Comparing John Stuart Mill's The Subjection of Women and Florence Nightingale's Cassandra

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Comparing John Stuart Mill's The Subjection of Women and Florence Nightingale's Cassandra

For thousands of years, women have struggled under the domination of men. In a great many societies around the world, men hold the power and women have to fight for their roles as equals in these patriarchal societies. Florence Nightingale wrote about such a society in her piece, Cassandra, and John Stuart Mill wrote further on the subject in his essay The Subjection of Women. These two pieces explore the same basic idea, but there are differences as well. While they both recognize its presence, Mill blames the subjection of women on custom, and Nightingale blames it on society. These appear to be different arguments, but they may be more similar than they seem.

Mill’s and Nightingale’s work both have the main theme of men dominating over women. Mill introduces his work with, “the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes — the legal subordination of one sex to the other — is wrong in itself…and it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality” (Mill 1156), letting the reader know his stance on the issue right away. Nightingale’s article also starts off with a strong statement in the form of a question. She wonders why women are given such useful gifts if utilizing them is socially unacceptable: “Why have women passion, intellect, moral activity...and a place in society where no one of the three can be exercised?” (Nightingale 1734). Although these works both have the same thread running through them, they place the blame for the occurrence in different places.

In Mill’s essay, he places the blame for the suffrage of woman on custom. He says, “custom...affords i...

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... sound like completely different arguments; however, they are both placing the blame on one relationship. Custom and society exist together in a dependent relationship. One cannot be without the other. Custom defines what society does, and society does what custom defines; therefore, this relationship is blamed for the subjection of women in these two pieces. They may appear to have different arguments, but they are really arguing the same thing. This enforces the ideas Mill and Nightingale convey in their work: two different things seemed to have been blamed, and yet, after further analysis, the blame ended up resting in the same place. We can conclude that the subjection of women is likely to rest on this particular relationship because both of their arguments boil down to it, and Mill’s and Nightingale’s essays are more similar than at first believed to be.

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how mill places the blame for the suffrage of women on custom. he believes that the small increase in power over time is enough to suggest that equality is the solution.
  • Analyzes how nightingale believes society is to blame for the way women are treated. she blames society for not being more aware or ignoring women's aspirations and abilities.
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