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Mill, Gender Ideal and Gender Oppression: Do Feminists Need to Abolish Gender Roles?

Abstract

While feminist scholarship generally looks at Mill’s ambiguities as confusions or flaws, I suggest that Mill’s ambivalence has to be taken at face value by feminist theory.Many feminists – and particularly liberal feminists- feel that human beings cannot develop their true potential until they would live in a society where men and women have complete equality. One solution to this problem is to abolish gender roles, or to value social and legal norms because they promote gender neutrality. Because actual gender roles are shaped by patriarchy, the elimination of gender roles would open up possibilities for human emancipation. Like Mill, many feminists believe that new relationships grounded in an ideal of equality would be an outcome of dismantling and denaturalizing the idea of masculine and feminine. However, other feminists (Schwartzman, 2006; Pateman and Mills, 2007) feel that gender oppression is pervasive and that is ideal theory is not the only good response to women’s oppression. The ideal of gender equality obscures the significance and the strength of women’s subordination. For some feminists, analyses of gender inequality need to engage with actual conditions of power and oppression before designing new gender norms. The tension between representing a gender ideal and describing actual conditions of oppression is critical for feminist theory. I address this tension in my paper by investigating Mill relationship with the idea of gender and argue that Mill represents an important resource for contemporary feminists.

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