Equality and Differences: Some Feminist Thoughts

Equality and Differences: Some Feminist Thoughts

Rashida A. Khanum (University of Dhaka, Bangladesh)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0225-8.ch010
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This paper addresses the implications of equality and differences between women and men. The principle of equality is an abstract principle which is difficult to actualize in practical field. On the other hand, it has been argued in the paper that differences that exist between women and men are social constructs. In order to achieve equality it is necessary to re-conceptualize differences as “oppression or subordination”. Regarding the equality and difference issue this paper gives importance on the views of Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill and Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain. All these philosophers believe that equality can be achieved by minimizing differences. Minimizing can be done by proving capabilities of women through their performances. Education plays utmost role to prove the capabilities that women possess. Finally, it is pointed out that social conditioning is responsible for making gap between women and men and we need to break social conditioning to create new mind set and social attitude.
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Part I: Equality And Difference

Equality and difference as a well known debate exists from the beginning of the feminist discourse. By equality-difference controversy we understand from commonsense knowledge the similarity to and dissimilarity from men. But the deep-rooted meaning refers to equality of rights and opportunities of women. Biological differences make a woman different from a man which is not a concern of feminism. Feminism stands ‘to insist on women’s human rights and dignities, to expose the injustices and harm done to women, to assert in a multitude of ways that women are human beings deserving of respect.’ (Thompson, 2001: 13).

In society there exist different views regarding the biological or natural differences. There are immense differences correct or incorrect dominating the society (Mary Holmes, 2009: 21-30). Men-women differences matter a lot. Biological or sex difference engender many other differences particularly oppression on women or counting women as inferior. It is said that sex differences are social construct as class differences are, so that power can be controlled by one sex or class. Feminist critiques are engaged in refuting this social construct. This difference is also known as gender difference. Society uses biological phenomenon as a social phenomenon, i.e., gender to abuse women continuously. We find that women are disadvantaged due to the gender construct. No doubt that gender has been considered as biological also which refers to physical body of women. During the 1960s and 1970s, a new way of thinking about gender began to emerge that critiqued the earlier frameworks and introduced a paradigm shift of gender from biologically based analysis of gender to social analysis (Mahtab, 2012: 120). Social analysis focuses on the fact how gender divides human beings into superior and inferior, into categories between male the superior and female the inferior. Gender is related to cultural or social construction of sex; thus, gender cannot be taken simply as man and woman but rather a set of meanings that sexes assume in particular societies (Mahtab, 2012: 121).

Equality principle holds that all human beings are equal. But reality gives us a different picture. All members of a society are not treated equally. There exists inequality in the society in different forms. Women are treated as inferior than men. Society does not practice the principle of equality. Does equality mean sameness? There are sameness as well as differences between different human beings in questions of race, color, class, yet we say all human beings are equal. There is less controversy here but differences of opinion are greater than sameness regarding men-women equality question. Regarding the question of race we take little notice whether someone is Aryan or non-Aryan, German or British, Bangali or Hilly and regarding color we pay little attention to colors of skin, eye or hair. However, we cannot take lightly the differences existing between women and men though we know that for the welfare of a society it is central to reduce the differences among all human beings.

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