Thoughts on Human Rights

I'd really love the world to be more just with respect to gender.  Two of my all time favourite pieces of writing are The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill in 1869, and the parts of Plato's Republic that challenge gender prejudice.

According to Mill (1869), in the first paragraph of The Subjection of Women:

the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes — the legal subordination of one sex to the other — is wrong itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other.

Book V of Plato's Republic, written in 360 BCE, contains passages like the following which radically challenged the view that women should be considered fundamentally secondary and subservient to men:

And if, I said, the male and female sex appear to differ in their fitness for any art or pursuit, we should say that such pursuit or art ought to be assigned to one or the other of them; but if the difference consists only in women bearing and men begetting children, this does not amount to a proof that a woman differs from a man in respect of the sort of education she should receive; and we shall therefore continue to maintain that our guardians and their wives ought to have the same pursuits.
...
Suppose then that we invite him to accompany us in the argument, and then we may hope to show him that there is nothing peculiar in the constitution of women which would affect them in the administration of the State.
...
One woman has a gift of healing, another not; one is a musician, and another has no music in her nature?
Very true.

And one woman has a turn for gymnastic and military exercises, and another is unwarlike and hates gymnastics?
Certainly.

And one woman is a philosopher, and another is an enemy of philosophy; one has spirit, and another is without spirit?
That is also true.
 
Then one woman will have the temper of a guardian, and another not.  Was not the selection of the male guardians determined by differences
of this sort?
Yes.

Men and women alike possess the qualities which make a guardian; they differ only in their comparative strength or weakness.
Obviously.

And those women who have such qualities are to be selected as the companions and colleagues of men who have similar qualities and whom
they resemble in capacity and in character?
Very true.

And ought not the same natures to have the same pursuits?
They ought.

Then, as we were saying before, there is nothing unnatural in assigning music and gymnastic to the wives of the guardians --to that point
we come round again.
Certainly not.

The law which we then enacted was agreeable to nature, and therefore not an impossibility or mere aspiration; and the contrary practice,
which prevails at present, is in reality a violation of nature.
That appears to be true.

We had to consider, first, whether our proposals were possible, and secondly whether they were the most beneficial?
Yes.

And the possibility has been acknowledged?
Yes.

The very great benefit has next to be established?
Quite so.

You will admit that the same education which makes a man a good guardian will make a woman a good guardian; for their original nature is the
same?
Yes.

I should like to ask you a question.
What is it?

Would you say that all men are equal in excellence, or is one man better than another?
The latter.

And in the commonwealth which we were founding do you conceive the guardians who have been brought up on our model system to be more
perfect men, or the cobblers whose education has been cobbling?
What a ridiculous question!

You have answered me, I replied: Well, and may we not further say that our guardians are the best of our citizens?
By far the best.

And will not their wives be the best women?
Yes, by far the best.

And can there be anything better for the interests of the State than that the men and women of a State should be as good as possible?
There can be nothing better.

And this is what the arts of music and gymnastic, when present in such manner as we have described, will accomplish?
Certainly.
 
Then we have made an enactment not only possible but in the highest degree beneficial to the State?




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