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4.0 out of 5 stars Theory versus Reality, 30 Dec. 2013
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Sexual Contract (Sociology of Health and Illness Monographs) (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. Kings entered into matrimony for the wealth and prestige it brought, the role of the Queen was to produce offspring to continue the family line. To regard the marriage contract as politically irrelevant, as Pateman does, is a fundamental error.

Filmer claimed 'political power was paternal power and the procreative power of the father was the origin of political power'. This was nonsense, the King was King because of his primary position at the head of political influence within society, established and maintained by force. When Elizabeth the First succeeded her father she was no less of a monarch than him. Locke argued paternal and political power were not the same and that contract was the genesis of political right. Pateman claims there are no stories about 'the true origin of political right', suggesting the original contract was fraternal, i.e. made amongst men and based on the separation of civil fraternity and kinship. However, this overlooks the obvious inter-relations between kinfolk that exist in all societies. The history of the Papacy and the Ancien Regime are prime examples of particular families dominating all positions of power.

The idea of social contract requires the concept of consent. In Medieval times kings claimed to rule by Divine Right, an idea that was absorbed during the Protestant Reformation by kings who broke away from Papal rule. However, English history showed the King's power was not unlimited when King John was obliged to sign Magna Carta. Locke argued that political and paternal were distinct because they were built on different foundations. Rousseau adopted the same theme when he wrote, 'Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains'. In providing a critique of what she regards as patriarchy Pateman makes the fundamental error of judging history from a feminist viewpoint, instead of an objective one. The logic of feminist subjectivity can be found in the theology of Mary Daly which is characterised by caricaturing history as the history of the subjection of women and by claiming there should be a reversal of roles so that women rule men. Such thought fails to rise above the level of psychological disturbance or address political reality.

Women's role in history has not been one of continuous enjoyment but varied from society to society. Hence the claim that denial of rights was due to patriarchy is naive. Patriarchy is a convenient but inaccurate 'catch-all' phrase which fails to distinguish between culture and politics. Ultimately, society functioned as the rulers and the ruled. Amongst the ruled practices differed between classes. In most cases it was the need to educate the rulers (not the existence of male-dominated rules) that set the tone and context for relationships between the sexes. Thus when opposition from the working classes to the Contagious Diseases Acts developed they asked a lady of social standing, Josephine Butler, to lead their campaign. The cultural changes towards women were led by a combination of male rulers and females who sought to educate them. An examination of debates leading to changes in the law did not represent a diminution of patriarchy but a change of social values. Pateman mistakenly represents this as being a change in the form of men's domination of women. Pateman invents patriarchy as a method of providing a conspiratorial frame of reference against women in all cases.

Pateman argues prostitution controls women but ignores choices by prostitutes. She opines 'prostitution is an integral part of patriarchal capitalism' which downplays historic and contemporary prostitution in non-capitalist societies. The only place prostitution appears not to exist is in the ideal world of feminist lesbianism. Pateman misses the irony of quoting Wollstonecraft, Goldman and de Beauvoir, each of whom favoured uninhibited sex and were anti-marriage. The concept of a union of equals appears to have escaped her, notwithstanding the widespread cohabitation that exists in 'capitalist' societies. The same is true of surrogacy which may be permitted by law but cannot be correctly be described as 'Father-Right.....appearing in a new contractual form'. Pateman wants to re-write social contract theory in terms of political theory knowing that theory is per se a fiction. The better course is to discount it as political theory and re-write it as part of political and social history which is what it is. Flawed but worth reading. Four stars.
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The Sexual Contract (Sociology of Health and Illness Monographs)
The Sexual Contract (Sociology of Health and Illness Monographs) by Carole Pateman (Paperback - 23 Jun. 1988)
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