Feminism without Illusions: A Critique of Individualism

Feminism without Illusions: A Critique of Individualism

Feminism without Illusions: A Critique of Individualism

Feminism without Illusions: A Critique of Individualism

Synopsis

In arguing that feminism has neither adequately acknowledged its ties to individualism nor squarely faced the extent to which many of its campaigns for social justice are based on the insistence of rights for the individual over good of the community, this study analyzes current political theory and its application to affirmative action, comparative worth and abortion rights. The author also examines the debate over feminist history and the relationship between feminism and postmodernism.

Excerpt

Feminism enjoys a poor to middling press these days, among many women as well as men. One of my undergraduates at Emory University captured this unease in a paper she wrote for a Women's Studies course. When she had begun the course, feminism to her "meant the denial of femininity and womanhood. It suggested lesbianism. It led to 'bra burnings.' men-hating, and an almost irritating aggressiveness." She has not been alone in her associations. To many women, feminism even betokens the destruction of family values and the defiance of divine and natural order. In the timehonored tradition of blaming the victims of injustice and those who protested against it for the consequences of injustice itself, some women and too many men find it easy to blame feminism for some of the most disturbing aspects of modern life: divorce, latch-key children, teenage alcoholism, domestic violence, the sexual abuse of children. From that indictment only a few short steps are required to arrive at an indictment of feminism for the collapse of academic standards and the decline of Western civilization. Many young women simply consider feminism outmoded -- a relic of former times that no longer constructively affects their lives.

Feminists reply that only our vigilance protects and improves women's hard-won and still-precarious place in work and politics. Yet even those who call themselves feminists frequently disagree about the meaning and implications of feminism. For some, feminism articulates women's rights as individuals and as women, women's needs as parents, and women's opportunities as workers. Others insist upon the radical implications of women's experience for society as a whole, arguing that women speak "in a different voice" than men; have different "ways of knowing" than men; would, if given power, order the world more humanely than men. Some hold that justice can obliterate, or radically minimize, the differences between women and men. Others hold that those differences are fundamental and that our ideals of justice should be rewritten to take account of women's experience. Still others dismiss the very idea of difference as the product of invidious and hierarchical dichotomies that should be replaced by an appreciation of diversity.

The differences over the meaning of feminism reflect the larger confusion . . .

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