Women are Equal and Superior
Women are Equal and Superior
I have long been convinced that the seeming contradiction between what Pollitt calls “equality feminism” and “cultural feminism” is a false one. Simply put, the first assumes that women and men are equal and should have equal rights, and the second subscribes to the idea that women are better than men. I think they’re both true and that this explains why so many women have been reluctant to embrace equality feminism alone.
Sure, most women want equal rights to men, but they also know that women and men are different. Most women who are not wholly male-identified see women as having many qualities that are superior to men. For example, most women recognize that women are better at knowing and communicating their feelings than men, that women tend to be more emotionally nurturing than men, and that women are not as aggressive or violent as men. These are good things and women know it.
If you look at the traditional women’s magazines at the grocery store check-out counter you will see an abundance of articles on how to get your man to communicate with you. There are no articles on how to get your man to be less open and communicative. This is not a coincidence or a false stereotype. There is always the person who will say, “But I have a (brother, husband, boyfriend, male friend) who is not like that,” or “I know a woman who is just like a man.” Of course, this does not mean that all men are less communicative or all women are good at communicating. But statistically speaking, the generalization that men are less communicative is quite sound. Just ask the women buying these magazines.
Equality feminists want us to say that women and men are alike and either to deny that differences exist or to deny that the differences are important. Many women are afraid that equality feminists want us to deny that women have any ways of relating that are superior to men. But if we deny the ways women have developed which are improvements over men’s ways, then what hope have we of getting men to improve? Many women are afraid that equality feminists want women to act like men — since they deny the ways women are superior, then it seems the only way left to be is like men. Many women simply do not want to be like men — it seems worse to them. They do not want to lose their different values and their superior ways of communication. They do not want to give up being able to have intimate communication with other women. Most of all women don’t want to learn to become equal to men in their ability to create violence in the world.
The part that makes equality feminism and cultural feminism seem contradictory is the way equality feminists tend to construe the problem. If women have some ways of being that are better than men, it does not follow that these differences are biological. I like to think of the differences as coming out of different value systems that women tend to have, rather than some innate hormonal menstrual lunar run-with-the-wolves qualities of women.
Since women and men grow up segregated from early elementary school and perhaps even earlier, it follows that they would develop different ways of viewing the world, ways of relating to each other, and different value systems. It does not need to be biological to be true that there are important differences between women and men.
I think the cultural feminists have an important piece, not only for feminism, but for improving human relations in the world in general. We can think that women have developed better value systems without thinking that it is biological and therefore unchangeable. But conflating women’s superiority with biology is the real problem. If we think biology explains women’s areas of superiority, then men are let off the hook. They can’t act better because of their genes.
If, on the other hand, we think that women and men are the same, then men don’t have to acknowledge that women are better than they are in some areas and try to act better. But if we acknowledge that women are superior in some important and fundamental ways, and it’s not biological, then we can hold all people responsible for trying to emulate women’s values and, especially, women’s nonviolence.
Of course, equality feminist have an important piece too. Women also want equal rights with men. They do not want discrimination in the workplace, wage gaps, etc. But they don’t want to have to act like men, or say they do, to get equality.
Copyright Off Our Backs, Inc. May 1997
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