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Study Notes

Feminism: Essentialism

A Level
AQA, Edexcel

Last updated 6 Nov 2018

Essentialism is an element of feminist ideology based upon the argument that women are fundamentally different to men.

Essentialist (or difference) feminists such as Lynne Segal and Susan Griffin celebrate women’s superior virtue and spirituality. Feminine values such as empathy and nurture may be contrasted with masculine values centred upon violence and destruction. Whereas men seek to conquer and destroy; women give birth to life and seek harmony with the rhythms of nature. Feminine values could also help to reorder the global system and prevent the reckless behaviour of testosterone-fuelled activities that have led to the credit crunch, environmental destruction and warfare.

For essentialists, the objective of the women’s movement must eschew the ‘politics of sameness’ and instead pursue the ‘politics of difference.’ The template for the women’s movement should therefore be womanhood rather than personhood. The essentialist stance within feminist discourse therefore holds overt implications for the thorny issue of equality. The essentialist argument claims that women should actively celebrate that which makes them biologically distinct (and superior) to men.


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