Essentialism and anti-essentialism in feminist philosophy

Journal of Moral Philosophy 1 (2):135-153 (2004)
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Abstract

This article revisits the ethical and political questions raised by feminist debates over essentialism, the belief that there are properties essential to women and which all women share. Feminists’ widespread rejection of essentialism has threatened to undermine feminist politics. Re-evaluating two responses to this problem—‘strategic’ essentialism and Iris Marion Young’s idea that women are an internally diverse ‘series’—I argue that both unsatisfactorily retain essentialism as a descriptive claim about the social reality of women’s lives. I argue instead that women have a ‘ genealogy’: women always acquire femininity by appropriating and reworking existing cultural interpretations of femininity, so that all women become situated within a history of overlapping chains of interpretation. Because all women are located within this complex history, they are identifiable as belonging to a determinate social group, despite sharing no common understanding or experience of femininity. The idea that women have a genealogy thus reconciles anti-essentialism with feminist politics.

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Alison Stone
Lancaster University

Citations of this work

Sex and Gender.Esther Rosario - 2024 - In Kathrin Koslicki & Michael J. Raven (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Essence in Philosophy. New York, NY: Routledge.
Cultural Appropriation Without Cultural Essentialism?Erich Hatala Matthes - 2016 - Social Theory and Practice 42 (2):343-366.
Strategic Conceptual Engineering for Epistemic and Social Aims.Ingo Brigandt & Esther Rosario - 2019 - In Alexis Burgess, Herman Cappelen & David Plunkett (eds.), Conceptual Engineering and Conceptual Ethics. New York, USA: Oxford University Press. pp. 100-124.

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References found in this work

Nietzsche, Genealogy, History.Michel Foucault - 2001 - In John Richardson & Brian Leiter (eds.), Nietzsche. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. (139-164).
Nietzsche and morality.Raymond Geuss - 1997 - European Journal of Philosophy 5 (1):1–20.

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