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The Radical Future of Liberal Feminism

Excerpts from "The Radical Future of Liberal Feminism"

By Zillah Eisenstein - Published by Longman, 1981.

"Patriarchy as a political structure seeks to control and subjugate women so that their possibilities for making choices about their sexuality, childrearing, mothering, loving, and laboring are curtailed. Patriarchy, as a system of oppression, recognizes the potential power of women and the actual power of men. Its purpose is to destroy woman's consciousness about her potential power, which derives from the necessity of society to reproduce itself. By trying to affect woman's consciousness and her life options, patriarchy protects the appropriation of women's sexuality, their reproductive capacities, and their labor by individual men and society as a whole." pages 14-15

"Adrienne Rich identifies the caretaking of the young and the old by women as institutional motherhood that "revives and renews all other institutions" and reflects the politics of patriarchy." p. 15

"The priorities of patriarchy are to keep the choices limited for women so that their role as mothers remains primary. " p. 16

"The biological definition of mother grasps only a small part of the meaning of motherhood in patriarchal society. Motherhood also involves the notion of woman as a caring, emotional, dependent being." p. 16

"If the system of patriarchy is not fully encompassed within the law, a legalistic definition of patriarchy is limited and insufficient. Changes in the law will not substantially alter or weaken the relations of power men derive from sexual hierarchy. The modernization of the law, or the liberalization of it, reflects a transition within patriarchy, instead of its demise. In this view it should be clear that feudal society was patriarchal and the transition to capitalism did not destroy patriarchy but only redefined it in liberal terms. Further changes in patriarchal law have reflected the transition for feudal to capitalist patriarchy." page 19

"In order to demystify patriarchy as a system of power and its use by particular economic modes, one needs to understand that patriarchy is a relatively autonomous system operating alongside the economic mode of society rather than simply derived from it. Neither is the mere instrument of the other, yet they are completely intertwined. In the transition from feudalism to capitalism, patriarchy changed in relation to the economic changes, but it also set the limits and structure of this change. Patriarchy alters itself in order to preserve itself, and these changes reflect real political struggles. This conception of patriarchy focuses on it s as a dynamically changing political system rather than a static one. the changes and processes one sees are part of the system of patriarchy and actually define it. They express its historical formulation. Patriarchy is no longer protected through a repressive legal system structured around the male as father as it once was. The redefinition of the father's power speaks to the changing nature of patriarchy, not to its erosion. These changes signal the presence of new modes of patriarchal control, the loss of former methods of control, and the modernization of patriarchal law. Women's struggles against patriarchal domination have been a part of this process, as we shall see." page 20

"The state formalizes the rule by men because the division of public and private life is at one and the same time a male/female distinction." p. 25

"What we shall find is that Locke differentiates between family and political rule in order to free the market from paternalist, aristocratic relations, rather than to free the family from paternal rule. He recognized that the new relations of bourgeois society require a new definition of patriarchal rule to replace the equation of God, the father, and the king. The politics of the family and the politics of the state, he will conclude, are not one and the same thing. It will be a conclusion rooted i the actual historical changes of seventeenth-century England as the home becomes distinguished from the market and the family from the state. This change will partially redefine the basis for the ideological distinction between the private and public worlds of male and female reality in particular liberal terms." p. 33

About 17th century society: "Most homes were still characterized by the production of necessary goods, whereas the market was an arena of the exchange." p. 37

"Locke has defined the liberal notion of freedom. "The great and chief end therefore, of Men's uniting into Commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the Preservation of their Property." " p. 40

"Although Lock had earlier distinguished between fatherhood and property, he now reconnects them in their particularly liberal patriarchal form. It is still fathers who will exercise power- this time through the specific control of the property line of inheritance and with it the definition of rationality. To the extent that rationality was a male prerogative in the seventeenth century, given the existing patriarchal religious and ideological views of woman, she was in reality excluded from the new radical bourgeois view of the individual on the basis of her sex and on the basis of her exclusion from the market.

The bourgeois system of property reasserts the patriarchal basis of the society by redefining the subjugation of woman in particularly bourgeois terms. Woman's subjection to man is reinforced by the relations of property and inheritance. Her definition as mother, both as childbearer and rearer, has no status within the new market values and yet she is utterly necessary to the functionings of society. Woman's activity in the begetting of children and the preparation of children for political life are both recognized by Locke. Nevertheless, these dimensions of women's lives have been relegated to the "private sphere" by liberal patriarchal ideology, and she is maintained and limited to this sphere by her exclusion from the market, which has become a new tool of patriarchal control. the married woman has no title to money or right to litigation.

The redefinition of patriarchal power within the family is based partially on the new distinctions being drawn between religion, civil society, the family, and the state. Paternal power within the family is not challenged by Locke." pp. 42-43



Suzanne MacNevin, Feminist Writer


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