Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/573

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553
ON THE EQUALITY OF THE SEXES.

improvement; and that it ought to he replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other."

Mr. Mill is fully aware of the difficulty of his task. He admits that he is arguing against "an almost universal opinion," but he urges that it and the practice founded on it is a relic of a by-gone state of things. "We now live—that is to say, one or two of the most advanced nations of the world now live—in a state in which the law of the strongest seems to be entirely abandoned as the regulating principle of the world's affairs. Nobody professes it, and, as regards most of the relations between human beings, nobody is permitted to practise it.... This being the ostensible state of things, people flatter themselves that the rule of mere force is ended." Still they do not know how hard it dies, and in particular they are unaware of the fact that it still regulates the relations between men and women. It is true that the actually existing generation of women do not dislike their position. The consciousness of this haunts Mr. Mill throughout the whole of his argument, and embarrasses him at every turn. He is driven to account for it by such assertions as that "each individual of the subject class is in a chronic state of bribery and intimidation combined," by reference to the affection which slaves in classical times felt for their masters in many cases, and by other suggestions of the same sort. His great argument against the present state of things is that it is opposed to what he calls "the modern conviction, the fruit of a thousand years of experience"—

"That things in which the individual is the person directly interested never go right but as they are left to his own discretion, and that any regulation of them by authority except to protect the rights of others is sure to be mischievous.... The peculiar character of the modern world ... is that human beings are no longer born to their place in life and chained down by an inexorable bond to the place they are born to, but are free to employ their faculties and such favorable chances as offer, to achieve the lot which may appear to them most desirable. Human society of old was constituted on a very different principle. All were born to a fixed social position, and were mostly kept in it by law or interdicted from any means by which they could emerge from it.... In consonance with this doctrine it is felt to be an overstepping of the proper bounds of authority to fix beforehand on some general presumption that certain persons are not fit to do certain things. It is now thoroughly known and admitted that if some such presumptions exist no such presumption is infallible.... Hence we ought not ... to ordain that to be born a girl instead of a boy shall decide the person's position all through life."

The result is that "the social subordination of women thus stands out as an isolated fact in modern social institutions." It is in "radical opposition" to "the progressive movement, which is the boast of the modern world." This fact creates a "prima-facie presumption" against it, "far outweighing any which custom and usage could in such circumstances create" in its favor.