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Difference feminism asserts that despite the equal moral status of men and women as persons, there are genuine differences between the sexes and those differences need not all be considered equal. Psychologist Carol Gilligan is considered the founder of difference feminism.
Reverse gender polarity
Reverse gender polarity is the form of difference feminism that asserts that women, per se, are superior to men. It developed as the opposite of traditional gender polarity that asserts that men, per se, are superior to women. Traditional polarity was espoused beginning with Aristotle.
Reverse gender polarity, however, began in the medieval era with the exaltation of feminine virtue by authors like Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and Lucrezia Marinelli. It became prominent again in second-wave feminism with women like psychologist Carol Gilligan.
Fractional gender complementarity
Fractional gender complementarity argues that men and women complement one another as separate parts that together make up a composite whole. This form of difference feminism was most prominent in the Cult of True Womanhood developed in reaction to other forms of feminism in the 19th century. It originally developed from a neoplatonic unisex theory that one sexless soul was incarnated into two different bodies: male and female. The two, when added together, were to have formed a single mind.
Difference feminism has been criticized for claiming that the sexes differ in their style of reasoning by evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker. "If difference feminism is true," he writes, "it would disqualify women from becoming constitutional lawyers, Supreme Court justices, and moral philosophers, who make their living by reasoning about rights and justice." He also notes that many studies have not found significant differences between men and women in their moral reasoning.
Integral gender complementarity
Integral gender complementarity argues that men and women are each integral, whole beings unto themselves whose result when put together is greater than the sum of their parts. Michele M. Schumacher, for example, believes that there is "one (human) nature, two modes of expression... Together they form a communion of persons..."to exist mutually one for the other" " 
The metaphysical foundation of this theory was developed by Dietrich von Hildebrand and Edith Stein, and later by Personalists like Emmanuel Mounier and Jacques Maritain. More recently, the theory was espoused by Pope John Paul II as a foundation for a new feminism.
In regards to differences in emotions, styles or reasoning, those who follow integral complementarity assert that the differences are not divisional - that women only feel or reason one way and men another. Rather, they claim the characteristic differences can be found in tendencies and inclinations rather than finite generalizations. For example, author Janne Haaland-Matlary asserts that it "is far more profound than simple biological reductionism...or... social constructivism." A woman may use her "feminine genius" in practically every profession and vocation.
Pope John Paul II asserted that the challenge facing most societies "is that of upholding, indeed strengthening, woman's role in the family while at the same time making it possible for her to use all her talents and exercise all her rights in building up society." For feminists who believe in integral complementarity, like the new feminists, biology is not "destiny", but it is essentially important.
- Allen, Prudence (2002). The Concept of Woman. William B Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 89–126. ISBN 978-0-8028-4735-5.
- Allen, "Man-Woman Complementarity", p.3
- Allen, "Man-Woman Complementarity". p.3-5
- Pinker, Steven (2003). "Gender". The Blank Slate. Penguin. p. 342. ISBN 978-0-14-027605-3.
- Schumacher, Michele M. (2003). "The Nature of Nature in Feminism, Old and New: From Dualism to Complementary Unity (pp.17-51)". Women in Christ; Toward a New Feminism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-8028-1294-0.
- Von Hildebrand, Dietrich (1991). Marriage: the Mystery of Faithful Love. Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press. pp. 53–55. ISBN 978-0-918477-00-2.
- Dietrich (1992). Man and Woman: Love and the Meaning of Intimacy. Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-918477-14-9.
- Stein, Edith (1993). "Letter to Sister Callista Koph". Self-Portrait in Letters: 1916-1942. Washington DC: ICS Publications. ISBN 978-0-935216-20-2.
- Allen, "Man-Woman Complementarity". p.5-18
- John Paul II, "Letter to Women" in The Genius of Women (Washington DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1997)
- Haaland-Matlary, Janne (January 12, 2005). Men and Women in Family, Society and Politics. L'Osservatore Romano. Vatican. pp. 6–7.
- John Paul II, "Welcome to Gertrude Mongella, Secretary General of the Fourth World Council on Women", May 1995. No 8, as included in "The Genius of Women".