Thoughts on Human Rights
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
Stuart Mill in 1869, and the parts of Plato's Republic that challenge
Mill (1869), in the first paragraph of The Subjection of
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.
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:
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
One woman has a gift of healing, another not; one is a musician, and
another has no music in her nature?
And one woman has a turn for gymnastic and military exercises, and
another is unwarlike and hates gymnastics?
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
of this sort?
Men and women alike possess the qualities which make a guardian; they
differ only in their comparative strength or weakness.
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?
And ought not the same natures to have the same pursuits?
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.
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?
And the possibility has been acknowledged?
The very great benefit has next to be established?
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
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?
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?
Then we have made an enactment not only possible but in the highest
degree beneficial to the State?
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