Gender vs Equity Feminism: A Not-So-Uneducated Guess.

So, there’s been a lot of talk about “gender” vs “equity” feminism, and various definitions and accusations of what each side holds tossed around, usually with great anger and angst … which pretty much describes most of the history of the feminist movement, to be honest. Now, I’m not fully up-to-date on all of this; I read “Who Stole Feminism?” years ago when I was still fairly actively discussing this stuff, as opposed to now when I basically have limited interest (and I did like the book), and I haven’t really read all of the debates around those terms, and so am just relying on a lot of sniping I’m seeing, but I’ll try to give what I see as the best distinction between the two views as I see it, without actually referencing any specific examples of people or comments. So, consider this not-so-uneducated musing.

(Here’s the wikipedia discussion. I don’t match it, but I think I’m broadly consistent with it.)

The biggest difference in the behaviour that I see is that equity feminists focus on the laws and also in some sense on the cultural and other structures, but are unconcerned about the actual outcomes, while gender feminists tend to rely heavily on the outcomes to make their arguments. Note that this is not saying that gender feminists think that equality of opportunity must mean equality of outcome and equity feminists don’t; I think both sides at least in theory accept that. But gender feminists use inequity of outcome as evidence of inequity of opportunity, while equity feminists tend to look at the policies independently of what the outcome actually is. Thus, gender feminists will argue that if only 10% of the CEOs are women, or women only make 93 cents on the dollar compared to men, or if the speakers/membership of an organization is predominantly male, then there’s probably a sexism problem there, while equity feminists will be skeptical of that and ask what the gender feminists can actually point to that indicates sexism.

This also ties into the idea of gender feminists wanting to eliminate all gender distinctions and equity feminists not wanting to do that. Again, I don’t think either side really thinks that there are no differences between the genders, but equity feminists will tend to fire back at the gender feminist analysis of percentages with “Well, maybe there are differences between the genders that cause different desires that explain the difference in percentages” and gender feminists tend to react to that as if there aren’t any that should matter, and if there are then those differences should be eliminated, since a lot of them are merely social anyway. But equity feminists will deny that it is the responsibility of businesses or organizations to correct for the actual preferences of people, and so you can’t call an organization or business or policy sexist if it does treat people neutrally, even if that neutrality happens to have the impact of skewing the percentages.

You can see this in the Michael Shermer “It’s a Guy Thing” example (okay, so I guess I was kinda fibbing about not referring to actual people or cases [grin] But I’m still not using them as proofs of the definition, which is more what I meant). His answer would be a typical equity feminist position: what we do is put the pieces in place that are fair, evaluate fairly, maybe even make some small gestures to find more women speakers — since they might be being overlooked due to other considerations — but if we have done that and we still have a low percentage … well, then, maybe there’s just something about speaking at conferences that appeals more to men than to women, which explains the difference, but the organization isn’t sexist if it doesn’t try to fix that. (Note, BTW, that in a TVO discussion on a similar topic, the female head of an organization dedicated to improving these sorts of percentages essentially accepted that women didn’t seem as interested in those sorts of things, giving an example of herself being asked to comment on the recent change in Popes and declining, while her husband had no problem accepting despite the fact that he had less interesting things to say). The blowback on this is a typical gender feminist reply, saying that there’s something about women that means that they don’t participate fully in something that’s good is itself evidence of sexism; even if true, women shouldn’t be blamed for having these gendered traits that are likely socially imposed anyway, and so something has to be done about that.

Another clear example is the discussion Stephanie Zvan had over negotiation and its impact on pay disparities. Zvan has the typical gender feminist response: even though the system seems fair, because women aren’t as comfortable negotiating it leads to that pay disparity and so is sexist, and so must be changed. The counter is that it isn’t sexist because it does treat everyone fairly, and the company has no obligation to fix the desires of women or change a policy they need — as I argued — to bring about the equal percentage. Women should learn to negotiate, or accept lower wages.

Now, if you look at these examples, you can see the problems each position has. Gender feminism will tend to try to force companies, organizations or policies to fix or react to the underlying cultural expectations or else be called sexist, and in all of those cases they can easily ask why they should have to, especially if it costs them time and resources. And it does seem reasonable to ask why a company should be obligated to fix the problems with the culture that it exists in; surely that’s better suited to other groups, and when that happens then the fair policies ought to produce the right percentages. On the other hand, equity feminism will tend to deny the role cultural expectations plays in these things, and judge equality simply on what the policies say and not on how they interact with cultural expectations. But it is clear that you can indeed play the cultural expectations and introduce policies that are sexist while not looking it. Cultural expectations aren’t irrelevant when making policy, but policies shouldn’t have to design themselves around that to the detriment of the purpose of the policy either.

Anyway, that debate isn’t really here nor there at this point. At this point, I’d simply like to say that these definitions, to me, seem reasonable based on what both sides tend to argue and seem to fairly represent both sides, as it gives them both relevant arguments and relevant flaws. Also note that gender feminism will appear to people who like numbers as evidence, as appealing to the percentages gives a clear number that you can work with to determine if something is sexist or not. Equity feminism, on the other had, bases sexism on an analysis of the policies and the intentions, and so it isn’t as clear-cut, but doesn’t stray as close to the “equality of opportunity = equality of outcome” line. Thus, you would probably expect to see scientific and mathematical types siding with gender feminism, with philosophical and, say, interpretive types siding with equity feminism. In short, people who want numbers and quantitative analysis for everything will tend to be gender feminists, while people who don’t trust numbers and want qualitative analysis will prefer equity feminism. If you look at the people on either side of recent debates in atheism over this, I think my analysis isn’t too far off.

4 Responses to “Gender vs Equity Feminism: A Not-So-Uneducated Guess.”

  1. Héctor Muñoz Says:

    I think it’s not a simple matter of trusting or not quantitative analysis.

    The basic claims of equality feminism as you define them seem legitimate but I’m not very enthusiastic about an equality movement which specifically excludes me and that seems to have exceeded it’s goals in most developed countries.

    Gender feminism on the other hand seems a little bit out of touch with reality by the effect of political idealism and narcissism.

    This idea that women as a class have always been victims of men as a class because human culture is built to control access of women to resources and remove their personal agency by means of artificial gender identity is Marxist and requires i’t’s followers to be narcissistic to perceive themselves as perpetual victims who deserve at least the same as any other living person can have but can’t get it because the system is against them.

    Gender feminism followers also tend to be very self entitled, to be hypersensitive to perceived aggression, to be unempatetic with people who disagree with them and to have problems distinguishing themselves from their fellow ideologues. All signs of narcissism.

    I’m not denying well known facts of gender unequality of the past, but they have to be understood in their context and not used to justify why most women feel unmotivated to become programmers and why we need to spend huge money to create all sorts of complex regulations to assure at least 50% of all highly remunerated programmers are women.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      Gender feminism followers also tend to be very self entitled, to be hypersensitive to perceived aggression, to be unempatetic with people who disagree with them and to have problems distinguishing themselves from their fellow ideologues. All signs of narcissism.

      Unfortunately, these all seem to be the traits of most activists about most issues. I won’t limit this to feminism, although I agree that in general I don’t like an equality movement that focuses on only one side of the equation. Sometimes that’s valid, but a lot of the time it isn’t.

      As for the numbers part, I didn’t say it was a simple matter of that, but pointed out that my view of the two meant that people who liked strong quantitative analysis would tend to lean towards gender feminism and those that distrusted it would lean towards equity feminism.

  2. Héctor Muñoz Says:

    You are right, these are traits shared by most hard core activists on any issue.

  3. Tumblr, feminism and liberalism - Page 17 Says:

    […] on race. This probably explains it a bit better and of course has different biases than mine 🙂 Gender vs Equity Feminism: A Not-So-Uneducated Guess. | The Verbose Stoic Here's also someone who clearly a critic of her, so be aware of their stance. Shakesville: […]

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