I don’t have time for a long post right now, but a few thoughts. Christina Hoff Sommers’ “equity feminism/gender feminism” distinction (originally made in the 1994 book Who Stole Feminism?), which I’ve sometimes used myself, is rather imprecise, and too open to being used as shorthand for “feminists I like/feminists I don’t like.” Sommers defines “gender feminists” as those who see women as oppressed by a “sex/gender system” ingrained in cultural gender roles, and “equity feminists” as those who want simply to establish legal equality and equality of opportunity. But one needn’t be a particularly radical feminist to believe that various aspects of traditional gender roles lead to unequal opportunity, and one can seek to transform those roles while seeking “equity” rather than female advantage. (Many of the early feminists Sommers praises, such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were harshly critical not only of legal and institutional inequality but of traditional femininity.)
So, what terms would I use? Actually, “equity feminism” and “gender feminism” still make sense to me, but I would fine-tune the definitions somewhat. “Equity feminism” is focused on fairness and equal treatment for individuals regardless of gender; “gender feminism” — a form of identity politics — is focused on solidarity with women and seeking the betterment of women. However, as Jeff has found out, the term “gender feminism” is fairly useless in discussions with feminists to whom one would apply the term, since they regard it as a slur (much as I do “anti-feminist”). I wonder if “identity feminism” would be an acceptable term?
In any case: Here are a few basic principles of my kind of feminism, whatever one wants to call it.
1. Equal treatment regardless of gender. No excuses for unequal treatment such as “we need to make allowances for women’s lack of power/history of oppression,” “real equality means redistributing power from the oppressor to the oppressed,” etc. Feminism should be about equity, fairness and judging people as individuals, not “siding with women” (individually or collectively).
2. We should seek to achieve greater equity/equality by expanding choices for both men and women, not narrowing them — e.g., not make it less socially acceptable for women to stay home with their children, but to make this option more available to men. Equity does not necessarily mean full parity in every field; it means equal opportunity, including freedom from cultural barriers that can hold men or women back from excercising their options (e.g., the belief that it’s unmanly to be a child care worker, or that a woman should be interested in “people things” rather than scientific abstractions).
3. Western women today are not an oppressed or powerless group. While women have some gender-based problems, so do men. Gender-based disadvantages and prejudices should be addressed whether they affect men or women. In today’s society, “more for women” is not necessarily synonymous with justice.
4. Women as well as men can be sexist — toward men as well as women — and can have sexist expectations of and prejudices toward men. Female chauvinism (e.g., the belief that mothers have a special bond with their children inherently superior to that of fathers) should be taken as seriously as male chauvinism.
5. Not everything bad that happens to women (e.g., rape or domestic violence) is the result of sexism or “the patriarchy” (which, in my view, is a meaningless concept when talking about the West in the 21st Century). Women’s personal wrongs in relationships with men should not be considered a feminist issue unless some institutional or cultural bias against women is involved (for instance, a man’s belief that he is entitled to multiple sex partners but his wife or girlfriend is not).
6. Claims of sexism, sex discrimination, or male mistreatment of women should be taken seriously, but not given a presumption of truthfulness and objectivity. Giving a woman’s account greater credence than a man’s because of her gender is just as sexist as presuming a man to be more believable.
7. Finally, my kind of feminism takes a non-adversarial stance toward Western and American society. This was brought home to me by Jeff Goldstein’s exchange with Lauren, who sees a young Muslim immigrant’s decision to wear the hijab as possibly a positive and empowering one because it’s a protest against the majority culture. I don’t regard an adversarial stance vis-a-vis American culture as something valuable in itself. For all its flaws and its much-less-than-perfect history where women are concerned, the West today is the civilization that champions freedom and equal rights for women. For that alone, from a feminist point of view, it is worth defending.