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"Gender Feminism"

In the comments to my previous post, Kevin McCulloch accuses me of mixing "equality feminist" and "gender feminist" ideas:

Equality feminism doesn't try to explain the differences between men and women. It simply observes that our commitment to universal human rights obliges us to give women's interests as much weight as we give men's interests. It's a philosophy of basic fairness and according to its tenets most people are feminists.

Gender feminism tries to explain the difference between men and women in social science terms, attempting to discover the means by which gender is socially constructed. So, for example, a gender feminist would look at your bullet point about "men who feel entitled to sex but aren't concerned about their partner's needs" and try to deduce why men are socialized to be insensitive.

McCulloch's use of the terms "equality feminist" and "gender feminist" doesn't quite match how I've usually seen them used (by and large by anti-feminists), although he does capture the basic idea that equality feminism is "everything feminism has accomplished so far" and gender feminism is "any further changes that feminists advocate, which would go too far and oppress men."

McCulloch seems to see the key difference as being the nature-nurture question. Equality feminism is either agnostic on the question or favors a "nature" view, whereas gender feminism comes down on the side of "nurture." Presumably equality feminists would pursue equality by trying to patch society to cope with inborn sexism or just give up in the face of the inherent differences, while gender feminists would pursue equality by getting to the root of the institutions that create sexism. Stated this way, equality feminism looks rather unappealing.

McCulloch tries to claim the authority of science for the equality feminist view, arguing that personality differences have been shown to be innate. Whether he's right or wrong (and I think the main conclusion has actually been that nature-nurture is asking the wrong question) science has clearly shown that differences between men and women are slight (non-pdf summary here). This indicates that the well-documented social inequalities between the genders are the result of social institutions, rather than being the simple outgrowths of personality. So exploitative sex is an institution -- a learned behavioral template through which personality is expressed -- not just a natural outgrowth of men's inherent insensitivity.


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