What is it about?

Focusing on Mill’s The Subjection of Women (1869), this paper adopts the perspective of the feminist and decolonial history of philosophy. It defends the idea that this book may be read as making a contribution to the construction of a Euro-centered white feminism, which developed in the nineteenth century. In this book, Mill dissociates race from gender issues and characterizes feminism and its subject as being indifferent to racial problems. Indeed, the comparisons that the book makes between sexism and racism, between women and slaves, are not used as a way of drawing a connection between feminist and anti-racist causes. On the contrary, they are usually used to dissociate the different fights and to separate the defense of English women’s rights from the defense of the rights of non-white men and women. In the first part of the paper, I show that Mill defines anti-Black racism as a non-European problem, unrelated to the domination of women. Next, I argue that he disconnects the subjection of women from slavery by affirming their non-contemporaneity and the exceptionality of the subjection of women in the modern world. Finally, I demonstrate how Mill appropriates and modifies the meaning of “slavery,” applying it primarily to English married women, and establishes a hierarchy that ranks Black enslaved women lower than white women on a scale of subjection. Thus, this paper uncovers and interprets these blind spots in order to allow contemporary feminists to make a cautious and mindful use of Mill’s The Subjection of Women.

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This page is a summary of: Gender and Race in John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women, Frontiers A Journal of Women Studies, January 2023, Project Muse,
DOI: 10.1353/fro.2023.0003.
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