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Clare Chambers

This chapter discusses gender. Mainstream political theorists have often ignored the issue of gender difference, and so feminists have had to argue for its significance and importance. There are many varieties of feminism, just as there are many varieties of liberalism or egalitarianism. However, it is possible to identify three theses that all feminists support, in one form or another. These theses are the entrenchment of gender; the existence of patriarchy; and the need for change. A key theme of feminist theory has been the idea that it is vital to distinguish the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. According to the distinction, ‘sex’ refers to biological differences and ‘gender’ refers to social differences. Feminists use philosophical and political methods that are common to other theories or campaigns, but there are some distinctively feminist methods, such as the Woman Question and consciousness raising.


This chapter examines John Stuart Mill's treatise The Subjection of Women, a manifesto of liberal feminism that advocates ‘perfect equality’ between the sexes. Written in 1861 and published in 1869, The Subjection of Women has been criticised by contemporary feminist theorists, who find Mill's theory lacking because of its political shortcomings and contradictions. The chapter analyses the political and intellectual context in which The Subjection of Women was written as well as its significance from the standpoint of contemporary feminist theory. It considers Mill's relationship with his father, James Mill, and with his wife, Harriet Taylor, along with the emergence of the women's rights movement in the United States and England. It also assesses the political import and methodological perspective of the work and concludes with a discussion of Mill's utilitarianism.