Beyond Comparison: Sex and Discrimination

By Timothy Macklem | Go to book overview

7
The Role of Sexual Identity in a
Successful Life

I. The Significance of Limitations and Inferiority

If there is any kind of difference between men and women that matters to us, as there must be if we are to subscribe to the very existence of the distinction in our culture, we need to know what that difference is and what it makes possible for women and what it makes impossible. Once we know what sexual identity genuinely means, we can begin to understand the disadvantage that is now illegitimately imposed upon women, denying them access to what is both possible for them as women and necessary to the success of their lives. As I have argued above and argue further below, it is only denial of access to such goods that can constitute genuine and hence illegitimate disadvantage, or what I from here on call deep disadvantage. Those limitations of experience and capacity that are simply part of the meaning of sexual difference, the product of what it means to belong to one sex rather than the other, may give rise to inferiority in certain settings, so as to be disadvantages to women in those settings, but they are not in themselves disadvantages to the project of a woman's life, despite the fact that they may appear to deny women access to many valuable forms of experience, including most obviously the experiences of men. They are no more than another way of describing the existence of sexual difference and the specificity of womanhood, this time in terms of what being a woman makes impossible rather than in terms of what it makes possible. It is the distinction between these limitations of experience and capacity – which constitute disadvantages in certain settings – and disadvantage in the project of one's life, what I have called deep disadvantage, that I want to explore in this section.

Women seeking to pursue successful lives as women do not suffer disadvantage in the deep sense, in the project of their lives, simply because they cannot pursue successful lives as men. There are only two kinds of disadvantage that women may suffer in the pursuit of the project of their lives. First, they may suffer if, although correctly understood as women, they are denied access to goods in life they can value as women, whether those goods are opportunities,

-157-

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Beyond Comparison: Sex and Discrimination
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Law *
  • Title Page *
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • 1 - The Issues 1
  • 2 - Equality 42
  • 3 - Difference 78
  • 4 - Reasons for Feminism 107
  • 5 - The Value of Diversity 120
  • 6 - The Character of Disadvantage 135
  • 7 - The Role of Sexual Identity in a Successful Life 157
  • 8 - Equality, Difference, and the Law 192
  • Index 209
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