Wendy McElroy on 21st Century Feminism

A frequent question I get via e-mail is exactly what exactly I mean by Equity Feminism. I stole the term from Christina Hoff Sommers who used it to describe a wide ranging movement that began in the 19th century, and continues to this day, which seeks to ensure that women and men have the same legal rights. This liberal and humanist ideal is contrasted both on the right by traditionalist anti-feminists and on the left by radical academic feminism, both of which end up opposing such a liberal agenda because they are wedded to the view that women and men are fundamentally different in a morally relevant way. Equity feminism, however, asserts that while women and men may be different biologically, there are few, if any, legal and moral distinctions that arise from this biological distinction.

Wendy McElroy captures this idea perfectly in her recent article for iFeminists.Com, 21st-Century Feminism. McElroy writes that,

The 21st-century feminist is anyone — female or male — who rejects gender privilege and demands real equality for men and women under the law. She makes her own choices and takes personal responsibility for them, without asking government for protection or tax dollars.

McElroy calls this view individualist feminism, and notes that this is originally what feminism was about in the 19th century. Today, of course, mention “feminism” and many people think of the illiberal views of academic feminism replete with its obsession with the triumvirate of “patriarchy,” “oppression,” and “victim.” Whereas equity/individualist feminism is concerned with ensuring that laws and public institutions are gender neutral, academic feminism is more interested in realizing a peculiar utopian vision of relations between men and women — whether men and women would prefer that peculiar vision or not.

Equity/individualist feminism is about ensuring that women and men are able to choose for themselves how to live their lives without interference from Big Brother or Big Sister. Apparently, even in the 21st century that is still too radical a notion to find support on either the right or left.


21st-Century Feminism. Wendy McElroy, iFeminists.Com, March 12, 2002.

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