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Add woman and stir : the applicability of the theories of distributive justice of Rawls and Dworkin to social, political and economic equality for women


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Berns, Sandra M S 1990 , 'Add woman and stir : the applicability of the theories of distributive justice of Rawls and Dworkin to social, political and economic equality for women', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Liberal theory depends for such coherence and consistency as it possesses upon the
exclusion of human relationships from its theoretical structure. Classic social contract theory
affirmed a contract between households, not individuals, each household being represented by
its male head. This theoretical structure guaranteed a realm of private freedom to all (male)
individuals and precluded the extension of legal principles to family life. To the extent that the
premises of such theories are accepted, including the existence of a marital contract which pre-existed
the social contract and eradicated the civil capacity of women, a foundation was
available for a coherent regime of family law affirming masculine interests. The relegation of
human relationships to the private sphere enabled the affirmation of autonomy and,
independence. The legal relationship between the head of the household and his wife and
children was proprietary, and it was this proprietary connection upon which the doctrine of
family privacy depended.
Contemporary liberal egalitarian theorists such as Rawls and Dworkin face very
different problems. While women are now fully part of civil society and rank equally as
citizens, neither has considered the full implications of that recognition for the distinction both
wish to sustain between the public and private spheres. Rather, they have introduced a new
theoretical distinction and argue that they have broken with the pre-suppositions of classic
liberal theory in seeking to offer an account of justice which is political merely and devoid of
wider epistemological and metaphysical assumptions. By arguing that their account of the
individual is entirely political, applies only to the individual as citizen, they seek to distance
themselves from the traditional liberal account of the individual as autonomous and
independent and defeat communitarian claims that liberalism is hostile towards certain
conceptions of the good life. The compartmentalization implied by such an account of justice,
its explicit denial that roles other than that of citizen are relevant to equality, renders it
irrelevant to women.
It is argued that to the extent that women of every social class remain less advantaged
than their male counterparts, the foundation of their inequality lies in the gender roles
characteristic of our culture and the normative role these play in legal and political institutions.
Both Dworkin and Rawls tacitly assume the male gender role characteristic of late capitalist
society as normative. This renders the inequality of women invisible, characterizes it as a
product of individual choices in work, leisure and consumption. To the extent that the
theoretical individual is recast in gender neutral terms, compelling recognition of the fact that
the 'private responsibilities' associated with the female gender role form the foundation for
economic and social inequality, the distinction between public and private is collapsed and an
account of the just family becomes essential. When an account of the just family is
constructed, using the premises of egalitarian theory as the foundation, it becomes essential to extend ordinary legal principles to the family. This move, in turn, compels acknowledgment of
the fact that, at least with respect to women and the family, the concrete tastes and preferences
liberalism seeks to affirm have their roots in the inegalitarian attitudes it deems illegitimate.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Berns, Sandra M S
Keywords: Rawls, John, 1921-2002, Dworkin, R. M, Women's rights, Families, Distributive justice
Copyright Holders: The Author
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Copyright 1990 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We
would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 1992. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 359-363)

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