power itself. Morality recommended kind treatment of slaves by their masters, and just rule by despots over their subjects, but it never justified or tolerated either slaves or subjects in throwing off the yoke, and wherever they have done so it has been by a plain violation of the then established morality. It is needless to point out how exactly the parallel holds in the case of women and men.
In the position of women as society has now made it, there are two distinct peculiarities. The first is, the domestic subjection of the larger portion of them. From this, unmarried women who are either in independent or in self-dependent pecuniary circumstances are exempt; so that by the admission of society itself, there is no inherent necessity for it, and the time cannot be far off when to hold any human being, who has past the age which requires to be taken care of and educated by others, in a state of compulsory obedience to any other human being (except as the mere organ and minister of the law) will be acknowledged to be as monstrous an infraction of the rights and dignity of humanity, as slavery is at last, though tardily, among a small, comparatively advanced part of the human race, felt to be. Practically the evil varies, in the case of women, (as it did in the case of slaves) from being slowly murdered by continued bodily torture, to being only subdued in spirit and thwarted of all those higher and finer developements of individual character of which personal liberty has in all ages been felt to be the indispensable condition.
The other point of the question relates to the numberless disabilities imposed on women by law or by custom equivalent to law; their exclusion from most public and from a great number of private occupations, and the direction of all the forces of society towards educating them for, and confining them to, a small number of functions, on the plea that these are the most conformable to their nature and powers. It is impossible here to enter, with any detail, into this part of the subject. Three propositions however may be laid down as certain. First; that the alleged superior adaptation of women to certain occupations, and of men to certain others, does not, even now, exist, to anything like the extent that is pretended. Secondly, that so far as it does exist, a rational analysis of human character and circumstances tends more and more to shew, that the difference is principally if not wholly the effect of differences in education and in social circumstances, or of physical characteristics by no means peculiar to one or the other sex. Lastly; even if the alleged differences of aptitude did exist, it would be a reason why women and men would generally occupy themselves differently but no reason why they should be forced to do so. It is one of the aberrations of early and rude legislation to attempt to convert every supposed natural fitness into an imperative obligation. There was an apparent natural reason why the children should follow the occupation of their parents; they were often familiar with it from childhood, and had always peculiar facilities for being instructed in it: but this natural fitness, converted into a law, became the oppressive and enslaving system of Castes. Good laws, laws which pay any due regard to human liberty, will not class human beings according to mere general presumptions, nor require them to do one thing and to abstain from another on account of any supposed suitableness to their natural or acquired gifts, but will leave them to class themselves under the natural influence of those and of all the other peculiarities of their situation, which if left free they will not fail to do quite as well, not to say much better, than any inflexible laws made for them by pedantic legislators or conceited soi-disant philosophers are ever likely to do.
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