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The “Liberal” State… . …a woman’s perspective. Introduction. This presentation will focus on gender equality in the law. Feminist maintain that historically laws have not been in women’s hands and have largely been one sided against women

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the liberal state

The “Liberal” State…

…a woman’s perspective

  • This presentation will focus on gender equality in the law.
  • Feminist maintain that historically laws have not been in women’s hands and have largely been one sided against women
  • This presentation will discuss the law as a powerful medium of progressive change and furthermore its bias against women and its present quest for equality
  • I will discuss the perspectives of specific philosophers throughout history including: Plato/Aristotle, John Locke/Hobbes, and the more contemporary views of John Stewart Mill and feminine theorist Catharine Mackinnon
  • I will discuss their perspectives in terms of feminine equality in their conception of laws
the ancients
The Ancients
  • Dating back to the fourth century BC, one can find anti feminist ideas in the philosophies of many great ancient philosophers, namely Plato and Aristotle
  • It can be argued that the prominent gender-bias found in society and laws stem from these great thinkers.
  • These two philosophers in particular, purport that women are deficient in some way, whether it be physically, as in Aristotle, or socially and physically, as in Plato
  • In many of his dialogues Plato posits a sexiest view
  • In his dialogue Timaeus, Plato discuses reincarnation, stating that men who “were cowards or lead unrighteous lives may…changed into the nature of women” when they are reincarnated
  • In the Republic, and in the Laws Plato further deprecates the nature of women
  • Plato calls women the “weaker partners” to men in their occupations, and in the Laws he states the female sex is more “inclined to be more secretive and crafty, because of its weakness..a women’s natural potential for virtue is inferior to a mans”
  • Through these passages Plato’s sexiest views are made clear
  • Women in their nature are not as emotionally able as men
  • These views still permeate our society today
  • Where can these beliefs be found in society today?
  • Aristotle, a student of Plato also devalued women in his philosophies
  • He believed that women were inferior to men by nature as a result of their physical being
  • In his text, A History of Animals, Aristotle engages in a pseudo scientific discussion about the nature of humans and animals
  • He discuses the bodies of men and women, and furthermore states that the root of women’s inferiority lies in there defective bodies
  • It is evident that these two ancient thinkers, among others, believed in the inability of the female sex
  • These two philosophers, being two of the most influential thinkers of all time, set out a frame work for how we think about gender socially and politically
  • In turn the discussion and formulation of laws and subsequent philosophies and in practice often incorporate this inherently biased conception of gender
  • As women do you believe in these ancient views, or in what ways do you think women transcend them?
social contract theory and feminism
Social Contract Theory and Feminism
  • Social contract theory discusses hypothetical “social contracts” or laws, and how people should act politically and morally as a result
  • Early social contract theorists discussed the nature of society, and furthermore, postulated laws
  • The Social Contract Theory has its origins in the works of Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke
  • They essentially considered how man would behave in a world devoid of laws or government- a “state of nature”
  • Hobbes and Locke both argued that in order to have safe and stable lives, rational beings in this 'state of nature' should enter into an agreement or “social contract” to create a sovereign government that would regulate their lives and the world.
  • Rational beings will thus be more willing to give up part of their liberty in exchange for a system of law which would therefore make their lives much more stable and secure.
john stuart mills
John Stuart Mills
  • John Stewart Mills is a British philosopher, moral, and political theorist who’s aim was to develop a positive view of the universe and the place of humans in it
  • He was interested in the progression of human knowledge and individual freedom and wellbeing
  • Mill therefore wrote in his essay on the Subjection of Women a defense on gender equality
  • He believed that women must be liberated from the shackles they are trained to voluntarily impose upon themselves, as it is in their own interest and in the interests of society
  • Mills advocated for women to participate in democratic political processes where they can be free, and debates about social means can be made
  • He thought that this would be one part of many steps through which women could come to recognize how they were bound contrary to their own interests and thus help secure their own freedom and develop their own individuality
catharine mackinnon
Catharine Mackinnon

“Law has the potential to change the world in which we live” K.M

  • MacKinnon is a contemporary feminist who believes that our cultural, social environment reinforces a long-standing custom of male-dominance (as seen in Plato and Aristotle)
  • She believes that “male power is systemic. Coercive, legitimated, and epistemic, it is the regime.”

MacKinnon agreed that gender relationships are deeply political

  • She maintained that the state is “male in the feminist sense”, or in other words, that the state sees and treats women as men see and treat women
  • Male is the implicit reference for human; when laws reference humans, they are really referencing them from a male view
  • promoting freedom and equality for women would reflect a profound shift in basic assumptions about the nature of women and their proper place in the world

Overall, MacKinnon believed that in order to change laws to be truly unbiased in terms of gender, and society one would have to change their deeply rooted views on gender

  • She believes that laws are inherently male, and they further the male perspective
  • Laws today are informed by our gender biases, and further subjugate women, even unknowingly
  • In conclusion the gender biased views found in our society can be traced back to philosophers from the ancient time
  • Centuries later contemporary philosophers/theorists began to advocate for the equality of women in the law
  • The law is a powerful medium of progressive change but is also a means to further the inequality
  • Feminist theorists such as McKinnon continue to advocate for the evolving gender equality in the law