Society is ever changing. Both physical and culturally we must adapt to new environments and changing culture. In literature there have been many analyses done on these changes. Two of the most influential of their time were perhaps John Stuart Mills The Subjection of Women, and Charles Darwins The Descent of Man. In examining these two works it is interesting to note the parallel discussions of evolution in society. Mills The Subjection of Women looks at the struggles of society in adapting to an environment where women are treated equally.
This writing was commenting on societal failure to change discriminatory customs toward women. Darwins The Descent of Man is an expression of his own belief that mans origins are in lower forms of life that adapted to their changing environment physically. In examining the two works it becomes apparent that in the Victorian age an approach to changing both physically and socially was important. John Stuart Mills approach to changing society comes from the viewpoint that after many years of submission and discrimination, women should be treated equally. This conclusion comes from a reflection on past classes of people that were similarly repressed.
Mill looks at similar situations throughout history where one certain group was dominant over another submissive group. 1) Free vs. Slave 2) White vs. Black 3) Brave vs. Feeble 4) Nobility vs. Serfs When looking at the Free vs. Slaves, these two groups no longer exist in our society to even study the advancements in which the submissive slaves made against the free man. African Americans have made significant progress in their fight to become equal. The feeble natured are not looked upon as they once were. Anyone can join the armed forces; the brave and strong arent the only ones who fight for their country. The relationship between serfs and nobles certainly isnt the problem it once was.
Al of these submissive groups have made significant advancements up to this time except for women. Mill tells us that one cannot be marked for slavery or servitude. He says that it is not nature, but more custom. It is what we are used to and taught. The subjection of women seems to be a universal custom and any departure seems unnatural. Custom determines what is natural.
In the time of Queen Elizabeth I, a woman ruled the people of England. The people of England came to think of this as being normal. In other countries where the ruler was a man, the people must have thought strangely of England for not being what they thought was normal. In the times of the Spartans, women fought in battle for their land; for they needed people to fight and had no choice. This behavior was also looked upon as strange to other countries, but not to the Greeks. The reason why women have been constantly subjected throughout time is because they collectively dont complain.
They accept it voluntarily. That is why women are different than slaves. Slaves were forced into servitude, women are taught to be submissive. Mills observations are right on even in our day and age.
Women still dont have the same equality that Mill had hoped for. A prime example is domestic violence. Mill speaks of women being abused by men and then choosing not to use the laws to protect them. This is true of our society today, and by continuously not fighting for themselves by using the law, women are teaching their children to do the same. The slaves were able to become free because they recognized that it was wrong. They taught their children that it was their human right to be free and equal.
Mill says that both men and women are responsible for the subjection of women. They do this by representing womans meekness and submissiveness as attractive qualities. We still do this today with strip clubs, and advertising. Women get breast implants so that men will be more attracted to them.
Women are diagnosed with diseases (bulimia, anorexia) because they dont think they are attractive enough. Some women will purposely act non-assertive and stupid because they think its attractive. Mill also states that men will never truly understand women unless changes are made. As long as men see women through the eyes of an authority figure, even if that man is the womans husband, he will never have true knowledge of her. Charles Darwin in The Descent of Man remarks how necessary adapting physically to our society is. His main conclusion in this piece is that man is descended from some less highly organized form.
He speaks of the close resemblance of the embryo of a man compared to a dogs in the way the skull, limbs, and frame are constructed. And certain muscles that man normally does not possess can be found common in Quadrumana, which are found closely related to man. He then goes on to talk about sexual selection, and how certain birds have evolved physically to appear more attractive to birds of the opposite sex. Male peacocks that spread and vibrate their colorful plumes in front of the female peacocks do this obviously to be attractive. There have been cases of female peacocks that have been debarred from an admired male, have remained loyal to that male for the rest of the season. Then, there is the male argus pheasant that carries the ball-and-socket ornaments and beautifully designed patterns on his wing feathers.
It is obvious to Darwin that this bird was not created as he now exists. These great plumes that the male possesses prevent him from flying, are displayed only during the act of courtship. These plumes were given to the male as an ornament to appear more attractive to the female. Darwin believes that the male argus pheasant has gradually become beautiful as a reaction to the females preferring the more ornamental males over a course of many generations. The cerebral system not only regulates most of the existing functions of the body, but has indirectly influenced the progressive development of various bodily structures and of certain mental qualities.
Throughout time qualities like beauty, courage, toughness, body shape and dc or, musical ability, etc. have been indirectly gained by both sexes through the influence of love and jealousy, because both sexes are attracted to beauty of all kinds. All of these powers of the mind are dependent on the cerebral systems development. Darwin then comments on the Fuegians, who are natives of the islands of southern South America, which Darwin had visited in 1832. This is just one observation that leads him to believe that we are descended from barbarians. He saw them prancing around the shore with no sort of clothing at all; their bodies full of paint instead. They had long, tangled hair that flapped about their wild, uncertain faces.
They possessed very little artistic ability, and the food they consumed was strictly from what they had hunted. They were violent toward anyone not of their own tribe and they had no government. When Darwin observed these natives the thought that these were our ancestors rushed into his head. During the Victorian age, intellectual awareness was booming. In studying these two pieces of writing, this is evident. It is important today to learn from history.
History here tells us that society will surely fail if both physical and cultural advancements are not made. Today we face medical and technological breakthroughs that would not have been possible if not for the research of scientific theorists such as Darwin. Similarly, in society we have made legal, political, and educational studies in ending repression and inequality. However, society always demands advancement. This is as vital today as it was 150 years ago.