Feminist Interpretations of John Locke
Edited by Nancy J. Hirschmann, and Edited by Kirstie M. McClure
Feminist Interpretations of John Locke
Edited by Nancy J. Hirschmann, and Edited by Kirstie M. McClureThis collection considers one of the most important figures of the modern canon of political philosophy, John Locke. A physician by training and profession, Locke not only wrote one of the most important and well-known treatises of the modern canon, but also made important contributions in the areas of seventeenth-century law and public policy, epistemology, philosophy of language, religion, and economics.
- Table of Contents
- Sample Chapters
There has been a long-standing debate in feminist scholarship on Locke as to whether this early founder of modern liberal thought was a strong feminist or whether he ushered in a new, and uniquely modern, form of sexism. The essays grapple with this controversy but also move beyond it to the meaning of gender, the status of femininity and masculinity, and how these affect Locke’s construction of the state and law.
The volume opens with three of the early “classic” feminist essays on Locke and follows them with reflective essays by their original authors that engage Locke with issues of globalization and international justice. Other essays examine Locke’s midwifery notes, his treatise on education, his writings on Christianity, his contributions to poor-law policy, his economic writings, and his Essay Concerning Human Understanding. In addition to essays by leading feminist theorists, the volume also includes essays by some leading Locke scholars for whom gender is not normally a primary focus, so that the volume should speak to a wide range of scholarly interests and concerns.
Besides the editors, the contributors are Teresa Brennan, Melissa Butler, Terrell Carver, Carole Pateman, Carol Pech, Gordon Schochet, Mary Lyndon Shanley, Jeremy Waldron, Joanne Wright, and Linda Zerilli.
Nancy J. Hirschmann is R. Jean Brownlee Endowed Term Professor and Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania.
Kirstie M. McClure is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Introduction: Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye
Nancy J. Hirschmann and Kirstie M. McClure
1. Marriage Contract and Social Contract in Seventeenth-Century English Political Thought
Mary Lyndon Shanley
Afterword: Equality, Liberty, and Marriage Contracts
Mary Lyndon Shanley
2. “Mere Auxiliaries to the Commonwealth”: Women and the Origins of Liberalism
Teresa Brennan and Carole Pateman
Afterword: Mere Auxiliaries to the Commonwealth in an Age of Globalization
Teresa Brennan and Carole Pateman
3. Early Liberal Roots of Feminism: John Locke’s Attack on Patriarchy
Afterword: Roots and Shoots—Revisiting Locke’s Attack on Patriarchy
4. Models of Politics and the Place of Women in Locke’s Political Thought
5. Intersectionality Before Intersectionality Was Cool: The Importance of Class to Feminist Interpretations of Locke
Nancy J. Hirschmann
6. Gender and Narrative in Locke’s Two Treatises of Government
7. Recovering Locke’s Midwifery Notes
Joanne H. Wright
8. Locke, Adam, and Eve
9. “His Nuts for a Piece of Metal”: Fetishism in the Monetary Writings of John Locke
10. Philosophy’s Gaudy Dress: Fantasy and Rhetoric in the Lockean Social Contract
Linda K. Zerilli
Notes on Contributors
Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye
Nancy J. Hirschmann and Kirstie M. McClure
If the works which form the basis of our political and philosophical heritage are to continue to be relevant in a world in which the unequal position of women is being radically challenged, we must be able to recognize which of their assumptions and conclusions are inherently connected with the idea that the sexes are, and should be, fundamentally equal.
—Susan Okin, 1979
When Okin penned these words in Women in Western Political Thought, she was not referring specifically to Locke, but clearly she could have been. In the short but intense history of modern feminist thought, John Locke has come to figure prominently. Consideration of such canonical thinkers of the Western tradition is one of the two major strains that has informed feminist political theory and philosophy since the 1960s—Marxist feminism being the other—and feminist works such as Okin’s, Jean Elshtains’s Public Man, Private Woman, Lorenne Clark and Lynda Lange’s Sexism of Social and Political Theory, and Zillah Eisenstein’s Radical Future of Liberal Feminism opened the intellectual enterprise of political philosophy and theory to the explicit consideration of gender. Where, after all, were all the women in the history of political thought? These feminists not only challenged accepted readings of canonical texts by posing questions that had previously been unthought, they challenged the very disciplines of political theory and philosophy by calling into question the dominant paradigms of what was considered “acceptable” inquiry. Whether as a target or as a resource for feminist critique, Locke soon became an important touchstone for such analyses, and was the subject of some of the earliest articles published in the field of feminist political thought as well, three of which are reprinted here.
Locke’s special prominence may be due to his linkage to historical liberalism, which, as Gordon Schochet argues in Chapter 4, provided a language of rights and individuality that early liberal feminists found attractive and important to their struggles for legitimacy within both the academy and political society more generally. This same language, of course, was regarded by early socialist feminists as a distinctly modern vehicle of patriarchal oppression, and this division among feminists is itself a key source of continuing engagement. But beyond the contemporary political dilemmas that inflect the field, Locke may hold a particular fascination for feminist political theorists and philosophers precisely because his stance on sexual equality is so ambiguous. Unlike Aristotle and Kant, who are seen as decidedly and perhaps unequivocally sexist, Locke seems to advocate both sexual equality and the subordination of women to men. This ambiguity has provided fertile ground for feminist analysis, debate, contention, and interpretation, and ensured the centrality of Locke’s work to feminist efforts to reread the canon.
Locke’s ambiguity on gender functions on a number of levels and touches a number of issues central to feminist critiques, such as the question of human nature, the meaning of political concepts such as rights and freedom, and the structure and operation of his social contract, as well as the more obvious matter of whether authority in the family is patriarchal. For instance, it might be objected that Okin sells Locke short when she states categorically that in the Western canon of political theory, the human nature “described and discovered by philosophers such as Aristotle, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Locke, Rousseau, Hegel, and many others, is intended to refer to only male human nature,” and suggests that they did not perceive “the rights and needs that they have considered humanness to entail . . . as applicable to the female half of the human race.” Others have argued that Locke may well have included women in his thoughts on a number of issues relating to the nature of men and women, such as reason, education, and even property. Melissa Butler, one of the first scholars to publish a feminist analysis of Locke, placed at the center of her argument the fact that he considered women entirely capable of reason and entitled to an education equal to that of their brothers. This is a contention that others since Butler have questioned, and even rejected, but the persistence of the debate suggests the degree to which Locke remains ambiguous on this question; and as a number of essays in the present volume suggest, such ambiguity has far-reaching implications for his political philosophy.
Okin is more on target with Locke when she comments that “the most important factor influencing the philosophers’ conceptions of, and arguments about, women has been the view that each of them held concerning the family” (9). But whereas she is correct that Plato, Aristotle, and Rousseau, at least, deemed women’s role in the family as unilaterally subordinate to men, and reduced that role to “their sexual, procreative, and child-rearing functions within it” (9), Locke’s construction of women’s place in the family is, once again, more ambiguous. On the one hand, as part of his refutation of Filmer, Locke explicitly acknowledges women as the equals of men in the family. As various contributors to the present volume note, Locke grants women rights of contract in marriage, including the right to negotiate the terms of such contracts in matters of childcare, custody, and divorce (though the welfare of children put certain limits on what could be negotiated in the latter two matters). He also acknowledges women’s rights to medicinal alleviation of the pain of childbirth, despite biblical prophecy of pain and sorrow; some control of property and possibly rights of inheritance; and a shared authority, with men, over their children, who owe their mothers as well as their fathers equal respect and obedience. Though this may hardly be the model of contemporary egalitarian marriage (a standard the majority of contemporary marriages fail to achieve, it might be added), it is certainly a relatively “enlightened” view of women’s abilities and status compared to a number of Locke’s contemporaries, as Schochet suggests (although, he also notes, Locke is admittedly less progressive than others among his contemporaries). It is this relative equality, however, not to mention Locke’s place between those more and less progressive contemporaries, that gives rise to the charge of ambiguity and fuels continuing feminist debates over Locke.
On the other hand, as many contributors to this volume also note, Locke’s works are also marked by passages that point in the opposite direction. He does grant men ultimate authority over common concerns in the family, and the final word in disputes, because they are “abler and stronger,” and notes, almost reluctantly, “a foundation in nature” for women’s subjection and inferiority to husbands in the family. Further, he intimates a lack of control over property and a denial of many rights of property and inheritance, and aside from a few gestures toward Elizabeth I, he nowhere suggests that women should be participants in politics, even as voters, much less as agents of state power.
These ambiguities make Locke a philosophically intriguing, intellectually engaging, and politically infuriating resource for “re-reading the canon.” Hence feminist interpretations of Locke, certainly more than readings of most other canonical figures, diverge widely on the question of Locke’s views on women, and therefore his accessibility and usefulness to contemporary feminists. Some scholars excoriate him, relatively straightforwardly, as just another patriarchal political theorist, while others view him, almost equally straightforwardly, as a liberal feminist. Between these two tendencies, however—both of which are represented, in varying degrees, in this book—lie a variety of newer re-readings that recognize the intellectual and theoretical power of ambiguity. Such perspectives are less invested in creating definitive answers and more inclined to deepening and complicating the questions that we ask, less likely to provide critical closure to perennial puzzles of Lockean and feminist scholarship and more likely to open those puzzles to new angles of vision, as well as, perhaps, confusion. Locke’s ambiguity lends itself particularly well to such new kinds of reading and new ways of undertaking feminist analysis, even as Locke’s work continues to be relevant to more conventionally framed modes of feminist interpretation and critique.
Rereading the Canon, Rereading Locke
The theme of “re-reading” that characterizes the volumes in this series is expressed here on a variety of levels and in a number of complementary ways. In the most obvious sense, Locke allows us to reread how “the canon” is defined. Specifically, Locke differs from a number of other canonical figures included in this series in that his contemporary currency is preeminently framed as that of a political theorist rather than a philosopher. As Joanne Wright notes in Chapter 7, Locke trained at Oxford as a physician—in large part because he had a certain degree of antipathy toward Aristotle, who was the major focus of philosophical study at Oxford in the seventeenth century. And as Locke’s biographers note, it was this training as a physician that eventually led to the writings for which he is so famous. After saving the life of Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, later the Earl of Shaftsbury, he became his personal physician. This position served as Locke’s entrée into the world of politics and political theory, as Shaftsbury involved Locke in writing position papers and advising him on matters of political intrigue and the controversies of the day.
This is not, of course, to downplay the significance of the Oxford philosophical curriculum for Locke’s intellectual development, nor is it to disregard his teaching duties at that institution in the 1660s as Censor in Moral Philosophy. Certainly, anyone who reads Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding knows that Locke is a more than capable philosopher, and Linda Zerilli’s chapter in particular demonstrates the philosophical dexterity that Locke exhibits both in his account of language and in his related theorization of “the subject.” Similarly, Jeremy Waldron’s chapter on Locke’s views of Christianity demonstrates Locke’s close attention to theology and his careful use of scriptural evidence in his critique of patriarchal authority. Locke’s corpus of writings, however, extends beyond metaphysics and epistemology, and Carol Pech’s (Chapter 9) and Nancy Hirschmann’s (Chapter 5) considerations of his various economic writings attest to his interest in finance, economics, and public policy. But Locke’s political writings are what make Locke stand out in the canon, and it is that literature to which feminists have most often attended. Early works in feminist political thought posited Locke as a key canonical figure for feminist analysis precisely because of the apparent contrast between the liberal politics of freedom and equality that informed his theory of the social contract and his seeming acquiescence in a conventional gender hierarchy. As a consequence, some of the earliest articles in feminist political theory, reprinted here, by Mary Lyndon Shanley (Chapter 1), Carole Pateman and Teresa Brennan (Chapter 2), and Melissa Butler (Chapter 3) took Locke as an appropriate focus for the project of bringing women into the canon of explicitly political theory.
Yet despite the fact that political theorists are more likely to attend to Locke than philosophers are, the approach we have taken in this volume to “re-reading” Locke is strongly interdisciplinary. We have included historical as well as philosophical approaches, approaches that draw on liberal, democratic, and postmodern theoretical frameworks, to pursue topics ranging from religion to midwifery to masculinity. Moreover, the questions raised by our contributors about Locke’s various writings extend the boundaries of both the canon and feminist scholarship. For the kinds of questions that are traditionally asked in canonical study are dramatically expanded, shifted, and opened up to acknowledge that the philosophical, medical, economic, theological, financial, and public policy issues with which Locke concerned himself are intimately tied to the “mainstream” political questions that Locke asks in his most familiar texts. Locke is clearly, from a feminist perspective, intensely political even when he ostensibly seeks not to be.
Hence a second way in which the chapters in this book reread the canon is to engage Lockean texts that feminists and nonfeminists alike have too often neglected. Whereas the Two Treatises of Government are generally considered as Locke’s single “canonical” text—the one taught in most survey classes in political theory and political philosophy—our contributors consider the less frequented texts to be no less important to defining Locke’s status in the canon, and to rereading the meaning of his political thought. Thus Linda Zerilli engages Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Jeremy Waldron his letters on toleration and other religious writings, Joanne Wright his letters offering advice on pregnancy, Carol Pech his works on money, and Nancy Hirschmann his writings on the Poor Law. These and other essays recur as well to his early manuscripts on natural law, to his writings on education, and to his posthumously published Of the Conduct of the Understanding. This diversity of texts attests to the diversity of Locke’s interests, concerns, and writings, as well as to the diversity of approaches and concerns pursued by our contributors, but the book as a whole operates within the context of, and with a sensitivity to, the intense involvement Locke had in political questions and issues.
A third way in which this collection rereads both Locke and the canon is much more literal. We open with reprints of three classic feminist analyses of Locke, followed by “responses” written by the original authors. These articles include Melissa Butler’s “The Early Liberal Roots of Feminism” (arguably the first publication in feminist canonical analysis published in the American Political Science Review), Mary Lyndon Shanley’s “Marriage Contract and Social Contract in Seventeenth Century English Political Thought,” and Teresa Brennan and Carole Pateman’s “‘Mere Auxiliaries to the Commonwealth’: Women and the Origins of Liberalism.” Contemporaneous with the book-length works noted earlier, these three articles broke new ground in political science and political philosophy in the decades of the 1970s and 1980s, taking up key questions of where women fit into the history of political theory within the work of a political philosopher who devoted relatively little direct attention to women. In contrast to, say, Rousseau, or Mill, or even Plato, all of whom explicitly theorized about women, Locke’s comments on women are oblique, made almost in passing. Yet these early articles demonstrated that gender could be readily excavated from Locke’s writings, and that he had extremely important contributions to make on the matter. Shanley and Butler were fairly complimentary to Locke, maintaining that his arguments held great feminist promise, whereas Brennan and Pateman were much more critical of his patriarchalism and pessimistic about his views. But all three articles transformed feminist analysis of canonical thought and allowed us to look for gender where there was (as Locke said about consent to the social contract), “no Expressions of it at all.”
In a sense, these articles are themselves part of an emerging “canon” of feminist political theory and philosophy, a canon that is here itself reread. Specifically, these three articles are retrospectively engaged by their authors, as Shanley, Butler, and Brennan and Pateman have offered us contemporary rereadings of their own original arguments. In each of these pieces, the authors reflect on how their views have changed—or not—in light of the research and writing that they have done in the roughly thirty years since publishing their original articles. These rethinkings and revisitings provide scholars of Locke’s thought, both feminist and otherwise, with a broad and robust perspective on the trajectory of feminist political thought over the past quarter century. But they also offer unique insights into how feminist writings on Locke have developed over the years with the discovery and appropriation of diverse methodological tools, intellectual frameworks, and scholarly approaches to the history of political thought.
Power, Equality, and Locke
These reprints and their contemporary “updates” set the stage for the rest of the book’s reconsideration, reconstruction, and rereading of the Lockean texts. Indeed, the three original articles are frequent touchstones for many of the other chapters in this book, and they are thus “re-read” by the other contributors to feed further “re-readings” of Locke. The themes and questions raised by these various papers revolve around three broad topics: power, equality, and gender. The question of power, it should be said, extends considerably beyond the issue of whether Locke considered women to be equal to men or inferior, on which, as we have already noted, Locke is generally ambiguous. Rather, it pertains to the construction of Enlightenment categories of thought and to a range of political concepts that are central to contemporary politics but which gained their salience during the seventeenth century. In the history of political thought, of course, Locke is often associated with the concept of freedom. Regarded by many as the quintessential liberal contract theorist, his claims of natural freedom ground the idea—much more consistently and recognizably to modern sensibilities than his predecessor Hobbes—that governmental legitimacy can be founded only on individual choice. The natural partner to freedom, viz. equality, is in Locke’s work seen as a secondary value. Defined principally as an equality of right rather than of, say, wealth or strength, equality is somewhat derivative of freedom, which is taken as the prior value. Yet when considering Locke on gender, equality becomes a much more salient ideal, for when we focus on that concept, issues concerning power appear more prominently. In particular, feminists ask two questions: What is the limit of men’s power over women? And how much power do women really have? The former question involves not merely the family, which is the most obvious locus of men’s power over women, as Brennan and Pateman, as well as Schochet, argue, but religion and doctrine, including scriptural interpretation, as Waldron suggests, economic policy, as Carol Pech and Hirschmann both reveal, and the definition of identity and the construction of meaning, as Zerilli and Carver both discuss.
The latter question, of how much power women really have, is, of course, intimately tied to the former, of men’s power over women, for women had power in the family, as Shanley and Butler both maintain, though the case for women’s power in other realms is less clear. However, Schochet claims in this volume that although Locke “was not an egalitarian on any grounds, hardly least among them, sexual,” Locke’s theory nonetheless “considerably widened the category of the political person even though it retained the traditional restriction of that status to males.” Schochet argues that Locke’s real contribution to feminism lies in the transition he marks from the idea of status as naturalistically given to that of status as conventionally created. In this, Locke generated “the theoretical possibility of full political membership for women,” even if he did not himself extend his arguments that far. In effect, although in practical terms “women were no more accorded civil status by . . . Locke than they were by Filmer,” Locke’s focus on contract and consent made possible the reconceptualization of women’s political status as voluntary members of the polity, as agents who could both choose their political affiliations and express claims based in individual rights.
Along significantly parallel lines, but with a different starting point, Jeremy Waldron claims that Locke was an “equality radical.” According to him, those who “read Locke as someone who pretended to believe in equality, but who was really in favor of massive inequality between classes and between the sexes” have little standing, because “there was no particular advantage to Locke” in such duplicity. Waldron thus asks “why Locke did not follow Samuel Pufendorf and his own friend James Tyrrell in making the exclusion of women explicit,” and considers the feminist failure to recognize the strong egalitiarian implications of such indicators in Locke’s theory as unjust to Locke. As Waldron notes, however, “it is one thing to articulate a premise; it’s another thing to hold fast to it, in the detail of one’s social and political thinking.” And of course Locke, the strong opponent of slavery in chapter 5 of the Second Treatise, was a stockholder in the Royal African Trade Company, which was a major player in the emerging slave trade of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Locke is a man of apparent contradictions. Those contradictions, as Schochet notes, may be more a function of silence than of words; but it remains possible that Locke’s reticence on issues of both gender and race suggests not sympathy to egalitarian claims, but something else entirely.
In this context, Schochet as well as Hirschmann proffer rather more critical views. Albeit in different terms, both suggest that regardless of Locke’s overt commitments, or lack thereof, to equality, the scope of his egalitarianism was severely constrained by the framework of his project. Previous critics such as Pateman and Brennan, of course, contended not that Locke was consciously duplicitious, but rather that his initial premises are often undermined and thwarted by the subsequent development of his argument. Certainly all texts hold meanings and contradictions that the writer did not intend, but on the issue of Lockean equality, it appears that the jury remains divided.
Rereading Gender, Rereading Feminism
The question of intent, however, is complicated by the notion that women’s power, as Zerilli, Carver, and Pech particularly suggest, is to a significant extent derived from the subversive disruption that women’s presence places on the masculine landscape. This disruption not only provides feminists with a powerful tool for rereading Locke, but may be linked to the aforementioned ambiguity Locke displays on gender. “The linguistic turn” is thought by some to have already become passé, but feminism requires us to acknowledge the importance of language, of the mental and social construction and representation of what we observe, in constructing the social categories of meaning and understanding. For gender is a key such category. Locke’s emphasis on “the strictly conventional character of language,” as Zerilli suggests, implies a placement of individuals, as gendered beings, in relation to things, and moreover, ensures that the relationship itself both forms and reflects the meaning of those things: “the psychological relation of language to world” indicates the duality of reflection and construction, and suggests that language both produces the meaning of what we observe and is fed and informed by that observation. Such a duality marks the ambiguity of gender in Locke’s thought. It is one’s placement within the symbolic gendered economy that affects one’s understanding, use, and deployment of language, one’s entrance into the symbolic economy of representation.
The notion Zerilli puts forth that, for Locke, “words take on the force of objects, they create sensations which give rise in the subject to Ideas whose connection to reality is in question” indeed might make Locke sound kin to Judith Butler. At the same time, it returns us to Waldron’s question of intent: Did Locke recognize the disruptive power of gender? Did he try to repress it by granting women some measure of recognition, thus relieving systemic pressure on epistemology and language without seriously undermining patriarchal culture? Most likely not, on both accounts. But these latter questions reveal that the theme of power intersects with a second theme, namely the meaning of gender. Most essays in the Re-reading the Canon series, like feminist writings more generally, take “women” as a term that denotes a particular social category that coheres with body type, location and role in the institution of the family, and a primarily reproductive heterosexuality. Thus the conceptualization of gender offered by most analysts is the quintessentially modernist one of the formal roles that women and men have in the family; gender is conceived as a socially constructed social role, in contrast to sex, which is a matter of bodies and biology. This conception of gender, however, intersects with the meaning of women in feminist analysis to narrow the scope of relevant analysis and forestall certain kinds of questions and inquiries to the point where “gender” is, as Carver complains, “a synonym for women.”
Indeed, Carver carries his expansion of gender analysis further to address issues of masculinity. Carver suggests that there is both a “covert” and “overt” gender discourse at work in Locke, and that when Locke appears to be gender neutral, a covert gendering is nevertheless at work. Starting from the unusual image Locke offers of “nursing fathers” who nurture emerging civil society, Carver suggests that the narrative strategies that Locke deploys are covertly gendered, for instance in the case of property inheritance serving as a mode of tacit consent. It is this covert gendering that makes Locke’s work appear so ambiguous on questions of gender, and which makes Locke so difficult to pin down on the question of women’s roles, place, and power.
The theme of gender immediately connects to an additional theme, the meaning of feminism. This is not a theme overtly taken up in this book, but rather is a function of the essays we solicited and selected for the volume. We view the theme as implicit in the different approaches taken by the contributors. The two themes of gender and feminism, though distinct, are in this book considerably intertwined because questions of method so often converge on the meaning of gender. Accordingly, the preponderance of essays in most of the works in this series, including some in the present volume, consider primarily what the selected canonical figure has to say “about women” along various thematic vectors: whether women have or can use reason, whether they may hold property, women’s relationship to citizenship and political participation, women’s position in the family and the degree of power and control they have within the institution that predominates in their lives, and whether women have a different, perhaps even oppositional “voice” that stems from their position in the family and relation to reason, property, and the state. Some of the chapters in this book follow that normal formula, and this formula makes valuable contributions to deepening our understanding of the canonical works. But others do something quite different, and it is our intention that, in offering diverse feminist interpretations of Locke, we offer up challenges to how feminists might think about “re-reading the canon.” For instance, very few articles we have encountered in other volumes in this series take up the issue of masculinity, a theme that is of obvious and vital importance to feminism, as Terrell Carver, Carol Pech, and Linda Zerilli clearly illustrate with regard to Locke. Similarly, hardly any articles in this series, with the exception of the forthcoming volume on Marx, give explicit or more than passing reference to class, despite the proclaimed importance of “intersectionality” that contemporary feminists reiterate. If “gender” is a synonym for women, it might also be a synonym for “white and middle class.” Yet class is central to Locke’s construction of gender, as Hirschmann suggests. Whereas Schochet maintains that Lorenne Clark, and other early second-wave feminists, missed the point that Macpherson collapsed gender into class, Hirschmann seeks to rearticulate the relationship between the two. Though the idea of the “intersectionality” of gender, race, and class is a dominant theme in contemporary feminist theory, Hirschmann notes that when feminists focus their attention on the Western canon, “women” once again becomes a term devoid of race and class differences, and embodies the norms of the white upper and middle classes. Yet Locke attended to laboring-class women as well as men, particularly in his “Essay on the Poor Law,” and this provides a different understanding of his take on gender. Femininity in this context is differentially structured by class.
But the security of masculinity as a symbolic order may be called into question as well, and this is a possibility pursued by both Carole Pech and Linda Zerilli. Pech’s psychoanalytically informed examination of Locke’s writings on the “clipping controversy”—which centered on the practice of shaving metal from the edges of silver coins—shows how money took on a more explicitly symbolic value as the weight of clipped coins fell increasingly short of their face denominations. The anxieties of masculinity Pech traces through this controversy suggest the centrality of gender not only to the distribution of property and wealth, but also to the very ascription of abstract value to money. Thus, Pech argues, even as the instability of value spawned by clipping threatened the masculine order, Locke’s response was associated with a feminine semiotic of fluidity as well as a fetishistic fixation on natural value. Here, psychoanalytic categories reveal gender as more complicated and multilayered than conventional, sociologically framed feminist readings might assume; for we find that it was not only one’s place in the economic order that was riddled by gender, but the symbolic dimension of the emergent monetary system as such. Drawing also on the rhetorical and symbolic aspects of language, Zerilli directs critical attention to the narrative elements of Locke’s work. She argues that the “gaudy dress” of rhetoric that Locke regards as superfluous to philosophy is essential to his own account of the freedom of political beginnings. Indeed, rather than a monument to reason, rationality, and the rational subject, Locke’s story of the social contract is itself a matter of “passionate speech” that offers a “figure of the newly thinkable.” That imaginative figure, Zerilli contends, is precisely what enables Locke’s account of political founding as “the emergence of a ‘we’ that is not already given” by the historical record. Do these different approaches to the concept of “gender” actually shift the meaning of “feminism”? As Teresa de Lauretis, quoted by Pech, maintains, “the subject of feminism is not only distinct from Woman with the capital letter . . . but also distinct from women, the real historical beings and social subjects who are defined by the technology of gender.” Instead, it is a “theoretical construct (a way of conceptualizing, of understanding, of accounting for certain processes, not women).” Many of the chapters in this book, including those apparently written about “women,” would agree with this account, but it may be most fully illustrated by Zerilli’s (Chapter 10), which in methodological terms seems to be quite distant from the standard feminist approach. Zerilli hardly even mentions the word “gender,” much less “women”; is this the logical extension of poststructuralism that feminists have long feared, the disappearance of women from feminism—and, by implication, the disappearance of feminism? We think not.
Rereading Political Philosophy
The diverse themes that run through this book thus suggest multiple and multilayered constructions of the idea of “re-reading the canon,” for they reread more than a particularly prominent figure in the modern canon. Beyond this, they reread as well the significance of the canon itself, and feminism’s relationship to that canon. In so doing, they interrogate the meaning of gender and feminism, how feminist inquiry might be conducted, the range and kinds of questions that can be asked, and the modes of analysis that could be undertaken. As central as reading Locke is to every contributor to this volume, these essays offer their readers a wide range of methodological, philosophical, theoretical, and political issues that run well beyond the question of the authorial Locke.
Accordingly, our readers will be a diverse group as well. This is an additional way in which the present volume “re-reads the canon,” by rereading what, and who, can do that rereading. We purposely set out to combine a range of scholars, some of whom are well-known contributors to feminist scholarship, others of whom, such as Waldron and Schochet, are prominent scholars of Locke. In so doing, our hope is to attract a wide variety of readers and raise a variety of questions along the feminist spectrum, in addition to questions of Lockean analysis. Compared to many other disciplines—history, sociology, and literary studies, for example—philosophy and political science are lagging when it comes to considerations of gender, the hiring of women in academic departments, and the granting to women of professional status and recognition. We believe that this disciplinary foot-dragging is unhealthy and unproductive, that it stifles creative intellectual endeavor. It is time that scholarly engagement with the question of gender was normalized by the profession, with “mainstream” scholars acknowledging and writing about gender dynamics rather than ghettoizing these inquiries in Women’s Studies programs. With the recent rise of transgender theory and issues, with the steady growth of women’s presence on university and college faculties, with the growth of women’s studies courses across the curriculum, neither political science nor philosophy can afford to ignore the important changes taking place in the academy and in our scholarship.
Locke is a particularly appropriate figure through which to conduct such an effort, for the ambiguities and uncertainties that characterize Locke’s treatment of gender resonate strongly with the unsettling of gender in today’s academy. It is important that “mainstream” Lockean scholarship attend to questions of gender, for they are central to Locke’s texts. As feminists are criticized for ignoring class, for neglecting various methodological issues, or for ahistoricism, so must scholars of Locke, of consent theories, and of the historical and theoretical roots of what is now called liberalism be criticized for neglecting the fundamental role that gender plays in Locke’s understanding of politics, economics, religion, language, and epistemology. Whether concerned with a world well lost, or the world that is, or a world yet to be won, without attention to gender, readings of Locke necessarily diminish their own political and theoretical purchase. In rereading both the canon in general and Locke as one of its continuing figures, we advocate, both implicitly and explicitly, the rereading of our modern disciplines as well.
Also of Interest
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