Why have some feminists criticised the idea of gender equality?

Some feminists have criticised the idea of gender equality because it is not considered to lead to genuine emancipation and also for some feminists because it is simply not possible.

Some feminists have criticised the idea of gender equality because it is not considered to lead to genuine emancipation and also for some feminists because it is simply not possible.

For some feminists the goal of feminism is female emancipation, not equality. For them, the notion of equality is misguided. Liberation means achieving fulfilment as women, in other words, being ‘female identified’. To want equality implies that women are ‘male identified’, in that they define their goals in terms of what men are or what men have and thus embodies a desire to be like men. This leads to these feminists taking up a ‘pro-woman’ position and becoming ‘woman identified’. This emphasises that women and men are fundamentally different on a psycho-biological level. Men are aggressive and competitive, whilst women are creative and empathetic. This can be seen in the ecofeminist approach, which argues that men are the cause of the environmental crisis because of their naturally mechanistic and hierarchical nature, which leads them to subjugate nature. Therefore, women should recognise and celebrate the distinctive characteristics of the female sex. They should seek liberation as fully developed and fulfilled women, not as sexless ‘persons’. This can be said to be similar to the multiculturalist approach to helping marginalised cultural groups express and maintain their cultural distinctiveness. Consequently, it has led to an emphasis on cultural feminism, which emphasises women’s crafts, art and culture, along with experiences that are unique to women, such as childbirth and menstruation.

Some feminists have also argued that gender equality is impossible. This is because men are said to constitute an oppressive ‘sex class’ dedicated to aggression, domination and destruction. The ‘female sex class’ is the universal victim of these negative traits. This leads to a belief that all men are physically and psychologically disposed to oppress all women. Susan Brownmiller argued that men had created ‘an ideology of rape’, which amounts to a ‘conscious process of intimidation’. Even men who don’t rape nevertheless benefit from the fear and anxiety that rape provokes amongst all women. Therefore, all relationships between men and women must include oppression. This has led to some feminists believing that it has implications for personal and sexual conduct. Heterosexual women are thought to be ‘male identified’ and thus incapable of realising their true nature. This leads to the development of political lesbianism, whereby sexual preferences are an issue of crucial sexual importance. Only women who choose lesbianism can regard themselves as ‘woman-identified women’ and thus be liberated. As Ti-Grace Atkinson said, ‘feminism is the theory; lesbianism is the practice’.

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