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Copyright 1991 Yale Law Journal Company.

Yale Law Journal

ARTICLE: Reflections on Sex Equality Under Law

March, 1991

Yale Law Journal

100 Yale L.J. 1281


Catharine A. MacKinnon [+]



There is a wrong way of thinking that one has rights, and a wrong way of thinking that one has not any.

Simone Weil 1

No woman had a voice in the design of the legal institutions that rule the social order under which women, as well as men, live. 2 Nor was the condition of women taken into account or the interest of women as a sex represented. To Abigail Adams' plea to John Adams to "remember the ladies" in founding the United States, he replied, "We know better than to repeal our Masculine systems." 3 Mostly, one senses, women as such were beneath notice at the time. 4 The political theory which formed the principled backdrop for the new American republic certainly did not encourage their visibility. Hobbes grounded natural equality in the ability to kill. 5 Locke argued that whoever did not leave a regime consented to it. 6 Rousseau once posited the primitive passions as "food, a female, and sleep." 7 It seems unlikely that the female role then, any more than now, socially empowered women to defend themselves effectively, far less aggress, or that they had any place to go to escape male supremacy, even if they had the means of exit. And whatever need they conceived for "a female" probably went largely unfulfilled. Yet the applicability of these reigning conceptions of equality, consent, and human need to at least half the population went unquestioned as women -- including those owned neither ...
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