Gender Essentialism and Anti-Essentialism

Authored by: Mari Mikkola

The Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy

Print publication date:  May  2017
Online publication date:  May  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138795921
eBook ISBN: 9781315758152
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315758152-14

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Abstract

It is a widely accepted feminist claim that gender injustice is not incidental and individual, but systematic and structural—it targets women as women. Feminism thus seemingly lends itself to identity politics: a form of political mobilization based on membership in women’s social kind, where shared experiences or traits delimit kind membership (Heyes 2000; 2012). However, the past few decades have allegedly witnessed a feminist “identity crisis” (Alcoff 1988). Feminist politics presumes the existence of a women’s social kind founded on some category-wide common traits or experiences. But as many feminist voices from various disciplines have noted, no such transcultural and transhistorical commonality exists because our axes of identity (for example, gender, race, ability, class) are not discrete and separable. Furthermore, it is misguided to assume that we can simply describe some putatively common gender identity without positing a normative ideal of womanhood. These worries have generated the said crisis: feminist theorists aim to speak and make political demands in the name of women as a group at the same time questioning the group’s existence.

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