Posts Tagged ‘Mill’

Mill and IM Sports at U of M

As many of you know, and as the Michigan Daily pointed out, IM sports is kind of sexist when it comes to Co-Ed leagues. In soccer, a goal by a girl is worth twice as much as a girl by a boy, and in flag football there is criteria for how often the ball needs to be touched by a female on the team. I have seen multiple posts about David Stern’s comments on women in the NBA, and this has spawned some great ides about different ideas of equality in the sports realm. While those of us who are scrambling to put together the final touches on our blog posts, I offer this one as a post to which many of us can relate to personally. What are your views on the (supposedly) flawed system that our intramural sports department had, and how do you think J.S. Mill would form his argument against the system? Before you spit it out that Mill favors equality in every sense of the word, think about the safety of the female participants involved, and how Mill would view the scoring system as well as admittance into a co-ed league.


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As I was reading John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women, all that came to my mind was how drastically the rights for women have changed over the 20th century.  This led me to think of how long it has taken for Mill’s ideas to actually come to pass; he was far ahead of his time in many ways as far as marriage laws and the equality of women went but what struck me the most was Mill’s notion of the effect of the law to the status quo as far as the treatment of women goes.  The equality in law, as seen in education (as the foundation of equality in the workplace), does not always equate to equality in the real world due to the societal acceptance.

Mill made me think of my own family’s history. If I look back three generation on either side there is a vast discrepancy between the rights the laws grant women and the way women were actually treated. On my dad’s side, my great grandmother, who was born in 1912, was not allowed to go to high school or college because her family did not want her to, but the law granted that right to her.  Whereas my grandma was able to go to high school, both by the permission of her family and by law, but was not able to continue on with college because her family felt that it was her duty as a woman to marry my grandfather.

Now on my mother’s side, my great grandma went as far as her small country school would allow her to. However, her daughter, my grandmother, was given the opportunity to go to college, which was extremely rare for women at that time.  I find the reality of this absolutely appalling. According to the American Association of University Women, women were allowed to attend higher education institutions beginning in 1848, but the Association also notes that by 1870 only .7% of the female population was going to college, then 2.8% in 1900, and 7.6% in 1920.  It was still considered quite rare for women to go to college when my grandmother went in 1947 and yet again when my mother went to college in 1976.  There is obviously a social constraint on women that the law alone was not resolving.

Mill was pushing for the law to ensure total equality between men and women, which seems odd for a man to be advocating for the rights of women in the 19th century.  It’s surprising to discover that Mill was writing for the equality of women in 1869 and then to realize that women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920.  We can see from looking in just four generation of women how far ahead of his time Mill really was in his regards to the advancements of the rights of women and his thoughts on the correlation between the status quo and laws for women.  I find it interesting that, from looking at my family over this past century, one can see that even though there were laws in place for women, society prevented them from being socially acceptable for in higher education.  What would Mill think of a society that has continually regarded women so poorly? I personally think Mill would just give women all the more credit that has been taken from women… Glass ceiling… Mill would shatter it!

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John Stuart Mill’s arguments for defense of the rights of women could also be used to defend homosexuals against the policy which currently bars them from serving openly in the military.  Mill says “the generality of a practice is in some cases a strong presumption that it is, or at all events once was, conducive to laudable ends” (653).  It was assumed before the passage of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell that homosexuals in the military would have a difficult time focusing on the task at hand if they were distracted by members of the same sex who they would be serving with.  Unfortunately, as we have seen in cases such as the Air Force Academy sexual assault cases earlier this decade (New York Times Survey), it has been shown that members of the same sex also have trouble controlling themselves.  The logic behind this measure is also flawed because heterosexuals in the military are allowed to openly discuss their personal relationships amongst themselves, but homosexuals are required to withhold their personal information.  Simply sharing personal information shouldn’t conflict with a gay soldier’s duties any more than a straight soldier’s.
Mill also mentions “that people of the last two or three generations have lost all practical sense of the primitive condition of humanity; and only the few who have studied history accurately . . . are able to form any mental picture of what society then was” (655).  This is also applicable to the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, and it undermines the historic fact of homosexuality in the Greek military.  Although these relationships were regulated by societal standards, homosexuality wasn’t regarded as an abomination, but rather a practical solution to the problem of not having women serving alongside the men.  People who shun gays in the military are forgetting the history behind homosexual relationships in the military.
When discussing the idea that women were naturally incapable of doing certain jobs, Mill dismissing this thought, saying “even if it be well grounded in a majority of cases, which it is very likely not to be, there will be a minority of exceptional cases in which it does not hold:  and in those it is both an injustice to the individuals, and a detriment to society, to place barriers in the way of their using their faculties for their own benefit and for that of others” (661).  The same is true of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy which assumes, based on few or no examples, that homosexuals will not be able to control their urges in the line of duty.  It is offensive that this law makes such an unfounded generalization about a group of people.  It is also unfair that these men and women, who are wiling to sacrifice everything for the good of their nation, are being turned away for something that has nothing to do with their job performance.  Mill asks “Is there so great a superfluity of men fit for high duties, that society can afford to reject the service of any competent person?” (678).  Fifty-seven Arabic linguists have been fired because their sexual orientation has been discovered (Huffington Post Blog).  In this time of war, in which we have a shortage of military members who are able to translate Arabic, it is ridiculous that we are turning them away.  Doing this is a disservice to these brave Americans, and our nation which is in desperate need of their services.
Although The Subjection of Women doesn’t let on to how Mill would have felt about this 20th century policy, the principles he used seem to give a clear argument for overturning it.
Mill, John Stuart.  “The Subjection of Women”.  Modern Political Thought.  ed.  David Wootton.
Hackett Publishing Company:  Indianapolis, 2008.

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Mill’s ideas on freedom seem simple enough; as long as it’s not a nuisance or interfering with others’ lives, you are free to do as you please.  Others can criticize you for what they see as wrong doings, but they have no right to actually stop you (Mill, 600-620).  It simple terms, if its not directly bothering you, mind your own business and everyone gets along.  But the question is, can Mill’s philosophy actually work, when put into practice?   A prime example to look at is drugs and drug use.

Though the actual act of doing drugs only harms you, it remains illegal to even possess most drugs.  Mill would undoubtedly argue that though drugs may not be positive, used responsibly they do not harm others substantially (Mill, 600-620).  Opponents argue that drugs, even when used “safely”, affect those around you; from emotional pain to your family, to slacking on your responsibilities.  But that argument can be applied to many things.  Televisions for instance: much of today’s youth spends hours in front of the TV, possibly wasting their potential.  Should we then outlaw televisions?  Mill obviously would not.

But to think that drug use would remain totally responsible, is naïve.  Just take a look at alcohol; we have drunk driving, and alcoholics.  Mill would clearly classify these situations and acts as nuisances to those around us  (Mill, 600).  But does outlawing it even prevent it?  I would argue quite the opposite.  As we saw in the time of prohibition, making alcohol illegal only created a black market for it.  Instead of regulation, the supply of alcohol was run by gun-toting gangs.  Now does any of this sound familiar?  It is the exact same situation we currently have with drugs.  By implementing Mill’s idea of individual responsibility and freedom, the same principle applied to alcohol with the repeal of the prohibition, drugs could be regulated.  Violence would decrease, and money through business and taxation would increase.  Of course issues of drug addicts and impaired driving would be present.  But those problems persist now, even with the outlawing of drugs.  Just as some consider heavy drinking to be immoral, there will always be those who do not condone drug use either.  But we are a world of unique individuals, and to apply the same morality to everyone is overbearing, especially if the actions of said “immorality” does not affect those around them.

The United States of America has an incarceration rate of 7 times the global average  (National Council for Crime and Delinquency).  And I would argue this is due to the immense about of drug related “crime”.  Many of these crimes are victimless, and as Mill states, victimless crimes, should not be crimes at all.  So would an application of Mill’s ideas of freedom, actually work in modern day?  I would certainly think so, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion…assuming it isn’t a nuisance.

Works Referenced

“Fact Sheet.” National Council for Crime and Delinquency . N.p., Nov. 2006. Web.
22 Nov. 2009. <http://www.nccd-crc.org/nccd/pubs/

Mill, J.S. “On Liberty.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. Ed. David
Wooton. 2nd Edition ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2008. 599-620. Print.

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John Stuart Mill spent much of “The Subjection of Women” discussing the issue of marriage and its flaws. Throughout his work he is well versed and seems to consider himself an informed and knowledgeable writer on this topic. In present times, many of the issues Mill raises against marriage have already been fixed. Women are taking less subordinate and even more dominant roles in partnerships, women have the right to file for divorce, and also have legal rights to their children. What would Mill’s thoughts be on a more modernized version of this topic, gay marriage? Mill has many reasons for opposing the institution of marriage and if these causes for opposition are obliterated, it is likely that Mill will support marriage. I argue that Mill would support gay marriage as it rids of many of his causes for opposing marriage.


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Slave to Sports

In The Subjection of Women, Mill discusses the similarity between the rights of women and slaves.  Slaves had more rights than women, but women had a higher social status than slaves.  This is similar to the rights of athletes in school sports across genders.  Student athletes are thought to have more rights than the average student, but they are actually slaves to their coaches and sports.  For example, student athletes are subjected to practice for long hours whenever their coaches tell them and are forced to obey all commands.

            When Mill talks about the lives of women and their rights, it is obvious they are being forced into a type of slavery through marriage, since “marrying is giving themselves a master, and a master too of all their earthly possessions… but no amount of ill usage… free[s] a wife of her tormentor.” A woman must be devoted to her husband and all his needs, but he can do away with her whenever he chooses, just like a slave.

            Like Mill thinks women are slaves to their husband in marriage, athletes are slaves to their sports and coaches.   When children join sports at a young age, they play for mere recreational reasons.  They become slaves to the sport over time as they continue through the years when the original fun of the sport turns into forced dedication.  Once in high school, the best players on each sports team develop a relationship with their coach to help them grow, with the hope of playing college sports.  These elite athletes attend extra “non-mandatory” practices that the other players do not and join multiple travel teams to create a type of sports resume for colleges to look at. 

Before players realize, they become a slave to their coach and their sport.  The coaches treat the players as their own and work to send them to play on a college team.  The bigger the schools “their players” attend, the better the coach looks.  Moving to a college team is like the equivalent of trading slave owners.  The high school coach no longer owns them, but the players are under an even harsher rule with the college coach.

When playing a college sport, the athletes must live and eat with their teammates, practice multiple times a day, and leave for days at a time to travel to play other teams.  Due to their hectic schedules, athletes have to schedule their classes around practice and put everything about the team first.  This is not an option; their coaches, qua masters, enforce it, even missing practice for a class is not allowed.

While this type of control is harsh, athletes do receive certain benefits like scholarships and equipment.  However, there is a difference across sports for different genders.  In almost all sports, men’s sports receive more press and money than women’s sports.  All teams have coaches that make them work hard and focus on sports before anything else, but men receive eventual payoffs that women do not.  This can be seen at the college level, but not as easily as the difference is seen in professional sports. Men are trained from a young age with the possibility to play professionally.  Contrastingly, women are being trained with the end of their career in sight.  Young women are not told to hope and dream to be a professional athlete because the odds of them making it are slim to none and the overall achievement is not worth it.   After men stop playing their sport, they have the opportunity to become a coach, but like before, only a few women have this chance. Also, due to biological factors, the risk of injury among women is higher, though their compensation does not reflect this fact.  Men are slaves to their sport and they are reimbursed for their time and effort, but women are slaves to their sport, but get repaid with injury and never being able to play again.

Between opportunity for future jobs, injury, and coaches that act as slave owners, being an athlete is not as glorified as it seems.  From a young age, their sport and the constant pressure to do better overtake the schedule and free time of athletes.  However, the positive aspects of sport almost never outweigh the negative aspects, especially in women’s sports.

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Check out this video of stand-up with Bill Burr (pardon the language).

It’s a terrific comedic take on nearly the exact subject we have debated in the past week. Not declaring a position on one side or the other, but you gotta respect that take on it. In situations such as that, why shouldn’t men receive that extra dollar for the same job? And as mentioned before, sometimes men are just better qualified and suited for a job. But at times, so are women. It all depends on the situation really.

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