Safi El-Gamal: Liberalism as a Higher Purpose

Chapter VII

82. But the husband and wife, though they have but one common concern, yet having different understandings, will unavoidably have different wills too.  It therefore being necessary that the last determination should be placed somewhere, it naturally falls to the man’s share as the abler and the stronger.  But this, reaching but to things of their common interest and property, leaves the wife in the full and true possession of what by contract is her peculiar right, and at least gives the husband no more power over her than she has over his life…

I chose the beginning of paragraph 82 because I found Locke’s hesitant reasoning behind why women should have equal rights difficult to understand.  I had originally thought this essay’s purpose was to solely encompass Locke’s views on how an ideal society should be structured, which provoked my question: If Locke did not believe in equal rights for women, why was he hesitantly discussing them in his essay? 

I referred back to the previous paragraphs, which reaffirmed my thoughts that he did not express feminist values in his writing.  In paragraph 80, he discusses women and men to have two vastly different roles in society, followed by his claim in paragraph 82 that the man is deemed “the abler and the stronger.”  Even in Professor Quillen’s notes, she wrote “He [Locke] really does not imagine, or cannot imagine, that women would have political rights.” 

As I looked back at my notes from the past few readings to try and make sense of Locke’s writing, I realized that I was missing a vital concept that had been expressed as entirely significant: the idea of contextualization.  Locke had been writing for a higher purpose as he laid out the idea of a liberal society, and therefore set aside his personal beliefs in the name of liberalism.  His audience might have also been expecting equal rights for men and women, therefore influencing his essay.  This work epitomizes the need for the exclusion of personal preference when writing for a broader idea.

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