Political Theory 46 (6):837-860 (2018)

In contemporary renderings of modernity, it is patented to the West and assumed to include gender equality; a commitment to gender equality then risks becoming overlaid with hierarchies of country and culture. One way of contesting this, associated with alternative modernities, takes issue with the presumed Western origins of modernity. Another, associated with feminism, subjects the claim the modern societies deliver gender equality to more critical scrutiny. But the first is vulnerable to the charge of describing different routes to the same ideals, and the second to the response that evidence of shortcomings only shows that modernity has not yet fully arrived. The contribution of the West to the birth of modernity is not, in my argument, the important issue. The problem, rather, is the mistaken attribution of a “logic” to modernity, as if it contains nested within it egalitarian principles that will eventually unfold. Something did indeed happen at a particular moment in history that provided new ways of imagining equality, but the conditions of its birth were associated from the start with the spread of colonial despotisms and the naturalisation of both gender and racial difference. There was no logic driving this towards more radical versions. It is in the politics of equality that new social imaginaries are forged, not in the unfolding of an inherently “modern” ideal.
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DOI 10.1177/0090591718757457
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