One Big Question: Do we really want sex/gender equality?

Christine Delphy pointed out in Rethinking Sex and Gender: 

All feminists reject the sex/gender hierarchy, but very few are ready to admit that the logical consequence of this rejection is a refusal of sex roles, and the disappearance of gender. Feminists seem to want to abolish hierarchy and even sex roles, but not difference itself…Very few indeed are happy to contemplate there being simple anatomical sexual differences which are not given any social significance or symbolic value (Delphy p. 64).

People are just different. We have different sexes, different genders, different races, different talents, different opinions, different body types, etc etc etc.

Whipping Girl by Julia Serano also made me think of this. As she began taking female hormones her skin became softer, heavy objects seemed heavier, her metabolism changed, and she experienced sensations, emotions, tastes, and urges differently (Serano p. 221).

I do think women deserve respect, in many cases more respect and better treatment than they are getting right now. But I think feminists should rethink what they might mean when they demand gender equality. Women should be treated as well-respected women, not as men.


2 thoughts on “One Big Question: Do we really want sex/gender equality?

  1. mwattenbarger

    I’m confused by what you mean by women being treated “as women, not as men.” In a hypothetical society with complete gender equality, what do you see as the distinction?

    Serano says that as a woman, she’s treated differently than as a man. Are you suggesting that you think that’s necessary because of her changing experience of the world? As we consider gender as a construct, what does it mean to be treated as a woman? What does it mean to be treated as a man?

  2. virseymour

    I think an excerpt from Beauvoir’s intro of The Second Sex speaks well to this. She says,
    “To decline to be the Other, to refuse to be a party to the deal- this would be for women to renounce all the advantages conferred upon them by their alliance with the superior caste. Man-the-sovereign will provide woman-the-liege with material protection and will undertake the moral justification of her existence; thus she can evade at once both economic risk and the metaphysical risk of a liberty in which ends and aims must be contrived without assistance.”

    I think that is really the “the logical consequence,” rather than the abolition of sex roles and gender that you’re quoting from Delphy. It isn’t the total collapse of all we know and hold dear (for better or for worse) surrounding gender. It is the social and economic consequences of rejecting the societal gender roles. It is the uncertainty a woman has when considering stepping out of the cycle and supporting herself rather than attaching herself to the material protection of a men. Also I am pretty positive (although maybe I’m totally wrong), despite what Delphy says, gender will never disappear. People gravitate towards classification rather than ambiguity. And truly, despite Anzaldua’s (and many people today’s) call for people to embrace and celebrate ambiguity, I don’t think the acceptance of ambiguity and gender grey areas will abolish all notions of gender.

    I agree, physiologically there is a difference between males and females. I agree, women should feel like they can have power and respect afforded to them as women rather than feel as if people can only gain respect if they are male. I feel like, though, you are interpreting the arguments of the excerpts we’ve been reading to mean that feminists desire to be treated LIKE men (other people who have posed your argument to me always comment on how men are stronger and can do things that women can’t because of this). Perhaps, though, one could consider that the arguments are pointing to a desire for women to be treated equally to men and as equally capable as men. To point to another passage from Beauvoir, “The terms masculine and feminine are used symmetrically only as a matter of form…. In actuality the relation of the two sexes is not quite like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria.” I think, then, that the desire is to displace men and masculinity from their place as the default, or to use Beauvoir’s word “neutral”, rather than desiring to abolish gender or readdress women as exactly like men.


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