Gender Essentialism and Feminist Politics
But the human essence is no abstraction inherent in
each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of
The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in
various ways; the point is to change it.
—(KARL MARX, Theses on Feuerbach, VI & XT)
FEMINIST PHILOSOPHY IS ALWAYS motivated toward social change; we seek to understand the social world in order to change it. In this book, I have tried to understand what it might mean to say that our gender is essential to us, and I have argued that on one interpretation of the claim gender essentialism is true. Given the history of debate over gender essentialism within feminist theory, however, it is reasonable to wonder how an essentialist theory of gender could be useful in relation to feminist political projects. In fact isn’t gender essentialism a position that precludes or blocks social change? Isn’t it the problem and not the solution? And even if it is not, in itself, a theory implicated in the oppression of women, in what way could it be useful for feminist politics?
Let us consider kind essentialism and its relevance to feminist social change. One of the motivations for the reemergence of gender realism in feminist theory was the need for an identifiable group as the subject of feminist politics. As I have