Elżbieta Filipow - New Voices Research Profile

The Victorian era (1837 – 1901) was an internally diversified construct. Discourses and concepts of womanhood and manhood kept changing; however, the relation between both sexes was still asymmetrical. The concept of two separate spheres – a private one and a public one – significantly influenced women’s experiences and choices. The role of a mother and a wife was to provide women with emotional fulfilment. However, the Victorian Zeitgeist was not a monolith. There were two thinking styles that shaped the role of a woman in the society. The first one was set by traditional institutions of law, religion, or customs and were expressed by the public opinion and scientific concepts. It shaped an unjust common morality and opposed any legal, educational, or professional change to women’s situation. The second thinking style originated from the awakening selfconsciousness or women and, to a less degree, men who acted in favour of women’s emancipation and suffrage. The latter style is represented by John Stuart Mill who promoted the morality based on justice and gender equality. Egalitarianism of sexes was an unknown idea in the common Victorian morality. It was unjust in that respect. Contrary to the common Victorian morality, utilitarianism postulated by J. S. Mill undermined the status quo as it was egalitarian. And it was the egalitarianism that made the centre of justice concept in respect of gender. Moreover, I am interested in a degree to which J. S. Mill, with his call for abolishment of the subjection of women, was really an original thinker – or was he but a member of a broader emancipatory movement in which his argumentation was not a particularly novel one. My research objectives, constructed in that way, are to facilitate having a more nuanced look at the Victorian thinking styles and at the place of John Stuart Mill’s egalitarianism on the map of views within the first-wave feminism – among other feminists such as for example Harriet Taylor Mill and Harriet Martineau. The relation between liberal feminism of John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill might be described as far more complex than their mutual inspirations or “joint production” of both thinkers. The research is conducted in the framework of my doctoral dissertation entitled Perfectionism and Justice. Equality of Women and Men in John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism.

Contact: e.filipow@uw.edu.pl, elzbieta.filipow@gmail.com

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