Home » Uncategorized » Thoughts on The Sexual Contract, chapter 1 ps. 1-7

Thoughts on The Sexual Contract, chapter 1 ps. 1-7

This book was written by Carole Pateman, and I highly recommend it if you’re interested in feminist politics and philosophy. I’m only into chapter 1 right now and I love it already. It’s also not available free online (trust me, I looked).

“The original contract is a sexual-social pact, but the story of the sexual contract has been repressed. Standard accounts of social contract theory do not discuss the whole story and contemporary contract theorists give no indication that half the agreement is missing. The story of the sexual contract is also about the genesis of political right, and explains why exercise of the right is legitimate — but this story is about political right as patriarchal right or sex-right, the power that men exercise over women. The missing half of the story tells how a specifically modern form of patriarchy is established. The new civil society created through the original contract is a patriarchal social order.

Social contract theory is conventionally presented as a story about freedom. One interpretation of the original contract is that the inhabitants of the state of nature exchange the insecurities of natural freedom for equal, civic freedom which is protected by the state. In civil society freedom is universal; all adults enjoy the same civil standing and can exercise their freedom by, as it were, replicating the original contract when, for example, they enter into the employment contract or the marriage contract.

Another interpretation, which takes into account conjectural histories of the state of nature in the classic texts, is that freedom is won by sons who cast off their natural subjection to their fathers and replace paternal rule by civil government. Political right as paternal right is inconsistent with modern civil society. In this version of the story, civil society is created through the original contract after paternal rule — or patriarchy — is overthrown. The new civil order, therefore, appears to be anti-patriarchal or post-patriarchal. Civil society is created through contract so that contract and patriarchy appear to be irrevocably opposed.

These familiar readings of the classic stories fail to mention that a good deal more than freedom is at stake. Men’s dominance over women, and the right of men to enjoy 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. The original contract constitutes both freedom and domination. Men’s freedom and women’s subjection are created through the original contract — and the character of civil freedom cannot be understood without the missing half of the story that reveals how men’s patriarchal right over women is established through contract. Civil freedom is not universal. Civil freedom is a masculine attribute and depends upon patriarchal right. The sons overturn paternal rule not merely to gain their liberty but to secure women for themselves. Their success in this endeavour is chronicled in the story of the sexual contract. The original pact is a sexual as well as a social contract: it is sexual in the sense of patriarchal — that is, the contract establishes men’s political right over women — and also sexual in the sense of establishing orderly access by men to women’s bodies. The original contract creates what I shall call, following Adrienne Rich, ‘the law of male sex-right’. Contract is far from being opposed to patriarchy; contract is the means through which modern patriarchy is constituted.”

Immediately, Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis came to mind. You know, the Oedipal complex where he stated that male children seek to overthrow their fathers because they are attracted to and want to possess their mothers; unsuccessful resolution of this complex leads to neurosis, pedophilia, and homosexuality. Then there was the Elektra complex, among other theories. Only his theories were debunked – though not completely eradicated from men’s prejudices towards women. But with Pateman’s analysis we can say that the overthrow of the father was a collective, political endeavor, not an individualistic one. And it was successful, at least in the West. Hence why feminists state even secular men are misogynists; they’ve only removed God from the hierarchy of God > Man > Woman. It makes even more sense considering God not only as male but as the Father above all fathers. Another difference is that homosexuality doesn’t result from unsuccessful resolution of complexes or an interruption of psychological development, nor is it in any way similar to pedophilia, but that gay male supremacy is still male supremacy (x, x)

“One reason why political theorists so rarely notice that half the story of the original contract is missing, or that civil society is patriarchal, is that ‘patriarchy’ is usually interpreted patriarchally as paternal rule (the literal meaning of the term). So, for example, in the standard reading of the theoretical battle in the seventeenth century between the patriarchalists and social contract theorists, patriarchy is assumed to refer only to paternal right. Sir Robert Filmer claimed that political power was paternal power and that the procreative power of the father was the origin of political right. Locke and his fellow contract theorists insisted that paternal and political power were not the same and that contract was the genesis of political right. The contract theorists were victorious on this point; the standard interpretation is on firm ground — as far as it goes. Once more, a crucial portion of the story is missing. The true origin of political right is overlooked in this interpretation; no stories are told about its genesis (I attempt to remedy the omission in chapter 4). Political right originates in sex-right or conjugal right. Paternal right is only one, and not the original, dimension of patriarchal power. A man’s power as a father comes after he has exercised the patriarchal right of a man (a husband) over a woman (wife). The contract theorists had no wish to challenge the original patriarchal right in their onslaught on paternal right. Instead, they incorporated conjugal right into their theories and, in so doing, transformed the law of male sex-right into its modern contractual form. Patriarchy ceased to be paternal long ago. Modern civil society is not structured by kinship and the power of fathers; in the modern world, women are subordinated to men as men, or to men as a fraternity. The original contract takes place after the political defeat of the father and creates modern fraternal patriarchy.

Another reason for the omission of the story of the sexual contract is that conventional approaches to the classic texts, whether those of mainstream political theorists or their socialist critics, give a misleading picture of a distinctive feature of the civil society created through the original pact. Patriarchal civil society is divided into two spheres, but attention is directed to one sphere only. The story of the social contract is treated as an account of the creation of the public sphere of civil freedom. The other, private , sphere is not seen as politically relevant. Marriage and the marriage contract are, therefore, also deemed politically irrelevant. To ignore the marriage contract is to ignore half the original contract. In the classic texts, as I shall show in some detail, the sexual contract is displaced onto the marriage contract. The displacement creates a difficulty in retrieving and recounting the lost story. All too easily, the impression can be given that the sexual contract and the social contract are two separate, albeit related, contracts, and that the sexual contract concerns the private sphere. Patriarchy then appears to have no relevance to the public world. On the contrary, patriarchal right extends throughout civil society. The employment contract and (what I shall call) the prostitution contract, both of which are entered into in the public, capitalist market, uphold men’s right as firmly as the marriage contract. The two spheres of civil society are at once separate and inseparable. The public realm cannot be fully understood in the absence of the private sphere, and, similarly, the meaning of the original contract is misinterpreted without both, mutually dependent, halves of the story. Civil freedom depends on patriarchal right.”

The feminist dictum,”The personal is political” is relevant here. Marriage and prostitution are alike in a way, if you ignore the privilege married women have over prostituted women, who are proxies for their husband’s outsourcing of sexual desire. Both involve the enforcement of the sexual contract by the state, which translates to the regulation of female bodies for men’s domestic/sexual use. Even when women entered the workforce, it was implicit that they acquiesce to sexual harassment as part of their ‘job.’ That’s why the sexual harassment laws were created in the first place.

“Some knowledge of the story of the sexual contract helps explain why singular problems arise about contracts to which women are a party. The problems are never mentioned in most discussions of the classic texts or by contemporary contract theorists. Feminists have been pointing out the pecularities of the marriage contract for at least a century and a half, but to no avail. The standard commentaries on the classic stories of the original contract do not usually mention that women are excluded from the original pact. Men make the original contract. The device of the state of nature is used to explain why, given the characteristics of the inhabitants of the natural condition, entry into the original contract is a rational act. The crucial point that is omitted is that the inhabitants are sexually differentiated and, for all the classic writers (excepts Hobbes), a difference in rationality follows from natural sexual difference. Commentaries on the texts gloss over the fact that the classic theorists construct a patriarchal account of masculinity and femininity, of what it is to be men and women. Only masculine beings are endowed with the attributes and capacities necessary to enter into contracts, the most important of which is ownership of property in the person; only men, that is to say, are ‘individuals.’

In the natural condition ‘all men are born free’ and are equal to each other; they are ‘individuals’. This presupposition of contract doctrine generates a profound problem: how in such a condition can the government of one man by another ever be legitimate; how can political right exist? Only one answer is possible without denying the initial assumption of freedom and equality. The relationship must arise through agreement and, for reasons which I shall explore in chapter 3, contract is seen as the paradigm of free agreement. But women are not born free; women have no natural freedom. The classic pictures of the state of nature also contain and order of subjection – between men and women. With the exception of Hobbes, the classic theorists claim that women naturally lack the attributes and capacities of ‘individuals’. Sexual difference is political difference; sexual difference is the difference between freedom and subjection. Women are not party to the original contract through which men transform their natural freedom into the security of civil freedom. Women are the subject of the contract. The (sexual) contract is the vehicle through which men transform their natural right over women into the security of civil patriarchal right. But if women have no part in the original contract, if they can have no part, why do the classic social contract theorists (again with the exception of Hobbes) make marriage and the marriage contract part of the natural condition? How can beings who lack the capacities to make contracts nevertheless be supposed always to enter into this contract? Why, moreover, do all the classic theorists (including Hobbes) insist that, in civil society, women not only can but must enter into the marriage contract?”

Men are the default humans, individuals; they have ‘personhood’ reinforced by societal acknowledgement. We didn’t have any Founding Mothers in the U.S. for a reason. Masculine values are the norm to which females must adhere to.

“Despite many legal reforms and wider changes in the social position of women, we still do not have the same civil standing as men, yet this central political fact about our societies has rarely entered into contemporary discussions of contract theory and the practice of contract. Husbands no longer enjoy the extensive right over their wives that they possessed in the mid-nineteenth century when wives had the legal standing of property. But, in the 1980s, this aspect of conjugal subjection lingers on in legal jurisdictions that still refuse to admit any limitation to a husband’s access to his wife’s body and so deny that rape is possible within marriage. A common response is to dismiss this matter as of no importance to political theorists and political activists. The possibility that women’s standing in marriage may reflect much deeper problems about women and contract, or that the structure of the marriage contract may be very similar to other contracts, is thereby also dismissed from consideration. The refusal to admit that marital domination is politically significant obviates the need to consider whether there is any connection between the marriage contract and other contracts involving women.

Suprisingly little attention has been given to the connection between the original contract – which is generally agreed to be a political fiction – and actual contracts. The social contract, so the story goes, creates a society in which individuals can make contracts secure in the knowledge that their actions are regulated by civil law and that, if necessarey, the state will enforce their agreements. Actual contracts thus appear to exemplify the freedom that individuals exercise when they make the original pact. According to contemporary contract theorists, social conditions are such that it is always reaonable for individuals to exercise their freedom and enter into the marriage contract or employment contract or even, according to some classic and contemporary writers, a (civil) slave contract. Another way of reading the story (as Rousseau saw) is that the social contract enables idnividuals voluntarily to subject themselves to the state and civil law; freedom becomes obedience and, in exchange, protection is provided. On this reading, the actual contracts of everyday life also mirror the original contract, but now they involve an exchange of obedience for protection; they create what I shall call civil mastery and civil subordination.”

It has been men creating the laws and institutions to condition people into heteronormativity, xenophobia, religiousity and other forms of bigotry. In the West it has been white men, and many of the Founding Fathers were slave owners. Abraham Lincoln is said to be a great emancipator, but he only wanted to keep the peace. Among the arguments in support of slavery are the instances in which some slaves were said to have consented, were treated well, and wanted to return to or “choose” slavery after freedom was granted in an uncertain future. This reinforced the belief that black people were suited for servile roles. Coincidentally, similar arguments are given in support of the sex industry, where men bribe women into having sex with them. Yet whether slavery is wrong because of involuntariness, or because of treating people as things, the reality of prostituted women (a form of sexual slavery) fulfills either, or both of these criteria. With the penis used as a weapon of domination by males over females, various forms of rape (unwanted sex) are normalized.

“If historical slavery was wrong because it was involuntary, then the current system of voluntarily renting other people would be on a different moral footing—but then so would a system of voluntary contractual ownership of other people. If, on the other hand, slavery was wrong—regardless of it being voluntary or involuntary—because it treated persons as things, then the whole current system of renting other people in the employment contract is called into question.”

— David Ellerman, “Why was Slavery Wrong? Involuntariness or Treating Persons as Things?”

Changing laws does not change people’s bigoted views and can in fact reinforce them under the pretext of “freedom” and “equality for all.” Note that slavery was outlawed, but with the exception of prisons; slavery is legal in prisons. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution says:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Except as punishment for crime. To say nothing of segregation, the “white rush,” and gentrification. And white people claim that the black and Latino men in prison are really criminals, so the solution is to arrest white criminals. What about those arrested for possession of marijuana? What about the fact that black and Latino men get stopped and frisked, or stopped (in their cars) and questioned by cops just for not being white? That speaks to me not as coming from a legitimate suspicion or concern of criminal activity, but of racism.


2 thoughts on “Thoughts on The Sexual Contract, chapter 1 ps. 1-7

  1. Pingback: Gender essentialism in the occult | Your god is a fraud

  2. Pingback: Why sex should not be work | Your social constructs are showing

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