Lorenne M. G. Clark
Since at least the mid- nineteenth century, the fight for women's rights has largely been fought under the banner of liberalism. The ethical principles of people like John Stuart Mill formed the moral justification for these struggles, and many of these individuals were themselves committed to the cause of women's equality. 1 Thus, the cause of women's liberation has much thanks to give both to the theory and to its proponents. But it is, I believe, time to take another look at the moral underpinnings we have until now accepted, though I am by no means suggesting that utilitarianism, or more popular versions of liberal, or libertarian ethics, have been the only moral touchstones upon which the demand for sexual equality has rested. This has been fed by other moralities as well, notably that deriving from the work of Marx and Engels. But at least insofar as both of these moral systems acknowledged that the historical position of women had been an oppressed and exploited one, it was possible to present a united front on many issues, particularly those most clearly related to the achievement of legal and social reform. Most of these fights were publicly defended on liberal principles, and the most famous one, the fight for the right to vote, certainly was.
A version of this article appeared under the title "Sexual Equality and the Problem of an Adequate Moral Theory" in Mary Kathryn Shirley and Rachel Emma Vigier, editors, In Search of the Feminist Perspective: The Changing Potency of Women. Resources for Feminist Research Special Publication #5, Toronto ( Spring 1979). Reprinted by permission of the author and Resources for Feminist Research.