Given the unequal status and disparate enjoyment of citizenship that women continued to experience despite the arrival of formal equality, the second family of feminist theorists identified by Squires renounced the strategy of gender-neutrality. Moving towards a relational structuring of power between men and women, the second variant of feminism located women’s subordination in cultural attitudes about sex/gender and nature/nurture rationalist logic as well as in macro-level practices that structured women’s positioning as inferior to their male counterparts throughout the public and private spheres of society.
Rejecting the notion that gender neutrality as a forced assimilation of women into the male model of individuality could ever be possible, let alone empowering in practice, the second family of feminist theorizing mobilized around strategic affirmations of the feminine and female ways of being or doing and around the celebration of women’s differences. Taking what had historically been coded as weakness, inferiority, vulnerability and the source of subordination, the objective of maternal feminism was to oppose and reverse patriarchal values that denigrated women’s differences from men; rather, these traits associated with women as “nurturing, peace-loving, intuitive and emotional” would be actively celebrated as a strength (Squires, 1999, p. 118).
These theorists, described as radical feminism, maternal feminism and/or cultural feminists, aimed to protect, or at least ensure, a re-valuing of the distinct perspectives of male and female gendered identities, regardless of whether their origins were grounded in biological, structural and/or socially constructed differences (Bock & James, 1992, p.1-16). They argued for the need to affirm not only women’s characteristics, but also their social roles, and to encourage all of humanity to equally value both feminine and masculine traits for their unique contributions to society. Seen as a duality that is complementary, by affirming the equal value of womanhood to manhood, and the particular value to society that women’s differences make, difference feminism sought to restore the realm of affectivity, emotions, connectedness, an ethic of care, and those activities or characteristics aligned with the feminine. This strategy of values reversal aimed to unleash a reconfiguration and even a re-ordering of the political sphere to make it more open to women and perhaps even positively aligned with the superior qualities flowing from the gendered specificity of women’s experiences. Rather than resulting in an inclusive public and private sphere grounded upon the dual contributions of the feminine and masculine, the legacy of the patriarchal ordering of sex/gender and the ongoing persistence of male supremacy has meant that efforts to value the symbolically stereotypical notion of the feminine have only reinscribed and inadvertently comforted the maintenance of traditional divisions of labour along gender lines. This has not ultimately led to the restoration of women’s bodies to a common equivalence to men’s bodies, nor has it led to the human value of the feminine being seen and honoured on par with that of the masculine in practice.