Back to future past — feminism — philosphy

I find myself missing philosophy — I know it’s still out there — but I’ll be nice and keep my thoughts on that and comments to myself.

Be forewarned — I like old stuff — This century is worthless for philosophy — generally.

We are going to see if our Mr. Richard A. Wasserstrom and friends can educate us on feminism, primarily using their own words. This is all old stuff – nothing new happens in feminism – all research is limited to 1993 and prior. Just short of twenty-five years.
We first need to determine exactly what it is we are discussing here. If we are to look at sexism and the efficacy of Wasserstrom’s assimilation theory, then for the purposes of this discussion, I am considering Wasserstrom’s idea of sexism to be:

‘…taking…sex into account in a certain way, in the context of a specific set of institutional arrangements and a specific ideology which together create and maintain a specific system of institutions, role assignments, beliefs, and attitudes. That system is one and has been one, in which political, economic, and social power and the advantage is concentrated in the hands of those who are white and male'(9).
“Additionally, the assimilationist ideal is a society in which the sex of an individual is ‘the functional equivalent of the eye color of individuals in our society today’ (9).
‘In our society, no basic political rights and obligations are determined on the basis of eye color. No important institutional benefits and burdens are connected with eye color'(20).

John Stuart Mill (and perhaps Harriet Taylor) might well contribute,
“The very words necessary to express the task (we) have undertaken, show how arduous it is'(150), but this must not keep us from this duty.

‘That the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes–the legal subordination of one sex to the other–is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it out to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other'(150)
…this concept which you seem to share, I find irrefutable. My only difficulty with your position is in the implementation.
‘All causes, social and natural, combine to make it unlikely that women should be collectively rebellious to men. They are in a position far different from all other subject classes…All men…desire…in the woman…not a forced slave, but a willing one…'(153)”

Wasserstrom would come back with;
I too have difficulty imagining the implementation of this concept,
“The assimilationist ideal in respect to sex does not seem to be as readily plausible and obviously attractive as it is in the case of race…the assimilationist ideal would require the eradication of all sex–role differentiation…(21)'”

We aren’t really disagreeing yet, but Mill/Taylor is likely to add;

“‘When we put together three things–first the natural attraction between opposite sexes, secondly, the wife’s entire dependence on the husband…and lastly, that all…can in general only be sought or obtained through him, it would be a miracle if the object of being attractive to men had not become the polar star of feminine education and formation of character…'(153).

Wasserstrom would likely come back with,
“I also and unsure of how we might accomplish this transformation, yet, ‘There does, however, seem to me to be a strong presumptive case for something very close to, if not identical with, the assimilationist ideal'(29).”

Friedrich Engels might bring in the Teutonic idea of;
“This is a great goal and an honorable pursuit–yet it seems more is attempted than required. If we look to the problem at its root…
‘Then it will be plain that the first condition for the liberation of the wife is to bring the whole female sex back into public industry, and that this, in turn, demands that the characteristic of the monogamous family as the economic unit of society be abolished'(170).

Wasserstrom might be a bit self-evident in his position,
“There is substantial, vehement and apparently intractable disagreement about what individuals, practices, ideas, and institutions are either racist or sexist–and for what reasons”(1).

Until our first female Marxist here today, Heidi I. Hartmann reminds us;
“Mr. Wasserstrom does not go too far–he goes not far enough. He has a radical adjustment for a deeper problem he does not understand. We have much more that need repair. True,
‘…it is in studying patriarchy that we learn why it is women who are dominated and how…(196)
‘…we must organize a practice which addresses both the struggle against patriarchy and the struggle against capitalism. We must insist that the society we want to create is a society in which recognition of interdependence is liberation rather than shame, nurturance is a universal, not an oppressive practice, and in which women do not continue to support the false as well as the concrete freedoms of men'(200).
“Until and unless we do this–we do both too much and too little. Trading an oppressed society of women for an oppressed society of men and women is not the direction we wish to negotiate. Equality is a necessary condition, but not an end when it is not complete.”

Wasserstrom comes back with;
“Granted, ‘complex and sophisticated accounts have been developed which utilize the theories of Freud, Levi-Straus, and Marx to explain the oppression of women'(2). They just don’t seem to provide a solution.”

And Charlotte Bunch brings us some perhaps well-deserved sarcasm;
“Well, I’m amazed. In a discussion of feminism paradigms, you actually let women speak! Albeit a woman who completely supports your ideals–or is it simply that she idealizes you. That has always been the problem. ‘So a real woman is a woman who gets f—ed by men'(174
“Women don’t need to be androgenized. We don’t need to be fixed. Should we become more like you? I’m sure your intent wasn’t to make yourselves more like us. Sure, we should all become part of the problem–that’s a great idea. That’ll solve everything.
“Women are not the problem–but we’re working on a solution. We are bonding together and creating systems that work. Sexism is the root of all oppression–sex and sexual characteristics are not to blame–the oppressors are to blame–the men are to blame.

‘…woman–identified–woman, commits herself to women not only as an alternative to oppressive male/female relationships but primarily because she loves women…It is political because relationships between men and women are essentially political, they involve power and dominance…it is a political matter of oppression, dominance and power'(175).

Wasserstrom seems almost apologetic;
“I don’t disagree. ‘By almost all important measures it is more advantageous to be a male rather than a female'(5).

Charlotte (Bunch) keeps up the pressure,
“We don’t need men, not ‘even for procreation'(176), and we sure don’t need your androgynous assimilationist society. Fix YOUR problems–eliminate YOUR oppressions–then we can discuss the society of the future. We ‘must form our own political movement in order to grow'(178), We’ll get back to you on your male ideas after we take care of that little bit of business.

Wasserstrom, perhaps a bit dazed by that last strike of Charlotte’s;
“The point is there is something that needs to be fixed. ‘Sexism could plausibly be regarded as a deeper phenomenon than racism. It is more deeply embedded in the culture”(8). Assimilation seems the most logical answer–or at least the only one that is not logically flawed.

Wittig is being witty;
“We already have your assimilationist society–it is called lesbianism.
‘Lesbianism is the only concept that I know of which is beyond the categories of sex (woman and man), because lesbian societies are not based on woman’s oppression and because the designated subject (lesbian) is not a woman either economically or politically or ideologically. Furthermore, what we aim at is…the destruction of heterosexuality–the political system based on women’s oppression, which provides the body of thought of the differences between the sexes to explain women’s oppression'(181).

Wasserstrom comes back solid;
“The fact that we regard this assertion of the transsexual as intelligible seems to me to show how deep the notion of sexual identity is in our culture …It is even clearer in the case of sex than in the case of race that one’s sexual identity is a centrally important, crucially relevant category within our culture”(5).

We find another female philosopher, Monique Wittig;
“Your assimilationist theories are inexorably tied to that concept of differences. You play at removing them while you revel in their existences. You are as false as it is possible to be. You are the enemy playing at cooperation and support, and as such you are the most heinous and by far the most dangerous.
‘Our fight aims to suppress man as a class, not through a genocide, but a political struggle. Once the class of “men” disappears, women as a class will disappear as well, for there are no slaves without masters…'(181).
And Charlotte Bunch is quick to back her up;
“Lesbianism lacks direction now because it has failed to understand the importance of heterosexuality in maintaining male supremacy and because it has failed to face class and race as real differences in women’s behavior and political needs”(177).

Wasserstrom just won’t let go,
“I don’t think we are that far apart.
‘Even though there are biological differences between men and women in nature, this fact does not determine the question of what the good society can and should make of these differences'(24).

Wittig stays feisty;
“It is our turn to exist–you shall not take that from us. We will not let you. We will fight for our ‘separateness of ego’ and ‘autonomous entity’. We can agree on the destruction of some terms–though not upon their underlying entities. You seek the recreation of society in your own image–still obsessed with a God-like perception of your own male perfection. We reject your concept because,

‘…once we reject the basic determination “woman” and “man”, once we have no more attributes by which to identify ourselves (I am this or that). We are for the first time in history confronted with the necessity of existing as a person'(182).”
Wasserstrom states the obvious,
“It sounds like you agree with me.
‘…the socially created sexual differences…tend to matter the most. It is sex role differentiation, not gender per se, that makes men and women as different as they are from each other, and it is sex role differences which are invoked to justify most sexual differentiation at any of the levels of society'(24).”

And Wittig finishes with a grand slam, of sorts;
“It is because you hear with your genitalia. You hear what you want. We are different–we just don’t want to be punished by you anymore for that difference. You can’t get past that. We ‘have to be something else, not woman, not man, a product of society not a product of nature, for there is no nature in society'(180). And you cannot inject it with an assimilationist theory.”


Bunch, Charlotte. “Lesbians in Revolt.” Feminist Frameworks. Ed. Alison M. Jagger & Paula S. Rothenberg. New York:
McGraw-Hill Inc., 1993. 174-178.
Engels, Friedrich. “Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State.” Feminist Frameworks. Ed. Alison M.
Jagger & Paula S. Rothenberg. New York: McGraw-Hill Inc., 1993. 160-170.
Hartmann, Heidi I. “The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: Towards a More Progressive Union.” Feminist
Frameworks. Ed. Alison M. Jagger & Paula S. Rothenberg.
New York: McGraw-Hill Inc., 1993. 191-200.
Mill, John Stuart (Harriet Taylor). “The Subjection of
Women.” Feminist Frameworks. Ed. Alison M. Jagger &
Paula S. Rothenberg. New York: McGraw-Hill Inc., 1993.
Wasserstrom, Richard A. “Racism, Sexism and Preferential Treatment: An Approach to the Topics,” UCLA Law Review.
24 (February 1977), 603.
Wittig, Monique. “One Is Not Born a Woman.” Feminist Frameworks. Ed. Alison M. Jagger & Paula S. Rothenberg.
New York: McGraw-Hill Inc., 1993. 178-182.

  • Lorenzo Fossi

    Thank You for this. This is quality material and sources and surely helped me put things in perspective.
    Nothing like watching them damn themselves, after all.