Equality, Difference, and the Law
What women are entitled to, and what a misconception of their character may deny them, is the opportunity to make a success of the projects of their lives. That opportunity is not one that is owed to women in particular, as a special entitlement born of their special condition, but one that is owed to all human beings yet finds its particular meaning in its application to particular human beings, in this case, women. The particular character of what women are owed is simply a consequence of the fact that human beings can develop and pursue the projects of their lives only on the basis of the particular qualities of character, distinctive and nondistinctive, that they happen to possess, and more important, that not only they but the societies in and through which those projects are pursued understand them to possess.
It follows that if a society misunderstands what it means to be a woman, either comprehensively or in some respect that is critical to the success of the project of a woman's life, as I have contended we now misunderstand women, it thereby denies them the opportunity to which they are entitled as human beings. No society is obliged to understand its members perfectly, of course, but every society is obliged to understand its members sufficiently well to ensure that they are not denied the fundamental ingredients of a successful life, and so is obliged to understand them in terms that are not false, or irrelevant to its forms and practices, or incapable of valuable application. To put the point from the opposite perspective, the reason that the character of what it means to be a woman, and the accuracy and completeness of our understanding of that character, is of central importance to the success of a woman's life is that the understanding that any society owes to its members, if it is to give them a genuine opportunity to make a success of their lives, is necessarily as specific, particular, and distinctive as the people to whom it applies, and the particular projects of their particular lives.
Some maintain, however, that what people are entitled to in life is not the opportunity to make a success of the particular projects of their particular lives,