13.1 Typology of Feminisms

Dr. Jackie F. Steele

Making a central contribution to political theory, in Gender and Political Theory (1999), Judith Squires develops three archetypal approaches to the question of subjectivity that have emerged in response to the persistent blind spots within mainstream political theory. Squires’ typology situates feminist theory within three core approaches and assumptions that guide the knowledge claims of political theory itself: objectivity, interpretation, and genealogy. From the perspective of objectivity, the project of political theory would be ‘the elaboration of abstract universal values.’ If we follow the interpretative frame, the goal of the political theorist is to ‘uncover and interpret the values which already exist within concrete communities’. The third approach sees the goal of political theory as ‘deconstructing meaning claims in order to look for the modes of power they carry and to force open a space for the emergence of counter-meanings’ (Ferguson, quoted in Squires, 1999, p. 81).

In short, Squires’ typology helps us make sense of the varying currents of feminism, their ideological foundations and the tactics of intervention each strand privileges in the pursuit of social transformation through tactical strategies of change agency in their practitioner iterations across various parts of society. Squires sees these three approaches as having distinct orientations to the concept of subjectivity, and she specifically argues that these three feminist projects or worldviews can be mapped onto a logic of 1) an equality politics aimed at inclusion through the presumed neutrality of the universal subject, 2) a difference politics aimed at reversing patriarchal values through affirmations of the feminine, and 3) a diversity politics aimed at deconstructing traditional categories of analysis so as to displace the male/female binary underpinning the false dichotomies of modernist thinking.

Each of these families of feminist theorizing has problematized the “equality/difference” debate from varying perspectives. An important consequence of their different epistemological foundations lies in the kinds of feminist strategies prescribed in the pursuit of emancipatory social transformation. Bock and James (1992, p. 4) note the confusion that can emerge from situations wherein “women’s liberation has been seen sometimes as the right to be equal, sometimes as the right to be different”. In her exploration of these themes, British theorist Phillips (1993, pp.55-56) notes the increasing “feminist impatience with abstract universals of the Enlightenment tradition” whereby equality is reduced to mean equality as sameness to Man; they argue that “feminism contained within itself a double impetus towards both equality and difference” that leads to a productive emphasis on “heterogeneity, diversity and difference.”

Before continuing, it is important to comment on the various competing significations of the concepts of equality, difference and diversity in light of the national and historical contexts of the societies within which feminist theorizing occurs. All of women’s thought leadership towards democratization has been placed within a specific historical and ethnocultural context. The core concepts within feminist theory likewise reference different legacies of democratic struggle. For example, the formalistic notion of “equality” is associated with Squires’ first family of American feminist theory, but it stands in stark contrast to the conception of “equality” advanced by neighbouring Canadian and Québécois movements from the late 1970s to the present.

Typologies are always schematic. Squires herself acknowledges this, and she also stresses the possibility of all three strands of feminism existing together within the same society. There is no presumption that an “equality politics” would evolve into a “difference politics” and ultimately progress into a “diversity politics” as a natural progression. Indeed, the past few decades of neo-liberal revisionism have resulted in a contemporary form of neo-liberal “equality politics” defended by neo-conservative women within Canada[1], Québec and the United States.

Neoliberalism explained

Neoliberalism is grounded upon the idea that less government interference in the free market is the “central goal” of democratic politics. By “neoliberal revisionism”, we mean to critique the erasure of the ethical value of modern forms of “liberal democracy,” and which aim merely at “less government interference”, and fail to aspire to realize the emancipatory and liberty-enhancing promise of democracy as a form of collective socio-economic cooperation and self-government.

[1] The role of women within the Conservative government and within R.E.A.L. Women of Canada, women within the Action démocratique du Québec and, notably, key women within Republican Party are one such manifestation.


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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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