Equity and gender feminism

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Equity feminism and gender feminism are two kinds of feminism, first defined by scholar Christina Hoff Sommers in her 1994 book Who Stole Feminism?.[1] She describes equity feminism as having the ideological objective of equal legal rights for men and women and gender feminism as having the objective of counteracting gender-based discrimination and patriarchic social structures also outside of the legal system in everyday social and cultural practice. Sommers is herself a strong advocate of what she calls equity feminism, and opposed to what she calls gender feminism.

Equity feminism[edit]

Sommers describes equity feminism as an ideology rooted in classical liberalism, and that aims for full civil and legal equality for women. Experimental psychologist Steven Pinker expands on Sommers to write, "Equity feminism is a moral doctrine about equal treatment that makes no commitments regarding open empirical issues in psychology or biology."[2]

Sommers contends that "Most American women subscribe philosophically to the older 'First Wave' kind of feminism whose main goal is equity, especially in politics and education".[1] However, Sommers also argues that equity feminism is a minority position in academia, formalized feminist theory, and the organized feminist movement as a whole, who tend to embrace gender feminism.

Feminists who identify themselves with equity feminism include Jean Bethke Elshtain, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Noretta Koertge, Donna Laframboise, Mary Lefkowitz, Carrie Lukas, Wendy McElroy, Camille Paglia, Daphne Patai, Virginia Postrel, Alice Rossi, Nadine Strossen, Joan Kennedy Taylor, Cathy Young, and evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker.[3]

Varieties of equity feminism include classical liberal feminism and individualist feminism. To take the matter of equity feminism a step further, Londa Schiebinger- a professor at the Stanford University, demonstrates how equity feminism throughout history is clearly shown but has not improved to reach its main goal of equality. She provides statistics that illustrate how women are the minority and on unequal grounds as men. She explains in Has Feminism Changed Science how women are placed “in what is known as soft science”[4] fields that are carry less prestige and less money while the men are involved mostly “in the three big scientific fields … chemistry, medical science, and engineering [in 1920’s and 1930’s]”.[5] Schiebinger also mentions the idea of the pipeline: the approach to the problem of women’s low participation in science from the top down, where she states that perhaps the solution is, “reforming the individuals- giving girls the benefits of boy’s socialization” [6] The size of the disparity is decreasing as more females enter engineering and science, but not all females are successful at conducting careers in engineering and men tend to be successful at higher rates. The National Science Foundation reported in 2010 that while the enrollment of females in undergraduate institutions was greater than that of their male counterparts - 1,724,222 women versus 1,484,652 males enrolled - upon reaching the doctoral levels, the reverse was true, with 11,102 males and 9,648 females.[7] The statistics indicate while women are participating in the sciences, parity has not been achieved between the two genders in the workforce and at higher levels of education.

Females start participating in the science fields but there is not enough to reach even near to equality. According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, “As of last year, America ranked 27th out of 37 developed countries for women’s labor force participation”. CNN Money states that there has been a hold on the rise of women’s participation in the work force giving the statistics of, “ in 1950…37% of women ages 25-54 participated in the labor force…74% by 1990…Today, still only 74% of women are active in the U.S. workforce…” Scheibinger states“ between 1982 and 1989 more than 20 percent of all women working in science and engineering left their jobs." [8]

Causes of gender inequality[edit]

Constraints on women throughout the eras have kept women in the private sphere[9] and out of the public sphere. Constraints that Londa Schiebinger [10] mentions in Has Feminism Changed Science: gendered ads, gendered toy manufacturers, gendered computer programs and discrimination. She concludes that society places certain expectations on a being from the moment the sex of the child is determined giving more social benefits to males than females, “… their performance judged by different standards than men's, having to work harder to have their work valued as highly as a man’s.[11]

Gender feminism[edit]

In contrast to equity feminism, Sommers coined the term "Gender feminism" to describe what she contends is a gynocentric branch of feminism. Gender feminists typically criticize contemporary gender roles and aim to eliminate them altogether.[1]

Sommers argues that gender feminism characterizes most of the body of modern feminist theory, and is the prevailing ideology in academia. She argues that while the feminists she designates as gender feminists advocate preferential treatment and portray "all women as victims", equity feminism provides a viable alternative form of feminism to those who object to elements of gender feminist ideology.

Equity feminism and the sciences[edit]

The Pipeline Model was a metaphor used back in the 1980s to describe the lack of women in the sciences. Statistician Betty Verner painted a picture of the pipeline model stating that for any 2000 group of high school boys and girls, in college, 143 boys will major in a science, while only 45 girls will do so. Once committed to a science degree, however, a greater percentage of girls will complete it: 44 of the original 143 men versus 20 of the original 45. As this group progresses to graduate school, the pipeline will yield a ratio of 5 men for every 1 woman with a doctorate's degree in the natural sciences.[12]

The National Science Foundation reported in their Science and Engineering Doctorate Awards that of all the Ph.D.'s granted, 37.6% were awarded to women. The lack of women participation is more severe as one progresses toward the physical sciences, with 42.2% of doctorates granted to women in biology, 28.2% in chemistry, and 13.0% in physics. Virtually no women were granted a doctorate in nuclear physics.[13] Revered physicist Evelyn Fox Keller and Stanford professor in philosopher of science, Helen Longino, "named physical sciences as one of two majors areas in need of further work" with respect to parity between men and women.[14]

Since there has been an increased awareness on the lack of female participation in the sciences, great efforts have been made in improving academic preparation of young girls in mathematics and science. The Pipeline Model, mentioned above, approached the problem from the bottom up, "predicting that if more girls entered the educational end of the pipeline, more women would be turned into credentialed specialists and empty into the science job pool.".[14] This model placed pressure on schools to improve their teaching of science and math so that more people, specifically girls, would become better equipped with the skill set to pursue degrees and jobs in these fields.[15] These concerns have led to the development of three national level plans for reforming science education at the K-12 levels: American Association for the Advancement of Science's Project 2061, the National Science Teachers Association's Scope, Sequence, and Coordination of Secondary School Science project, and the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards project.[15]

Professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado, Margaret Eisenhart, however, does not believe the equity feminism method proposed in all 3 plans is the best way to approach the problem. She says "the changes are all compensatory strategies to provide access to science for previously underrepresented groups. Compensatory strategies treat disadvantaged persons ... but only with the aim of enabling them to measure up to a standard already set by the advantaged group".[15] She believes efforts to increase the diversity of people in science should not depend on new curriculum plans or "outcome measures that focus on conventional science.".[15] In 1994, the National Research Council reported the Pipeline Model to be a flawed approach to the problem, seeing as how it does not provide "insight into how the structure of institutions or the current practices of science need to change before women can comfortably join the ranks of scientists.[14]

Spread of terminology[edit]

The online Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy has adopted the terminology of Sommers in its article on Liberal Feminism[16] as has Victor Conde's A handbook of international human rights terminology[17] and the Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women.[18] Both these reference works have a single article on "equity vs. gender feminism", though Routledge refers to the latter as "difference feminism".

In a 1995 interview in Mother Jones magazine (about a year after the publication of Sommers' book), Gloria Steinem declared she found it hard to take the classification entirely seriously, and that she did not believe there were really two camps.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Hoff Sommers, Christina, Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1995), p. 22
  2. ^ Pinker, Steven, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (Viking, 2002), p. 341
  3. ^ Pinker, Steven, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (Viking, 2002)
  4. ^ Has Feminism Changed Science, Chapter 2 page 34
  5. ^ Has Feminism Changed Science, Chapter 2, page 34
  6. ^ Has Feminism Changed Science Chapter 3
  7. ^ http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/2013/pdf/tab2-2.pdf
  8. ^ Has feminism Changed Science Chapter 3
  9. ^ private sphere relates the societal life which the individual is not intervened directly by governmental or other institutional organizations like the family and home
  10. ^ a professor at Stanford University and a leading international authority on gender and science
  11. ^ Schiebinger Has feminism Changed Science page 61
  12. ^ Vetter, B. Professional Women and Minorities. Washington: Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology, Jan. 1994.
  13. ^ National Science Foundation. Characteristics of Doctoral Scientists and Engineers in the United States: 1995. Arlington, Va., 1997.
  14. ^ a b c Schiebienger, L. Has Feminism Changed Science.Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.
  15. ^ a b c d Eisenhart, M., Finkel, E. "Women (Still) Need Not Apply." The Gender and Science Reader. Ed Muriel Lederman, Ed. Ingrid Bartsch. New York: Routledge, 2001. 14-20. Print.
  16. ^ Liberal Feminism
  17. ^ Conde, Victor (2004). A handbook of international human rights terminology. University of Nebraska Press. p. 96. ISBN 9780803215344. 
  18. ^ Kramarae, Cheris; Dale Spender (2000). Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women: Education: Health to Hypertension. Taylor & Francis. p. 612. ISBN 9780415920889. 
  19. ^ Gorney, Cynthia (1995). "Gloria". Mother Jones (Mother Jones) 20 (6): 22. 

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