Feminist Theorist Dies at 57

Renowned feminist political theorist Susan M. Okin died last Wednesday, March 3, in her Lincoln, Mass., home. She was 57.

The precise cause of death is unknown, though Kevin Kennedy of the Lincoln Police Department said Okin appears to have died of natural causes.

Friends and family remember Okin as a scholar, teacher and mother of the first order.

Okin, who had taught at Stanford University since 1990, was spending this year as a fellow and visiting professor at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Okin is best known for arguing that gender issues should not be excluded from political thought. Her first book, Women in Western Political Thought, is now considered a cornerstone in her field.


Okin’s work stressed that family could not be excluded from conceptions of justice. Throughout her career, Okin engaged and criticizing top theorists—including John Rawls, Alasdair MacIntyre, Robert Nozick and Michael Walzer—for neglecting to incorporate women into their theories.

Rawls reportedly accepted Okin’s criticism of his work and altered some of his later work to accommodate it, said Jane J. Mansbridge, the Adams professor of political leadership and democratic values at Harvard.

Mansbridge described Okin’s scholarship as “path-breaking” and “courageous.”

“Her insights on gender and the family shed new light on almost every political theory of major importance,” Mansbridge said.

Other publications include Justice, Gender, and the Family (1989) and Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? (1999), as well as dozens of articles and book reviews.

Okin served as director of Sanford’s Ethics in Society Program from 1993-1996. During her career, she received numerous awards for her scholarship and writing.

In recent years, Okin’s work had turned toward economic development and gender throughout the world, according to Mansbridge. Okin’s interest in women in the least-developed countries extended beyond the bounds of scholarship, Mansbridge said.

She described Okin’s devotion to the Global Fund for Women, a San Francisco-based foundation. In January, Okin traveled to India to represent the foundation at the World Social Forum.

“She was a force for good in the world,” Mansbridge said.

At Radcliffe, Okin was enlarging on her writings on gender, economic development theories and policies, and women’s rights in the late 20th century.