13.1.1 Equality Politics through Liberal Feminisms

Dr. Jackie F. Steele

The first theoretical orientation within Squires’ typology of feminist theory has centred on a strategy of equality that seeks the inclusion of women within the existing political structures, which were understood to be neutral to sexual differences and ought to continue to be indifferent to sexual differences. The goal was not to transform existing structures, which were taken to be legitimate in their neutrality. Rather, early feminist theory problematized biological determinism that assumed that sex determined one’s destiny, social and cultural characteristics or roles. Distinguishing between sex and gender, the first important advance within feminist theory flowed from social constructivist approaches of “equality feminism” that sought to construct gender as a cultural product so as to locate the sources of women’s oppression in sex-specific social practices rather than in their biology per se.

Following the insights of Simone de Beauvoir, much of Anglo-American equality feminism asserted that, regardless of their “sex”, women could also behave in ways that were rational, individualistic, and competitive in a manner similar to men, but that they had been socially conditioned into inferior roles and attributes through culture. Squires (1999, p. 117) suggests that this strategy resulted in an “equality politics” that accepted the universal ideal of neutrality as well as a conception of individuals as rational and autonomous. In this view, gender difference is seen as an effect of sexism used to legitimate inequality between the sexes, not a foundational difference. Strategies that emerged out of this equality politics assumed that in order for inclusion to be achieved, female differences coded as inferior ought to be transcended through the creation of a political sphere that is gender-neutral, thus restoring women’s common equivalence and human value to be seen on par with that of men.

The project of inclusion aimed to assert that gender should not be politically relevant. Despite these attempts to distinguish between the facticity of sex differences and the construction of male supremacist gender differences, the logic of sex/gender was comforted and mapped onto dualist thinking of the mind/body duality. This led to a hierarchical structure that positioned the mind (masculine) in a position of superior, rationalist control over the emotions and body (feminine) and was infused in the symbolic hierarchical ordering of male/female and masculine/feminine. In fact, the strategy of gender neutrality ended up looking a lot like male dominance in practice.


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Political Ideologies and Worldviews: An Introduction Copyright © 2021 by Dr. Jackie F. Steele is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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