It is hard to walk on a college campus or surf Facebook without hearing a guy making a sexist joke. The most common utterance: “Make me a sandwich, woman”. (By the way, from the first 5 seasons of Top Chef, a cooking competition, 4 of the winners have been male. Maybe the men should be making the sandwiches.) Since the time that has marked a distinction between male and female, men have been the hunters, women the gatherers, men the breadwinners, and women the bread bakers. In the past, women were degraded to a status that did not allow them to voice their own opinions and be taken seriously, with the exception of a small number of extraordinary women. In the United States today, women are treated with more equality, but as is made evident by the sexist jokes, there are still ideas of bigotry looming in society. Don’t men know that sexism has and only will continue to hurt them?
John Stuart Mill said, “But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race…” (Mill, On Liberty, 600) This makes sense. Even wrong opinions are useful, contain some amount of factuality, or at the very least, exemplify how not to act, as long as they do not inflict harm on others. Wrong opinions can also later be proved true or beneficial. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. broke many laws in his pursuit of equality for African Americans. Numerous people believed his opinions were wrong, yet today many can see that he still aided in creating a better society. Imagine the benefits today’s society could have gained if women around the world were not restrained from voicing their opinions for many centuries. From a utilitarian standpoint, the larger the number of people who express their views, including women, the greater the benefit for the most people.
While a vast majority of opinions are useful, Mill thinks there are a number that are unacceptable because they place harm on others. (Mill, On Liberty, 620) However, the discussion of what exactly constitutes harm would be a whole other blog post. For my purposes, harm is physical or mental damage. (Merriam-Webster) Since women’s opinions were suppressed in the past, what proof is there that demonstrates women’s opinions are harmful to others? The evidence proving a woman’s views are harmful is surely not enough to suppress a whole gender’s worth of opinions and deem them useless. Nevertheless, there are always going to be women and men whose opinions will cause harm to others and are ineffectual.
It was not until August 26, 1920, that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was signed into law in the United States giving women the right to vote. (Ann-Marie Imbornoni) This means there were decades of oppression of women’s political opinions before this date. “The majority of women of any class are not likely to differ in political opinion from the majority of the men of the same class…” (Mill, The Subjection of Women, 679) If this is true, then why wouldn’t men want women to vote? Men, obviously—well hopefully—vote in an election for the candidate they want to win. Allowing women to vote would probably double the votes for a particular candidate, making a large number of men happy. The delay in women’s suffrage turns out to be a possible hindrance to males’ political advances.
“In politics, again, it is almost commonplace, that a party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state…” (Mill, On Liberty, 616) In this case, a healthy state can be thought of as a healthy relationship among its citizens. If only one party was allowed to express their opinions, this “healthy state” could end in turmoil and suppress many of its citizens. The same can be said when it comes to men’s versus women’s opinions. In the past, (and for some still today) the relationship among men and women could be compared to a dictatorship. With women’s opinions being ignored, the dynamic between males and females could hardly be called “healthy”. If women had been able to express their views, it might have made for a healthier society or “state” and more respect among all citizens, not just men.
It is also necessary to mention the women who fought against the control placed on them by men and were able to share their advantageous opinions. “But it is quite certain that a woman can be a Queen Elizabeth, or a Deborah, or a Joan of Arc, since this is not inference, but fact”. (Mill, The Subjection of Women, 679) Countless women were suppressed by male superiority based on belief, not evidence. These false beliefs have resulted in a lot of what ifs. If women had always been able to express their opinions, might we have more Queen Elizabeths or say Oprahs?
Regardless of your personal opinions about feminism or sexism, it is clear that women’s opinions have proved to be just as valuable as men’s in more recent times. While I would not say women are at the same level as men just yet, American society has made huge strides when it comes to equality. Sexism looks to be more a thing of the past than the future, which is good because men do not seem to realize that it has been hurting them for all these years.
Modern Political Thought. Edited, with Introductions. by David Wooton. Mill pages 600, 616, 620, 679.