Front Page Titles (by Subject) Locke vs. Women\'s Property - Literature of Liberty, April/June 1978, vol. 1, No. 2
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Locke vs. Women's Property - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, April/June 1978, vol. 1, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Locke vs. Women's Property
“Women and John Locke; or, Who Owns the Apples in the Garden of Eden?” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 7 (1977): 699–724.
An instructive link unites John Locke's “sexism” with the inconsistencies in his theory of rights. Locke's political theory is sexist in assuming the “natural” superiority of male over female. Without certain assumptions about the relations between the sexes, much of his political theory would be different.
Women, says Locke, are naturally “subjugated” to man's rule, though some gifted women can escape this condition. This subjugation rests apparently on the fact that the male is stronger and that women cannot raise children on their own. Thus women are dependent on men and on marriage.
Noteworthy is Locke's view that the palpable natural differences between men do not entail one man's subjugation to another's rule; only in the case of the husband-wife relationship is superior strength between persons a sign of a right to rule. Thus Locke employs a Hobbesian element in his philosophy to justify male domination of woman.
This inconsistency poses a problem for Locke. His design is to distinguish political authority, characterized by consent, from paternal authority, which defenders of monarchy and patriarchic government justified on the grounds of obedience rather than consent. To work out this distinction, Locke had to modify his position on paternal power in the family. In the Second Treatise he claims that such power is really parental power: the authority of parents over children is shared jointly by both husband and wife. Locke further claims that, contrary to monarchists, the father does not have absolute authority over his children. Authority over children is not entailed by mere fatherhood but rather by accepting such responsibility. This is also the case in government.
The heart of the issue is Locke's focus on justifying the father and mother's equal authority over their children. This focus, however, evades justifying the unequal power a husband has over his wife. Despite Locke's sharp distinction between parental power and the husband's domination of his wife, his awareness of this inconsistency sometimes moves him to insist that the husband-wife relationship is also a voluntary one: marriage is a voluntary contract; the power of a husband over his wife is not unlimited (because of natural right and contract); and both parents have an obligation to care for their offspring.
Locke allowed that marriage could be contractual and that there could be mutuality between husband and wife. But his conviction that women cannot care for their offspring seems inconsistent with this. A male's threat that if women do not sign the marriage contract, they will not have anyone to care for their offspring, might nullify such a contract on Locke's own grounds.
However, all this is secondary to Locke's concern to justify the absolute right of the male to pass on property to his heirs alone. Woman's equal right to dispose of familial property he neither considered nor advocated. This is no minor matter. If men are entitled to the fruits of their labor, then how can women be totally excluded from passing on familial property to any of their heirs? Locke agreed that a woman was entitled after the dissolution of a marriage contract to what she brought into it, but only if she happened to include this in the original contract; women's rights to products of their labors are apparently watered down in a Lockean family. For if they were as entitled to the fruits of their labor as men were, they would not need any contract to insure such fruits. One needs no contract on Lockean grounds for recognition of property rights.