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The Sexual Contract (Sociology of Health and Illness Monographs) [Paperback]

Carole Pateman
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

23 Jun 1988 Sociology of Health and Illness Monographs
Carole Pateman is one of the foremost political theorists writing in English today. In this outstanding new work, she presents a major reinterpretation of modern political theory. She shows how standard discussions of social contract theory tell only half the story. The sexual contract which establishes modern patriarchy and the political right of men over women is never mentioned. In a wide–ranging and scholarly discussion, Pateman examines the significance of the political fictions of the original contract and the slave contract. She also offers a sweeping challenge to conventional understandings – of both left and right – of actual contracts in everyday life: the marriage contract, the employment contract, the prostitution contract and the new surrogacy contract. By bringing a feminist perspective to bear on the contradictions and paradoxes surrounding women and contract and the relation between the sexes, she is able to shed new light on the fundamental problems of freedom and subordination. The Sexual Contract will become a classic text in the politics of gender and will be of major interest to students of social and political theory and philosophy, women′s studies, sociology and jurisprudence.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Polity Press (23 Jun 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0745604323
  • ISBN-13: 978-0745604329
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 137,304 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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From the Back Cover

Carole Pateman is one of the foremost political theorists writing in English today. In this outstanding new work, she presents a major reinterpretation of modern political theory. She shows how standard discussions of social contract theory tell only half the story. The sexual contract which establishes modern patriarchy and the political right of men over women is never mentioned. In a wide–ranging and scholarly discussion, Pateman examines the significance of the political fictions of the original contract and the slave contract. She also offers a sweeping challenge to conventional understandings – of both left and right – of actual contracts in everyday life: the marriage contract, the employment contract, the prostitution contract and the new surrogacy contract. By bringing a feminist perspective to bear on the contradictions and paradoxes surrounding women and contract and the relation between the sexes, she is able to shed new light on the fundamental problems of freedom and subordination. The Sexual Contract will become a classic text in the politics of gender and will be of major interest to students of social and political theory and philosophy, women’s studies, sociology and jurisprudence.

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4.0 out of 5 stars Theory versus Reality 30 Dec 2013
By Neutral VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
Political theory is meant to describe political reality. Social contract theory is meant to be explanatory when, in practice, it is a description of the status quo. Hence Pateman's claim that 'the sexual contract is a repressed dimension of contract theory' is based on the misguided assumption that there is a social contract in the first place. In historical terms there is no social contract only a network of influence amongst powerful individuals who have established their dominance by physical force. In modern political thought contract theory is associated with Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau and, owing to the development of written constitutional forms of government, provides legislative support for the theory of individual rights. The feminist slant of Pateman's analysis merely adds ideological baggage to social contract theory as patriarchal rather than examining whether there is any historical basis for the theory.

Pateman argues 'social contract theory is conventionally presented as a story about freedom' in 'that the inhabitants of the state of nature exchange the insecurities of natural freedom for equal, civil freedom which is protected by the state' and replicated in other contracts such as employment and marriage. She claims, 'Political right as paternal right is inconsistent with modern civil society'. Other theories fail to mention 'Men's domination over women and the right of men to enjoy equal sexual access to women, is at issue in the making of the original pact. The social contract is a story of freedom; the sexual contract is a story of subjection'. She concludes that sons sought to overthrow paternal rule to gain their liberty and secure women for themselves. Historically, that is nonsense.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
25 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not much else like it 7 Oct 2002
By Christopher D. Wright - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is one of those singular works which takes up a kind of genealogy of the intellectual foundations of modern gender relations. Her critiques of the major Enlightenment political philosophers covers a lot of ground and does it well.
Implicit is a critique not just of the conservative and liberal tradition, but of the patriarchy contained within the Left as well. As usual, feminism provides some of the most sophisticated critique of Left organizational practice, not just in relation to women, but as a whole.
Obviously, one reviewer was looking for something a bit more right-wing. But her work her follows alongside her defense of ideas like a minimum income, which are not intended to 'make people work' (in a society where 'work' equals 'exploitation' and alienation, the struggle against the imposition of work is the struggle against inhuman conditions.)
Especially in relation to women, however, her position makes sense, since 'housework' is work, and work for capital at that, which goes unwaged. The struggle for a social wage is the struggle for recognition and against the imposition of the endless work which is capital's goal for women.
Some people may not like this book because they think that we have now found the best of all worlds, but the continued gendering of inequality, oppression and labor indicates that maybe its time for more fundamental transformations.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Resetting the parameters of Western Social Experience 14 July 2011
By Herbert L Calhoun - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This author follows the logic of "pure contractarianism" to its theoretical conclusion: which is that the assumptions built into Rousseau's, Locke's and Hobbes' original "Social contract" is either a "reciprocal agreement about rights and obligations between equals;" or (turning it on its head) is "a political fiction about one group (males) right to dominate another (females)."

First exposing this flaw and then following its implications to their philosophical and logical endpoints, Ms. Pateman shows that trying to ignore the flaws and contradictions implicit in existing "social contracts" used as the primary vehicle to frame Western concepts of freedom and equality (i.e., the U.S. Constitution, etc.) by giving them an "after-the-fact" progressive twist, or worse by glossing over their deeper meanings and implications, is to render them meaningful only to members of the dominating group (men), and their socially adjusted willingly duped females.

According to her, if we take at face value what demonstrably is recognizable as modern patriarchy and allow its implied exploitative meanings of dominance to act as a "stand-in" for reality, that is, as "the extant social contract," we are engaging in a dangerous and unnecessary form of self-delusion, a form that denies the rights and genuine freedoms of more than half the human population.

She shows how when women "go along-to-get-along," allowing the poisonous implications of the flawed model of human freedom to get played out in everyday American society and social experience, we end up with the societal contradictions that we see everyday, in which marriage arrangements, sexist employment contracts, etc. amount to little more than the "contracts" that exist between pimps and their street whores.

The upshot of the book is that by exposing the flaws, delusions and self-contradictory sexist implications built into the flawed versions of the "social contract" (as her compatriot Dr. Charles Mill's did with respect to race, in his "The Racial Contract"), Ms. Pateman is able to reset the parameters for the fundamental theoretical vehicle that frames Western social and political experience.

This treatise is cleanly if not always clearly written and is without a doubt the work of a seasoned Philosopher going about her daily business. I should have read it first before having read Charles Mill's the "Racial Contract" for it is clear that much of his work leans heavily on her work. But since I only learned about it through Mill's book, I had no choice but to read them in the order I received them. 1000 stars
3.0 out of 5 stars Very insightful 16 Oct 2013
By Brianne Van Treese - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I would have never purchased this book if it wasn't for my Women & Politics class.
I found it to be full of information that I was never taught in when in high school.
5.0 out of 5 stars For feminists and anti-feminists and apathetic people 28 Nov 2012
By theuserb - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Although I don't subscribe to most feminist theories myself, I found Pateman's work to be incredibly well reasoned, and very interesting to read. One of her most intriguing arguments is that the marriage contract implicitly binds the woman to the man, creating a relationship between a master and his servant. I like that she is careful enough to add disclaimers to many of her arguments, explaining that no, not all men are like this, no, not all men desire to be masters in their marriages. She doesn't use these disclaimers as outs though - they only add to the strength and realism to her reasoning. She demonstrates that although we cannot generalize the natures of men, we can analyze and criticize the obligations that our society's contractual language creates for women.

She builds on the work of other philosophers, so it would be worth reading this book in conjunction with other essays on feminism and/or on contracts. She writes very clearly, and although you have to pace yourself as you move through the book, you probably won't find yourself too confused or lost at any point. It's quite easy to follow her train of thought.
14 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must-read, non-political and sensible exploration... 9 July 1999
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book was assigned as part of a college course on Gender and Race in American Political Thought. This was the first such book I'd read that didn't rely on political cliches to make it's point. Pateman offers a sensible and attainable solution and offers a look at gender relations that isn't steeped in anger, but maintains an urgency. It's a must-read for anyone who thinks they know the answers. My hat is off to Pateman.
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