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What is the importance of the public/private distinction in feminist theories?

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Sexual discrimination.
  3. Importance and the usefulness of the public/private dichotomy in feminist theories.
    1. Meaning of public/private distinction.
    2. The two different conceptions of the public/private distinction.
  4. Judith Squires in Gender in political theory.
  5. The Pateman theory.
  6. The dichotomy between the private and the public.
  7. Criticising the public/private dichotomy.
  8. Conclusion.
  9. Bibliography.

?Liberalism has only one overriding aim: to secure the political conditions that are necessary for the exercise of personal freedom? . This is why liberal theory has been constructed around a dichotomy between the public and the private sphere: securing individual freedom. Freedom is indeed secured when constraints placed upon the individual are limited. On the contrary, ?The limits of coercion begin?, according to liberal theory and as Shklar explains, ?with a prohibition upon invading the private realm.? This is why a very strict separation between the public and the private is done and ?must under no circumstances be ignored or forgotten ?. This distinction is the one between the State which is equated with politics: this is the public realm and civil society which is the sphere of life in which individuals can pursue their own conception of the good in free association with others: this is the private sphere. Civil society is considered as ?private? because it is not governed by the public power of the State .

[...] At least, I will focus on the feminist critiques of this public/private distinction to better understand patriarchy. It has been seen in the first part that classic liberals refuse to intervene in the family even to advance liberal goals of equal opportunity or autonomy because they are committed to a public/private distinction which cannot be ignored and where the family belongs to the private sphere. But the failure to confront gender inequalities in the family could also be seen as a defeat of liberal principles of equal opportunity or autonomy[18]. [...]


[...] Her claim is that the social contract that establishes the political freedom of individuals simultaneously entails the sexual subordination of women in marriage. In her opinion, the social contract would require a sexual contract to accommodate patriarchal that predates liberalism. Her idea is that the distinction between the State and civil society has been contractually established to make the masculine right over women non political and then to allow patriarchy in relocating it into the private sphere. The third one is the idea that liberal states have enforced patriarchal power relations within the family in denying their responsibility on the grounds that the private has to be preserved from state intervention. [...]


[...] Indeed, the original public/private distinction has been supplemented in the last century by a second one which separates the personal from the public including both State and civil society. It comes from Romantic philosophers recognising the effects of social conformity on individuals[10] and wanting emphasising the fact that constraints placed upon individual freedom are also social manifestations of power. It has then been accepted by modern liberals. As a result, modern liberals are concerned not only with the protection of the private social life but also with the protection of a realm within the private sphere[11]. [...]

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