What is the difference between Wollstonecraft and Mill?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Both thinkers speak about the condition of women in their writings. By itself, this is fairly radical because the topic had not received significant and meaningful treatment in the academic/ intellectual world at the time.  One difference between them would be the time period in which they are writing.  Wollstonecraft writes her work "A Vindication of the Rights of Women" in the late 18th century, when Romanticism philosophy is beginning to emerge out of the shadow of the Neoclassicist thought.  At the same time, the experience of the American and French Revolutions were fresh in the minds of thinkers at the time, and this might have underscored why the work might have had resonance.  Mill writes "The Subjection of Women"  in the mid 19th century, when political philosophy had been rooted in the shadow of both revolutions and when modernist thought had emerged.  Another subtle difference between them might be the demands both make.  Mill's primary argument is how the legal system cannot make differences based on gender.  This makes the issue of equal rights one predicated upon legal or institutional grounds.  While it is a passionate argument, the concept is somewhat vitiated by the fact that the individuals in the position of legal and social power were men, making it not as likely that Mill's claims would be heard and authenticated.  At the same time, Wollstonecraft's ideas are based on the idea of women asserting their own voice in being considered equal to men.  This assertion is rooted in the idea that women are placed in socially confined and dictated roles and that the only way to counter such a notion is to assert and speak out against this.  While overwhelmingly challenging, her ideas are compelling because they speak to men (who are locking women in gender stratified roles) and women (who are passively accepting such controlling notions.)  In speaking to both genders, there might be a greater level of change which emerges from the change in voice and audience.

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