Women in Western Political Thought

Women in Western Political Thought

Susan Moller Okin
With a new introduction by Debra Satz
Copyright Date: 1979
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 440
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  • Book Info
    Women in Western Political Thought
    Book Description:

    In this pathbreaking study of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, and Mill, Susan Moller Okin turns to the tradition of political philosophy that pervades Western culture and its institutions to understand why the gap between formal and real gender equality persists. Our philosophical heritage, Okin argues, largely rests on the assumption of the natural inequality of the sexes. Women cannot be included as equals within political theory unless its deep-rooted assumptions about the traditional family, its sex roles, and its relation to the wider world of political society are challenged. So long as this attitude pervades our institutions and behavior, the formal equality women have won has no chance of becoming substantive.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4683-2
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction to the 2013 Edition
    (pp. ix-xviii)
    Debra Satz

    In every country of the world, women fare worse than men on a number of important indices: income and wealth, political participation, vulnerability to sexual assault, and degree of access to the most prestigious social Positions. In many developing countries the inequalities based on gender are especially stark: girls are less likely to be educated, receive health care, or even to be fed than their male siblings. In India, for example, girls are 40 percent more likely to die before the age of five than boys.¹ Despite our globalizing and democratizing twenty-first century, women continue to receive the short end...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)

    The current feminist movement has inspired a considerable amount of scholarship in areas previously unexplored. The recent focus on women in the fields of history, legal studies, anthropology, sociology, and literary criticism has resulted in a number of innovative and important works, such that it is no exaggeration to say that these fields will never look the same again. No one, however, has yet examined systematically the treatment of women in the classic works of political philosophy—those works in which great thinkers throughout history have revealed to us their thoughts about the political and social life of the human race....

  6. Part I. PLATO
    • 1 Plato and the Greek Tradition of Misogyny
      (pp. 15-27)

      Plato’s ideas on the subject of women appear at first to present an unresolvable enigma. One might well ask how the same, generally consistent philosopher can on the one hand assert that the female sex was created from the souls of the most wicked and irrational men, and on the other hand make a far more radical proposal for the equal education and social role of the two sexes than was to be made by a major philosopher for more than two thousand years? How can the claim that women are “by nature” twice as bad as men be reconciled...

    • 2 Philosopher Queens and Private Wives
      (pp. 28-50)

      The aim of the true art of ruling, as Plato conceives of it, is not the welfare of any single class or group, but the greatest possible happiness of the entire community.¹ “Happiness,” however, can be a misleading word, for if it leads us to thoughts of freedom, individual rights, or equality of opportunity, we are far from Plato’s idea of happiness (eudaimonia). Neither equality nor liberty nor justice in the sense of fairness were values for Plato. The three values on which both his ideal and his second-best cities are based are, rather, harmony, efficiency and moral goodness: the...

    • 3 Female Nature and Social Structure
      (pp. 51-70)

      We have so far concentrated on the issue of the relationship between Plato’s treatment of women in his ideal and second-best cities, and some of the other important characteristics of the two societies—most notably property and the family system. Now we turn, rather, to an analysis ofhowPlato argues about women. Does he apply to the case of women the same arguments and logical standards that he applies when discussing the nature of men? More significantly still, does he allow his conclusions about the nature and potential of women to be carried through to their full implications? Finally, what...

    • 4 Woman’s Place and Nature in a Functionalist World
      (pp. 73-96)

      Aristotle’s philosophy is strikingly different, in its aim and in its entire tone, from that of Plato. Whereas Plato, throughout the dialogues, is essentially critical, radically questioning the most sacredly held conventions of the world around him, Aristotle sets out to acquire knowledge of the way the world is, and, moreover, to explain why it is the way it is. There is probably no other philosopher, not even Hegel himself, whose work better fits the definition that Hegel gave to philosophy—that it is “its own time apprehended in thoughts.”¹

      On the subject of scientific knowledge, Aristotle says: “We all...

    • 5 Rousseau and the Modern Patriarchal Tradition
      (pp. 99-105)

      The ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau on women-on their nature, their education, and their proper place in the social and political order—are worthy of thorough examination for three important reasons. The case he argues is, in a qualified sense, representative of the whole Western tradition regarding women; his views are, unusually, very consciously held and adamantly justified, in spite of the fact that they violate all the major principles of his ethics and social theory; and their effects are tragic, even within the context of his own philosophy.

      Albeit in an exaggerated way and sometimes with almost hysterical fervor,...

    • 6 The Natural Woman and her Role
      (pp. 106-139)

      The most prevalent argument used to justify the perpetuation of a distinct and subordinate sex role for the female is that such a role is natural. Far from being anything imposed on or developed in her by particular social, economic and cultural institutions, the passive, dependent, chaste, subrational, sensitive, nurturing characteristics of the female have been regarded as bestowed on her, directly and unmistakably, by nature.¹ Since Rousseau is the archetypal modern instance of this is a theme that pervades his entire philosophy, it is important to examine with care exactly how his case is made.

      A substantial part of...

    • 7 Equality and Freedom—for Men
      (pp. 140-166)

      The two most prevalent values that coexist, however uncomfortably at times, in Rousseau’s social and political philosophy are equality and freedom. While he considered these characteristics to be essential for men, he denied their relevance for women. This contrast in approach is the subject of the following chapter.

      One of Rousseau’s most abiding concerns was the inequality that prevailed in the society around him, and one of the most constant objects of his philosophy was to discover the principles of a political system that would minimize inequality between persons. His deep hatred for inequality originated in his own experience. As...

    • 8 The Fate of Rousseau’s Heroines
      (pp. 167-194)

      Rousseau was acutely aware, perhaps more than any other political philosopher, of the conflicts of loyalties in people’s lives, and the incompatible demands made by the various personal and group relationships in which people participate. A moderate degree of selflove, love of another individual, love of one’s family, of one’s fellow countrymen, of humanity as a whole—all these he perceived as by no means easily reconcilable. All, however, he valued as important in their own way, and it was his ultimate conviction of their incompatibility that made his philosophical conclusions so deeply pessimistic. After outlining the denouements ofEmileand...

  9. Part IV. MILL
    • 9 John Stuart Mill, Liberal Feminist
      (pp. 197-230)

      The practice of asserting general convictions about humanity and its rights and needs, and denying their applicability to a major segment of the human race, has been by no means confined to the ancients. As we have seen, Rousseau stated his most basic principles in universal terms, and then proceeded to exclude women from their scope. What is even more striking, however, is that, despite the individualist orientation of liberal thought, John Stuart Mill is the only major liberal political philosopher to have set out explicitly to apply the principles of liberalism to women. Before embarking on a discussion of...

    • 10 Women and Functionalism, Past and Present
      (pp. 233-246)

      Alfred North Whitehead once said that “the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists in a series of footnotes to Plate.”¹ We have seen that as far as the philosophical treatment of women is concerned, Whitehead’s statement is clearly untenable. The legacy of Aristotelian thought, while repudiated in many other areas, has continued in modern times to pervade discussions of the subject of women, their nature, and their proper position and rights in society. The predominant mode of thought about women has been a functionalist one, based on the assumption of the necessity of the...

    • 11 Persons, Women, and the Law
      (pp. 247-273)

      We turn now to a body of thought which has had, and continues to have, a similarly direct influence on the conditions in which women in this country have lived their lives—the law, particularly as it has been subjected to judicial review by the highest courts of the land. Here it will become obvious that it is not only in the history of political thought and the ivory towers of academia that functionalist modes of thought have served to rationalize the unequal treatment of women. The courts, too, have in the past and up to the present utilized arguments...

    • 12 Conclusions
      (pp. 274-304)

      This study has aimed to answer two questions, posed at the outset. The first of these asked whether the existing tradition of political philosophy could sustain the inclusion of women in its subject matter, on the same terms as men. The second asked what could be learned from an analysis of the treatment of women in political philosophy about the fact that the formal, political enfranchisement of women has not led to substantive economic, social or political equality between the sexes. In this final chapter, the findings of the study will be used to formulate answers to these two questions...

  11. Appendix to Chapter 2
    (pp. 305-308)
  12. Afterword to the 1992 Edition
    (pp. 309-340)

    We are sometimes said to be living in a postfeminist era. Whether this is supposed to mean that feminism has been vanquished, or that it has lost its point or its urgency because its aims have been largely fulfilled, the claim is false. Women are still secondclass citizens, very far from equality with men in a number of crucial respects. In the United States, 85 percent of elected office-holders (and far more at the highest levels) are still male—a situation more or less replicated in other countries, with the exceptions of Denmark and Norway. A similar state of underrepresentation...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 341-386)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 387-398)
  15. Index
    (pp. 399-418)