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William Thompson and Anna Wheeler
Appeal of One Half the Human Race"
It is true that women around the world face problems because of the assumption that they are weaker and thus cannot perform many of the tasks that men can and because of biological differences which give men more physical strength, women have to face discrimination in many fields. While it is a fact that men are physically stronger, this doesn't mean they are intellectually superior to women in any way, thus discrimination against women at workplace or other areas is totally unfair.
Even in the fields where physical strength is required, it would be unjust not to give women a chance to prove their worth. But this has been happening for a long time in every society, discrimination against women is what resulted in women rights movement in different parts of the world. One wonders why there has never been a men's rights movement, it is because men do not need any such movement, rights are given to them on a silver platter by virtue of their gender. A movement for rights is always meant for the disadvantaged or underprivileged. Black rights movement took place because this community was denied their basic rights because of the color of their skin. In the same manner women had to fight for their rights because they were refused the same because of their supposedly weaker gender. These are some of the thoughts expressed in Appeal of One Half The Human Race, Women, against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, great book on women rights by Anna Wheeler and William Thompson.
Sadly, women encounter discrimination problems even in 21st century and are always treated as the so-called lower sex because of their apparently dainty appearance and centuries of wrong social conditioning. However we must still commend the courage of those women who took a stand against subjugation of women and helped secure more political and employment rights for them with sheer power of their writing and speech. One such woman was Anna Doyle Wheeler who with one of her friends, William Thompson wrote, Appeal of One Half The Human Race, Women, against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, a monumental piece on women rights which helped shape and direct women liberation movements in the 19th century. This comprehensive commentary on the subject of women rights was written in the times when women were considered nothing more than sexual objects. Sadly, the situation for women hasn't improved as much as people must have expected when liberation movements begun, but there have been some positive changes and women at least now enjoy equal voting rights. They are at least not openly discriminated against but discrimination in its subtle forms still exists for women.
Anna Doyle Wheeler and William Thompson began their debate on women right with a direct attack against James Mill's treatise On government which appeared in 1819. This treatise excluded women from political sphere on the ground that they were incapable on handling the affairs of the state and should focus more on their home and family life. Being a utilitarian, Mill believed that we must take the step that ensures maximum happiness of everyone in the society. He maintained that such action included confining women to their traditional sphere. On page 7 of the book, whiling examining Mill's article, Wheeler exposes the incorrect premise of Mill's argument:."..this male philosopher maintains, that, with respect to one half the human race, women, this universal disposition of man to use power for his own exclusive benefit ceases, and... their happiness coincides with his, and is included with it...." (p. 7) By deliberating calling Mill, a 'male philosopher', Wheeler wants to make it absolutely clear that whatever Mill wrote was written solely from male perspective and therefore contrary to his claim, Mill was only interested in securing more powers for men and absolutely none for women.
In refutation of his argument, Wheeler and Thompson exclaimed that men were solely interested in their own happiness and there was simply no evidence to prove that they included happiness of others once they attain sole control of government. On page 13 they carefully and effectively refute Mill's argument: "As men acquire knowledge, and become surrounded, in the course of barbarism or civilization, by circumstances conciliating their happiness with, or putting it in opposition to, that of their fellow-creatures, they pursue to a greater or less extent their own individual happiness in connection with, or to the exclusion of, that of others. It is neither an original, nor a universal, principle of human beings, to trample on... The happiness of others. It is never trampled on but when rightly, or erroneously judged to be incompatible with the happiness of the agent." (p. 13)
Wheeler who had been in an abusive relationship for twelve years emerged out a staunch opponent of the institution of marriage as it existed in the 19th century. She claimed that contrary to popular belief, marriage didn't transport women to any fantasyland but instead it was the source of all evils and injustices against women. This was an oppressive institution, which helps men secure greater power over women. Wheeler argued against the institution of marriage in this book and together with Thompson built a strong case against marriage and the false beliefs surrounding it. On page 66, the authors explained how marriage turned women into slaves: "Women is then compelled, in marriage, by the possession of superior strength on the part of men, by the want of knowledge, skill and wealth, by the positive, cruel, partial, and cowardly enactments of law, by the terrors of superstition, by the mockery of a pretended vow of obedience, and to crown all, and as a result of all, by the force of an unrelenting, unreasoning, unfeeling public opinion, to be a literal unequivocal slave of the man who may be styled her husband. I say emphatically the slave; for a slave is a person whose actions and earnings, instead of being, under his own control...are under the arbitrary control of any other human being, by whatever name called. This is the essence of slavery, and what distinguishes it from freedom. A domestic, a civil, a political slave, in the plain unsophisticated sense of the word - in no metaphorical sense - is every married woman." (p. 66)
Wheeler and Thompson go on to advocate political rights for women and make some highly interesting comments in this regard. Keeping in view Mill's utilitarian theory and his greatest happiness principle, the authors argue that it is absolutely unjust and unreasonable to measure the benefits of additional rights with regard to the amount of happiness it would bring to men. Wheeler and Thompson assert that women are one half of the human race and their happiness should be for their own sake and not for the sake of men who have consciously ignored women and their rights since time immemorial. On page 118-119, the two authors present what should be called 'the most perfect and complete argument' in favor of women rights. Talking about political rights for women, they write: "It is not necessary here to discuss whether it would promote the happiness of men that women should under such circumstances enjoy political rights. Women are one half of the human race, and as much entitled to happiness on their own account, for their own sakes, as men. Just as necessary would it be to inquire whether the possession of political rights by men would tend to promote the happiness of women. The happiness of every individual, and of all classes, of the human race, ought to be promoted for the sake of such individual or individuals, and not in subservience to the happiness of any other individuals…[continue]
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Susan Anthony is a key figure in women's rights movement of this time. She called for increased women's admission in the teaching profession. She also campaigned for equal pay for male and female slaves as well as better protection for female laborers trough trade unions that she became a part of (Susan B. Anthony House, n.d.). These radical changes in the sphere of womanhood are reflected in the artistic accomplishments