Feminist metaphysics

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Where metaphysics tries to explain what is the universe and what it is like, feminist metaphysics questions how metaphysical answers have supported sexism. [1] Are ideas we have about fundamental subjects like: the self, mind and body, nature, essence, and identity formed with gendered bias? For instance, feminist metaphysics would ask if Cartesian dualism the concept of humans having minds separate from our bodiesprivileges men or masculinity. [1]

Metaphysics Branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of reality

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between potentiality and actuality. The word "metaphysics" comes from two Greek words that, together, literally mean "after or behind or among [the study of] the natural". It has been suggested that the term might have been coined by a first century CE editor who assembled various small selections of Aristotle’s works into the treatise we now know by the name Metaphysics.

Sexism prejudice or discrimination based on a persons sex or gender

Sexism is prejudice or discrimination based on a person's sex or gender. Sexism can affect anyone, but it systematically and primarily affects women and girls. It has been linked to stereotypes and gender roles, and may include the belief that one sex or gender is intrinsically superior to another. Extreme sexism may foster sexual harassment, rape, and other forms of sexual violence. Gender discrimination may encompass sexism, and is discrimination toward people based on their gender identity or their gender or sex differences. Gender discrimination is especially defined in terms of workplace inequality.

The self is an individual person as the object of his or her own reflective consciousness. This reference is necessarily subjective, thus self is a reference by a subject to the same subject. The sense of having a self—or self-hood—should, however, not be confused with subjectivity itself. Ostensibly, there is a directness outward from the subject that refers inward, back to its 'self'. Examples of psychiatric conditions where such 'sameness' is broken include depersonalization, which sometimes occur in schizophrenia: the self appears different to the subject.


Social construction

The famous quote “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” coined by Simone de Beauvoir, can be considered feminist metaphysical critique.[ citation needed ] De Beauvoir does not deny that some people are born with female body parts, but that those body parts need not imply how one is socially situated. Yet for many societies being in possession of those body parts prescribes social roles, norms, and activities, and the differences are said to be necessary, because they are natural. [2]

Simone de Beauvoir French writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist, and social theorist

Simone Lucie Ernestine Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir was a French writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist and social theorist. Though she did not consider herself a philosopher, she had a significant influence on both feminist existentialism and feminist theory.

Since de Beauvoir many feminists have presented the view that social hierarchies are perpetuated by the fallacy that they are metaphysically "natural". In fact, the power that comes from naturalising myths about universal categories, has made feminists wary of accepting that any category at all is "natural". And subsequently a response is that any such supposedly "natural" category, should not be a basis for how we organize ourselves socially. [3]

Critique of social construction

If being a woman is not due to "situation", like biology, de Beauvoir claims that it is due to "instrumentality" of women's freedom.[ clarification needed ] Critic Judith Butler finds this problematic because de Beauvoir's reasoning, now plots "situation" against "instrumentality", plays into Cartesian body-freedom dualism. [4] [ clarification needed ]

Judith Butler American philosopher and gender theorist (born 1956)

Judith Pamela Butler is an American philosopher and gender theorist whose work has influenced political philosophy, ethics, and the fields of third-wave feminist, queer, and literary theory. In 1993, she began teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, where she has served, beginning in 1998, as the Maxine Elliot Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory. She is also the Hannah Arendt Chair at the European Graduate School.

Related Research Articles

Gender studies Interdisciplinary field of study

Gender studies is a field for interdisciplinary study devoted to gender identity and gendered representation as central categories of analysis. This field includes women's studies, men's studies and queer studies. Sometimes, gender studies is offered together with study of sexuality.

Femininity Set of qualities, characteristics or roles associated with girls and women

Femininity is a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles generally associated with girls and women. Femininity is socially constructed, but made up of both socially-defined and biologically-created factors. This makes it distinct from the definition of the biological female sex, as both males and females can exhibit feminine traits.

Women's studies is an academic field that draws on feminist and interdisciplinary methods in order to place women’s lives and experiences at the center of study, while examining social and cultural constructs of gender; systems of privilege and oppression; and the relationships between power and gender as they intersect with other identities and social locations such as race, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, and disability.

<i>The Second Sex</i> essay from Simone de Beauvoir

The Second Sex is a 1949 book by the French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir, in which the author discusses the treatment of women throughout history. Beauvoir researched and wrote the book in about 14 months when she was 38 years old. She published it in two volumes, Facts and Myths and Lived Experience. Some chapters first appeared in Les Temps modernes. One of Beauvoir's best-known books, The Second Sex is often regarded as a major work of feminist philosophy and the starting point of second-wave feminism.

Other (philosophy) Dissimilar to and the opposite of the Self, of Us, and of the Same

In phenomenology, the terms the Other and the Constitutive Other identify the other human being, in his and her differences from the Self, as being a cumulative, constituting factor in the self-image of a person; as acknowledgement of being real; hence, the Other is dissimilar to and the opposite of the Self, of Us, and of the Same. The Constitutive Other is the relation between the personality and the person (body) of a human being; the relation of essential and superficial characteristics of personal identity that corresponds to the relationship between opposite, but correlative, characteristics of the Self, because the difference is inner-difference, within the Self.

Feminist theory is the extension of feminism into theoretical, fictional, or philosophical discourse. It aims to understand the nature of gender inequality. It examines women's and men's social roles, experiences, interests, chores, and feminist politics in a variety of fields, such as anthropology and sociology, communication, media studies, psychoanalysis, home economics, literature, education, and philosophy.

<i>Gender Trouble</i> Book by Judith Butler

Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity is a book by the philosopher Judith Butler, in which the author argues that gender is a kind of improvised performance. The work is influential in feminism, women's studies, and lesbian and gay studies, and has also enjoyed widespread popularity outside of traditional academic circles. Butler's ideas about gender came to be seen as foundational to queer theory and the advancing of dissident sexual practices during the 1990s.

Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. Existentialism is a philosophical and cultural movement which holds that the starting point of philosophical thinking must be the individual and the experiences of the individual, that moral thinking and scientific thinking together are not sufficient for understanding all of human existence, and, therefore, that a further set of categories, governed by the norm of authenticity, is necessary to understand human existence. This philosophy analyzes relationships between the individual and things, or other human beings, and how they limit or condition choice.

Postmodern feminism is a mix of post structuralism, postmodernism, and French feminism. The goal of postmodern feminism is to destabilize the patriarchal norms entrenched in society that have led to gender inequality. Postmodern feminists seek to accomplish this goal through rejecting essentialism, philosophy, and universal truths in favor of embracing the differences that exist amongst women to demonstrate that not all women are the same. These ideologies are rejected by postmodern feminists because they believe if an universal truth is applied to all woman of society, it minimizes individual experience, hence they warn women to be aware of ideas displayed as the norm in society since it may stem from masculine notions of how women should be portrayed.

Feminist sociology

Feminist sociology is a conflict theory and theoretical perspective which observes gender in its relation to power, both at the level of face-to-face interaction and reflexivity within a social structure at large. Focuses include sexual orientation, race, economic status, and nationality.

Feminist philosophy is an approach to philosophy from a feminist perspective and also the employment of philosophical methods to feminist topics and questions. Feminist philosophy involves both reinterpreting philosophical texts and methods in order to supplement the feminist movement and attempts to criticise or re-evaluate the ideas of traditional philosophy from within a feminist framework.

The distinction between sex and gender differentiates a person's biological sex from that person's gender, which can refer to either social roles based on the sex of the person or personal identification of one's own gender based on an internal awareness. In this model, the idea of a "biological gender" is an oxymoron: the biological aspects are not gender-related, and the gender-related aspects are not biological. In some circumstances, an individual's assigned sex and gender do not align, and the person may be transgender. In other cases, an individual may have biological sex characteristics that complicate sex assignment, and the person may be intersex.

Gender essentialism is a concept used to examine the attribution of fixed, intrinsic, innate qualities to women and men. In this theory, there are certain universal, innate, biologically- or psychologically-based features of gender that are at the root of observed differences in the behavior of men and women. In Western civilization, it is suggested in writings going back to ancient Greece. With the advent of Christianity, the earlier Greek model was expressed in theological discussions as the doctrine that there are two distinct sexes, male and female created by God, and that individuals are immutably one or the other. This view remained essentially unchanged until the middle of the 19th century, until Darwin's publications on evolution. This changed the locus of the origin of the essential differences, in Sandra Bem's words, "from God's grand creation [to] its scientific equivalent: evolution's grand creation," but the belief in an immutable origin had not changed.

Nancy Bauer is an American philosopher specializing in feminist philosophy, existentialism and phenomenology, and the work of Simone de Beauvoir. She was recently Chair of the Philosophy Department at Tufts University and is currently Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor of Philosophy as well as the Dean of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts. Her interests include methodology in philosophy, feminism, metaphysics, social/political/moral philosophy, philosophy of language, phenomenology, and philosophy in film.

Judith Lorber is Professor Emerita of Sociology and Women’s Studies at The CUNY Graduate Center and Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. She is a foundational theorist of social construction of gender difference and has played a vital role in the formation and transformation of gender studies. She has more recently called for a de-gendering of the social world.

<i>Sensible Sensuality</i> book by Sarojini Sahoo

Sensible and Sensuality is a collection of essay by Indian feminist writer Sarojini Sahoo. Published in 2010, the book contains the author’s view on feminism. Sahoo is a key figure and trend-setter of feminism in contemporary Indian literature. She has been listed among 25 exceptional women of India by Kindle English magazine of Kolkata. For Sahoo, feminism is not a "gender problem" or confrontational attack on male hegemony and, as such, differs from the feminist views of Virginia Woolf or Judith Butler.

Neofeminism describes an emerging view of women as becoming empowered through the celebration of attributes perceived to be conventionally feminine, that is, it glorifies a womanly essence over claims to equality with men. It is a term that has come into use in the early 21st century to refer to a popular culture trend, what critics see as a type of "lipstick feminism" that confines women to stereotypical roles, while it erodes cultural freedoms women gained through the second-wave feminism of the 1960s and 1970s in particular.

In feminist theory, the principle of male-as-norm holds that "language referring to females, such as the suffix -ess, the use of man to mean "human", and other such devices, strengthens the perceptions that the male category is the norm and that the corresponding female category is a derivation and thus less important. Sexist terms such as chairman, anchorman, etc., are cited as examples of how the English language mirrors social gender biases.


  1. 1 2 Haslanger, Sally; Sveinsdóttir, Ásta Kristjana (2011). "Feminist Metaphysics". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2011 ed.). ISSN   1095-5054. OCLC   224325075.
  2. de Beauvoir, Simone (1949). The Second Sex. New York: Vintage Books. pp. Chapter 1. ISBN   978-1-473-52191-9. OCLC   896850610.
  3. Warnke, Georgia (2008). After Identity: Rethinking Race, Sex, and Gender. Cambridge, UK & New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN   978-0-521-88281-1. OCLC   165408056.
  4. Butler, Judith (1990). Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge. p. 12. ISBN   978-0-415-90042-3. OCLC   19630577.

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