I've read this through several times over the past few months, trying to work out what my personal politics are. Like you, the phrase I have most difficulty with is "I believe the body is irreducuble..."

The interpretation I have settled on is that we cannot deny that our biology is a part of who we are - to use one of the good Dr.B's other phrases "We're not brains on sticks". Taking this sentence with the following one, and the parenthetical comment, into account, I understand her to mean that insisting that differences between the genders are irrelevant or even non-existant is counterproductive, whilst making them the focus (implicit or explicit) of every interaction between men and women is damaging to everyone. But then, maybe I'm just projecting to cover-up my incomprehension!

Perhaps someone here could explain what "essentialism" is though?

The Happy Feminist

You're ahead of me, Poppycock. That's a good analysis. I was just scratching my head saying, "Duh, I don't know what that means."

Essentialism is, I think, the idea the idea that the sexes have fixed immutable traits that define their essence-- as in "women are, by nature, more peaceful."


The interpretation I came up with was that the body is irreducible, that is, it cannot be divided up into little parts. The uterus to the patriarchy and so forth. The body, the whole body, is under the determination of its owner and no one else.

I dunno. Maybe ask Bitch,Ph.D? Ive found this series on academic vs (well not the right word, but in the sense of comparison not competition) layperson feminism fascinating, and I think it finally puts a finger on what I myself have found difficult about feminism. Since I have an academic background (not in feminism, of course), I tend to think the academic aspects of feminism should be clear to me, and they're really not. Which finally helps to make sense of a lot of disconnect I have with this...



I think essentialism is actually a rejection of one-size-fits-all feminism. It developed in response to the first wave white-upper-middle-class movement that started it all. Basically non-essentialists focus on the differences among woman and support bringing to the forefront the voices of woman that have been traditionally ignored by feminism. Essentialists support the theory that all woman have some basic and important things in common, but have been criticized for basically leaving out the poor, disabled, women of color, lesbians, etc.

Most academic feminists will identify themselves thesedays as non-essentialists, I think. But I could be all wrong about this... this is just what I picked up as a member of a gender law journal in law school...

A Pang

I assumed that she meant by "essentialism" the belief that men and women are inherently different, as opposed to the belief that the differences between men and women are the result of different circumstances, and are not carved in stone so to speak. ("Existentialism"? "Accidentalism"?)

Nowadays, thanks to the popularization of evolutionary psychology, most people who we might call "essentialists" are in fact chalking up sex/gender differences to circumstances. For example, "essentialist" claims like "Men are naturally more promiscuous because it's to their evolutionary advantage to spread their genes as much as possible" imply that although men have such-and-such a reproductive strategy, under different selective pressures they would have adopted a different one. The claim's just plain wrong anyway (as is the one that usually follows it, that the same selective pressures are present today and therefore male promiscuity should be encouraged). In this case, the debate's actually shifted to those who believe (sincerely or not) that sex/gender differences are "hard-wired", and those who believe that a) sex/gender differences are largely socially constructed, and b) just because a trait's "hard-wired" doesn't mean it's still useful or good.

The only true "essentialists" you'll find are rogue Peripatetics or else people who think God made men and women different, like the Ladies Against Feminism and their ilk.



Your Feminism 101 post was very interesting, as were the comments to it. A very wide ranging discussion. A pleasure to read.

The Happy Feminist

Thank you TangoMan. You're my next candidate to don a t-shirt that says "This is What a Feminist Looks Like." It hasn't worked with Richard or Mrs. B yet, but you seem like a fine prospect.


You're my next candidate to don a t-shirt

What ? ? ? And get you excommunicated from the movement! Tsk, tsk. The guilt on my conscience would be too much to bear :)


I don't see "My feminism is accomodates the broad range of different feminist approaches." Radical feminists means two thing - feminists with radical beliefs from society's standpoint and feminists with radical beliefs from feminism's standpoint. A stripper for instance, may be a radical feminist of the second sort - embracing her power, taking advantage of her opportunities, feeding herself and her family on her terms, educating herself, etc. She would normally be protrayed as a victim or part of the problem by many feminists, but that is not necessarily the case. That view is a stereotype from within the sisterhood of feminism, and stereotypes are damaging.


Tango, there's no such thing as feminist excommunication. Those edicts cost big bucks to draw up, and we've already spent our last 10 bucks on birth control and beer.

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