John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women

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There is a prevalent desire in history to determine the right place for women in society, especially as the modern period ushers out the end of the Victorian era, though women have existed as the counterpart to man for all time. John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women as a pedagogic composition will be used for better understanding the nature and predicaments of Thomas Hardy’s Sue Bridehead as she determines her place in society in his novel Jude the Obscure. Mill’s essay explores the basis of social institutions which encourage and reinforce the subordination of women as the weaker gender to highlight the inherent wrongness of this practice. As Mill’s essay describes the existence of female intelligence and individuality that is constantly suppressed, Hardy presents his female protagonist Sue Bridehead as a woman entirely unique for her time and place in society. Sue Bridehead’s nature and way of life conflicts with what society prescribes her to be as a woman, as she tries to balance living happily without social pressures infringing on her individuality. Unfortunately for Sue, as Mill’s essay explains, the customs of society are so engrained within its people, not even Sue can abscond from what is expected from her as a woman. J.S. Mill and Sue Bridehead converge with the belief in natural law and equality of the sexes, in the rejection of marriage as a social reform, and on the detrimental effects of social pressure on a woman. Sue Bridehead embodies many of the characteristics of Mill’s ideals about women, though as Mill’s essay explains, Sue is also a product of her society, and unable to escape its pressures, in her breakdown, forfeits her individuality and independence to ease her anxiety and guilt.

By succee...

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...omen, like Sue Bridehead, will suffer at the hands of their society.

Human history’s preoccupation with status and class ultimately hinders individual progress as social standards are emphasized more to control the population, rather than celebrate achievements within a community. John Stuart Mill and the fictional Sue Bridehead deal with the struggles of women to exist as individuals and gain recognition for their inherent qualities, rather than dismissal based on gender. Sue manifests the characteristics that Mill praises in independent women, however cannot separate herself from social pressures that are also present in Mill’s predicament for women. The paradox for Sue is that her individualism is what Mill praises and hopes for in more women, while it is that individualism that Sue manifests at the end of the novel when she conforms to social convention.
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