Sunday, April 27, 2008


Pateman, Carole. The Sexual Contract. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989.

this by now classic book by Pateman was a conscious pick. having heard, off and on, in various discussions, especially in connection with some of my recent papers, Sexual Contract, i expected, could provide a few corrective arguments. the discussion on the qualified triumph of feminism revolved, in the papers mentioned, around the fulcrum of the contemporary civil society. pateman's perspective, i presume, drives the colloquia out of this circumscription, for she founds her theses on the originary logics of civil society, the contract-theories. her attempt to undo the "most famous and influential political story" of modern times, nevertheless, is essentially a bleak one, almost cancelling all the 'civil' feminist claims and achievements as flawed and merely producing pale reflections of rightful men at their best. the blight begins with the myth of the original social contract of the seventeenth century europe: the myth that asks an exchange of the 'natural' freedom for the assurance of civil protection. pateman spots, and rightfully too, that the contract presupposes domination and subordination in this exchange. she works on the given, 'contract': "social life is nothing more than contracts between individuals." (59) on the vicarious foundation of the original 'civil' contract, actual contracts are made - those of employment, of prostitution, and of marriage. the historical heresy is that a reiteration of these contracts have resurrected the social contract and repressed vehemently the sexual dimensions of the original. the original contract is both social and sexual. in the course of the history of the european civil order, pateman traces a previleging of the narrative of the civil/the public/the masculine as against the corresponding antinomies, natural/the private/feminine resulting in the dissolution of one half of the story. the accepted interpretations of civil order as challenging patriarchal norms withstand analysis only insofar as patraiarchy is centred on its etymological essesntiality: 'rule of the fathers'. the father's authority over the sons is finished; sons move out to serve the state rather than the father; in place of Status, there now is a Contract. and the contract treats everyone as equals, thus resolving the strifes of the older order.
the book is a detailing therefore and thereon of how the contract "far from being opposed to patriarchy, is the means through which patriarchy is constituted." (12) Pateman identifies the newer order of patriarchy as a revised version concurrent with the myth of the social-sexual contract: the father is dissipated - teleogically, patriarchy is nomore a private 'father-driven' archy. patriarchy in its paternal denotation is dead - what is alive, well, and is accounting for the ill of the contemporary civil society is the newer order of fraternity or as she also calls 'fraternal patriarchy'. the sons who fly out of the shades of the father, to the wings of the apparatus of the state, constitute this fraternity.
the omission of woman in the discourses of the original contract, underlies these later actual contracts, and the individual in any contract is not a woman as woman. Pateman problematizes the field further in that even when woman is kept out of the contracts, fraternal patriarchy finds it incumbent on them to incorporate her into the contract as a subordinated subject, as say in the marriage contract. in deeming the marriage and the marriage contract, and in consequence the whole private sphere as 'politically irrelevant', half the original contract is ignored, as said earlier. but the inseperablity of this contract from the social/public/political counterpart opens the cork of newer potions into an already nebulous field of debates. pateman shows from this vantage point why and how the legal recognition in various judiciaries of the rapes by husbands been excruciatingly slow; she argues vehemently how even as prostitution is a "major capitalist industry"(17) it does not realise the consent of woman, to her client, as that of a 'free individual.' in order to consent to the contracts the individual has to be free, and having omitted woman from the category of the 'individual' in the original contract there is no more a chance that it shall happen so. that she is not an individual should reduce her to the level of not being good enough to make contracts, for a contract is made between two equals, and woman is 'naturally' unequal and therefore is outside the contracts. and most paradoxically, women is asked to, and must, enter into one contract, namely the mariage contract. "contract theorists [thus] simultaneously deny and presuppose that women can make contracts." (31) she surveys europe's classic scholarship in contracts, mainly rousseau, locke and hobbes, and holds them culpable for the alarming silence over why marriage contract was validated, even endorsed, when there was an evident fallacy involved. women in the time and space of the classic contract, that is the seventeenth century europe, were deemed naturally lower in nature than men; weak, less wise, and unqualified for politics or public. so, even when there are other ways in which a union between man and his natural subordinate could be established, why should classic contractarins hold that it shall be brought into being through a contract?
this insistence in one sense, spcialises the marriage contract. other contracts, say that of employment for instance, once made, transfer natural relationships to civil societal ones. the relaton of an employer with the worker is seen as a civil, not natural, relation; purely contractual. the curious thing about marriages is that it is not a contract of two 'individuals' but an individual and his 'natural subordinate'. social contracts involving women corrupt thus in the very inception because of this paradox that tags 'natural' into 'civil' orders, and sub/con -sequent relegative measures. in other words, declamations of freedom of woman in the newer civil order is framed by the meanings of patriarchalism, and therefore she is simultaneously free and not free. pateman pronounces that the balmy hogwash has already run neck-high and there isn't a way to wish it away, but the grand rejections within the liberal contractual politics that has eventuated in 'civil' - isation. pateman's eye for the sops of patriarchal myths for the feminist ends, and her consistency in perspective of the contractual nature of social relations bring her thesis loud and clear through the obscure chapters on european and american histories of contracts.

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