John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill on Women’s Place in Society: Differences, Affinities, and Inspirations

John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill on Women’s Place in Society: Differences, Affinities, and Inspirations

The New St Cross Special Ethics Seminars are jointly arranged by the Oxford Uehiro Centre and the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities.  The talks are open to the public, and all are welcome (registration required, please see links below)


John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill on Women’s Place in Society: Differences, Affinities, and Inspirations


Liberal feminism, being one of stances in the feminist theory, has its supporters and opponents. The supporters stress the value of its practical postulates: equality in access to education, professional work, as well in marital law and suffrage. The postulates, implemented in numerous countries of continental Europe and Anglosphere, have set a certain standard in thinking on social justice and equality between women and men. The opponents pay attention at theoretical problems connected with the notion of human nature as an unchangeable essence. If the human nature were something fixed, then there is a problem with defining any possible changes that could affect women. Hence, essentialism undermined the possibility of emancipation. What poses another problem stressed by the critics of liberal feminism is androgyny of human nature: it promotes the model of human nature that views women and men as alike, which blurs cultural and social differences between the sexes.

John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill represented the Victorian feminism and shared the practical postulates on women’s equality. It is The Subjection of Women that is most frequently quoted text to present John Stuart Mill’s arguments. Both John Stuart and Harriet, however, are authors of other texts describing the woman’s role and place in the society. In Early Essays on Marriage and Divorce, which they both exchanged, as well as in Harriet Taylor Mill’s Enfranchisement of Women, they diagnosed contemporary situation of women and wondered what women would have been like if they had not been bridled by the subjection.

I assume that John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill draw different conclusion out of the theses on the lack of essentialism and androgyny of women’s nature on what the situation of women in the society should be like. Thus, my presentation is to aim at analysing comparative essays by John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill. I am to familiarize with the main differences between the two as for women’s capacities and their place and role in the society – particularly, in the case of married women’s financial independence and their vocation to matrimony and motherhood.

Research into the subject is part of the research project entitled The Place of Equality in John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism, registration number: 2021/41/N/HS1/02244, financed by the National Science Centre (Poland) and are additionally financed by the University of Warsaw (in the framework of The Excellence Initiative – Research University microgrant, University of Warsaw Foundation and Grant for Academic Researchers from the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Warsaw).


MA Elżbieta Filipow (Faculty of Philosophy, University of Warsaw; Academic Visitor, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford). PhilPeople | ORCiD

Respondent: Lisa Forsberg (Oxford Uehiro Centre)


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Lecture Theatre, St Cross College, 61 St Giles’, Oxford.!1m18!1m12!1m3!1d2469.7074564871887!2d-1.2626555229814942!3d51.756672792462204!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!3m3!1m2!1s0x4876c6a66cc0c1c3%3A0xe9e4791c16909041!2sSt%20Cross%20College!5e0!3m2!1sen!2suk!4v1700565605263!5m2!1sen!2suk