Equality: Central To Feminist Analysis

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The debate over equality, its meaning and how or if it may be achieved, and its relevance to women’s liberation – a debate that is often referred to in feminist writings as the equality-difference debate – is, as was argued in the introduction, central to feminist analysis and discussion. This equality-difference debate is all the more difficult to overcome as it is a debate whose terms are not easily defined. Put crudely, it is a debate over whether women should struggle to be equal to men or whether they should valorize their differences from men. But the terms equality and difference are themselves contested terms with a multitude of meanings, and so the equality-difference debate is a highly complex one. If women are claiming equality with…show more content…
Some have tried to overcome this divide by using postmodernist or poststructuralist critiques to argue that the binary division between equality and difference should itself be deconstructed. This idea (which will be discussed further later in this chapter), or that of a ‘third way’ between equality and difference, may seem to be attractive in that it promises to rid feminism of one of its perennial conflicts. However, other feminists maintain that the division between equality and difference is one that is here to stay and that in any practical discussion of women’s position in society there is no escaping the divide. In discussions on how to treat women’s claims for maternity rights, for example, feminists are divided between those who think that maternity benefits should be special rights granted to women on the basis of their specific biological capacity to have children and the particular social role of maternity that they have been assigned in Western societies, whereas others argue that maternity benefits should be subsumed under the general category of sickness benefits so that pregnant women are treated the same as men who have an illness which prevents them from working for a period of time (Bacchi 1991;…show more content…
Feminists have pointed to the way in which, historically, a natural difference between men and women assumed, and have analysed the ways in which this difference was given various social, political and economic meanings in different societies and civilizations. They argue that one constant of this differentiation, however, has been that women have been given an inferior or secondary status in societies because of this assumed natural sexual difference. As Sherry Ortner (1998: 21) argues: ‘The secondary status of woman in society is one of the true universals, a pan-cultural fact.’ And as she goes on to explain, this secondary status of women can be explained by the fact that within the multiplicity of cultural conceptions and symbolizations of women that exist and that have existed in different societies, there is a constant in that women are seen as being ‘closer to nature’ in their physiology, their social role and their psyche. Whereas women have been seen as ‘closer to nature’, men have been perceived as ‘closer to culture’, more suited for public roles and political association. For this reason, women have been relegated to a secondary status in society, often confined to roles in the home rather than able to accede to powerful public positions. It is understandable, then, that, as soon as feminists began to campaign against women’s secondary social status, they began to question the assumed natural differences between men and
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