3 minute read


Feminism, Antifeminism, And Difference

At the core of the antifeminist program is the preservation (or reestablishment) of social, economic, and political differences based on gender. The most basic tenet of antifeminism is that the differences between men and women are such that inequalities of treatment and status are desirable or necessary. While the antifeminist position has been clear, feminists have been divided in their approaches to the nature and ramifications of gender differences. Individualist, liberal, or equality feminists have asserted an androgynous view of society and have sought to banish gender differentiation from social, political, and economic structures. In this view, equality is achieved by equal treatment without regard to gender. Difference, social, or relational feminists recognize gender differences (both biological and socially constructed) as of continuing significance, and base their claims for equity (in part) on these differences. The argument from difference emphasizes that utility and justice demand that, because men and women are different, women's interests cannot be represented by men and, therefore, women need to have the opportunity to participate fully in society. Difference feminists have been open, to varying degrees, to differential treatment of men and women in cases where gendered physical or other characteristics are such that equivalence appears more tenable than absolute equality. In practice, many feminists have employed both approaches, basing their opposition to male supremacy on universal human rights as well as uniquely female characteristics or experiences.

Equality feminism and difference feminism have aroused overlapping versions of antifeminism. The antifeminist reactions to equality feminism have mostly been of two types: exclusion and ridicule. By appealing to religion, tradition, science, and nature, antifeminists sought to exclude women from the Enlightenment category of autonomous individuals who should be granted rights. In this view, women lacked the rational capacity and independent nature required of members of society. As the mounting evidence of women's accomplishments and capabilities has made it increasingly difficult to directly dispute women's intelligence and rationality, opponents of equality feminism have turned to the other approach: exaggeration and ridicule. In one example, opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment in the United States equated equal rights for women with mandatory unisex toilet facilities in their successful campaign against ratification.

Ridicule has also been employed against difference feminism, often as part of a larger critique of the "feminization" of society. Because antifeminists and difference feminists share a belief in gender differentiation, their disagreements have centered on the nature of this differentiation, claims to superiority of one gender or the other, and appropriate spheres of participation. Although there is a strain of antifeminism that associates women with dangerous, uncontrolled sexuality, most antifeminists and difference feminists have held a common vision of women as more nurturing and less aggressive than men. Extreme antifeminists have presented this difference as absolute and unalterable, not a matter of degree or environment. On this basis, they have asserted that women are unfit for professions and pursuits demanding an aggressive intellect or personality and, more generally, for the rough-and-tumble of the public spheres of politics and business.

Equality feminists and some difference feminists have countered that gender characteristics vary greatly within each sex, are largely the product of education and opportunity, and that differences will lessen if males and females are treated equally. Other difference feminists, especially those associated with maternalist versions of feminism, have diagnosed the failings of the public sphere as symptoms of aggressive male dominance and prescribed female activism and influence as the cure. Expanded female influence has brought backlash protests against "momism" and the "softening" of individuals, institutions, and cultures informing the men's movement activities of Robert Bly (b. 1926) and others. Complaints about momism and "feminization" expose the antifeminist dimensions of ideas such as republican or national motherhood that celebrate women's abilities and contributions within the circumscribed private realm of the family, simultaneously seeking to limit women's participation in the larger society. When these boundaries have been stretched or broken, the reactionary ridicule has been based on the supposed inappropriateness of female-identified qualities in a shifting array of arenas ranging from education, governance, and the law (primarily in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries), to (in the twentieth century) science, police work, and the military.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Anticolonialism in Southeast Asia - Categories And Features Of Anticolonialism to Ascorbic acidAntifeminism - Defining Feminism And Antifeminism, Feminism, Antifeminism, And Difference, Nature, Science, Religion, And Antifeminism