The Trivialization of the Notion of Equality

  • Louise Marcil-Lacoste
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 161)


The general claims of this paper are that an epistemological analysis of feminism is culturally necessary and that reactions to feminism are epistemologically determined. The issues to be discussed may be summarized by the following questions: in what sense is it accurate to say that feminist writings are a repetition of men’s writings; even supposing that they are, for what reason should this be given as so powerful an objection to feminist writings; and finally in what sense is it necessary for women to go on “validly” repeating men? As I hope will be shown, the answers to these questions are much more complex than one would gather from the argument that the definition of women’s identity has always been made by the concept of resemblance to the oppressor.


Neutral Component Epistemological Analysis Feminist Writing Epistemological Model Woman Question 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    On this, see V. L. Bullough, The Subordinate Sex, A History of Attitudes toward Women (New York: Penguin Bk, 1974, esp. pp. 336ff) and M. Ellman, Thinking about Women (New York: Harvest Bk, 1968).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    On this, see G. G. Yates, What Women Want, The Ideas of the Movement (Cambridge: Harvard U.P., 1975) and J. Hole and E. Levine, Rebirth of Feminism (New York: NYT Quatrangle, 1975).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    This definition is tautological and nominalistic only in appearance. It covers H. Morgan’s Total Woman (traditional), M. Cardinal’s Des mots pour le dire (radical) and academic writings where no mention is made to the question of women (taken as a proof of intellectual emancipation). This definition raises the issue of whether a male might produce an adequate account of women and whether it is sufficient to be a woman to do so. This also raises the issue of “outsider/insider” in sociology of knowledge; on this see E. E. Almquist, ‘Women in the Labour Force’, Signs 3 (1977), 843–855, 871.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    For this type of reduction, see S. Lilar, Le malentendu du deuxième sexe (Paris: P.U.F., 1970), N. Mauer, The Prisoner of Sex (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971), R. R. Barber, Liberating Feminism (Boston: Delta Bk, 1976). Notice that in copying males’ evils, women are less justified than males; on this, see H. Marcuse, Counterrevolution and Revolt (Boston: Beacon Press, 1972) and J.-P. Sartre, in’ simone de Beauvoir interroge Jean-Paul Sartre’, L’ARC 61, 3-12. On this question, see also H. R. Hays, The Dangerous Sex: The Myth of Feminine Evil (New York: Putnam‐s Sons, 1964), F. d‐Eaubonne, Histoire et actualité du féminisme (Paris: Alain Moreau, 1972), D. Paulme, La mère dévorante (Paris: NRF Gallimard, 1976), C. Garside, ‘Women and Persons’ in M. Anderson (ed.), Mother Was Not a Person (Montréal: Content Publ. Comp., 1972, pp. 194-204)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See C. Rochefort, Le repos du guerrier (Paris: Grasset, 1958), S. de Beauvoir, La femme rompue (Paris: Gallimard, 1965), H. Maure, L’amour au féminin (Paris: J’ai lu, 1973). Notice that to the possibility of sharing what fails is related the possibility of sharing eveny dream about what life could be (as in J. J. Rousseau’s La nouvelle Héloïse) as well as “compensatory” theses such as women’s lesser intellect compensated by their greater moral qualities or women’s exclusion from politics compensated by their “informal” power. On this, see A. B. Muzzey, The Young Maiden (Boston: W. Corsby, 4th ed., 1943), S. P. White, A Moral History of Woman (New York: Doubleday, 1937), C. J. Furness, The Genteel Female: An Anthology (New York: Knopf, 1931), M. R. Beard, Woman as a Force in History (New York: Macmillan, 1946), C. Garside, ‘Good and Evil for Women’, in J. Goldenberg and J. Romero, ‘Women and Religion’ (Proceedings of the American Academy of Religion, 1973, pp. 104-127).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Published in New York: Stein and Day, 1973. See also J. I. Roberts, Beyond Intellectual Sexism, A New Woman; A New Reality (New York: D. McKay Company, 1976) and S. Hammer (ed.), Woman, Body and Culture (New York: Harper & Row, 1975).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Le deuxième sexe (Paris: NRF Gallimard, 1949, esp. Vol. II, Part I).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    On this, see H. Törnebohm, ‘On Piecemeal Knowledge-Formation’, in R. J. Bogdan (ed.) Local Induction (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1976, pp. 297–319, esp. p. 317). Attempting to explicitly assume this “piecemeal” condition are, e.g. the writings of D. Boucher and M. Gagnon, Retailles, Complaintes politiques (Montréal: L’Etincelle, 1977).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    I. Levi, ‘Acceptance Revisited’ in Bogdan’s Local Induction (op. cit.), pp. 1–73, esp. p. 43 and I. Levi, Gambling with Truth (New York: Knopf, 1967).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    See G. Menges & E. Kofler, ‘Cognitive decisions under partial information’ in Bogdan’s Local Induction (op. cit.), pp. 183–189, and references to Carnap, Hintikka, Popper, Levi, etc.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Le deuxième sexe (op. cit.), esp. general introduction and Vol. II, Part III; The Femininity Game (op. cit.), pp. 101-115; 183-184. See also C. Valabrègue, La condition masculine (Paris: Payot, 1968).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    More detailed analysis of this question to be found in my ‘Féminisme et rationalité’, in Rationalité aujourd’hui, Rationality Today (Ottawa: Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa, 1979), pp. 475–484.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    In a sense, there is one exception to this claim in the writings of L. Irigaray, Speculum de l’autre femme (Paris: Minuit, 1974) and Ce sexe qui n’en est pas un (Paris: Minuit, 1977): in denying the applicability of Freudian-Lacanian models to the case of women, Irigaray challenges the notion of rationality in its most general sense.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Recent debates in K. Stern, The Flight from Woman (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1965), J. Stoller, Sex and Gender: On the Development of Masculinity and Femininity (New York: Science House, 1968), A. S. Rossi,’ sentiment and Intellect: The Story of John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill’, Midway 10 (1970), 29-51.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    These typical arguments (1. counter-example; 2. hierarchy of criteria; 3. unappli-cability of the model) may be related to typical levels of analysis in women’s studies (1. discovery of new phenomena; 2. re-interpretation of traditional notions; 3. demonstration of the relevance of traditional theories). See M. B. Parlee on psychology in Signs, Vol. I, no. 1, Fall 1975, pp. 132–138 and K. Boals on political science in Signs, Vol. I, no. 1, Fall 1975, pp. 161—174. Notice that the chosen model of analysis may be taken as an open model; e.g. C. Broyelle, La moitié du ciel, le mouvement de libération des femmes aujourd’hui en Chine, Paris: Denoël-Gonthier, 1973.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    S. de Beauvoir, Le deuxième sexe (op. cit.); B. Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: Norton, 1963) and It Changed My Life (New York: Random House, 1975); S. Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex; The case for Feminist Revolution (New York: Bantam Bk, 1970); K. Millett, Sexual Politics (London: Hart-Davis, 1971) and Flying (New York: Ballantine Bk, 1974); L. Irigaray, Speculum de Vautre femme, op. cit. One may also see M. Daly, Beyond God the Father (Boston: Beacon, 1973) as “downstream” P. Tillich’s model, or H. Cixous, La (Paris: Gallimard, 1976) and C. Clément, La jeune née (Paris: Féminin futur, 1975) as “downstream” the “nouvelle écriture” or the philosophy of the Other. Trying to explicitly assume the “downstreamness” of the woman’s condition and studies, see e.g. S. James, Sex, Race and Class (London: Race Today Publ., 1976) and M. Dalla Costa, The Power of Women and The Subversion of the Community (Bristol: Falling Wall Pr., 1978).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    E. W. Adams, The Logic of Conditionals, An Application of Probability to Deductive Logic (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1975, esp. pp. 87–90). The notion of consequence is not reduced to that of action. Notice that there are consequences to “negative” beliefs. Historicity is a critical category in as much as implying an awareness that no matter which form of rationality has been dominant in history, it has served to hide, justify, maintain, or not to disturb sexism. On this, see V. L. Bullough, The Subordinate Sex: A History of Attitudes toward Women (New York: Penguin Bk, 1974) and B. A. Carroll, Liberating Women’s History (The University of Illinois Press, 1976).Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    This may be presented as the epistemological version of the “in between” status of women. On this, see M. Strathern, Women in Between, Female Roles in a Male World, Mount Hagen, New Guinea (New York: Seminar Pr., 1975) and L. Irigaray, ‘Des marchandises entre elles’ in Ce sexe qui n’en est pas un (op. cit.). Notice that this claim is contrary to J. S. Mill’s claim on women’s essential counterpart-to-abstractness role in The Subjection of Women (The M.I.T. Press, 1970).Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    On this, see S. G. Harding (ed.), Can Theories be Refuted? Essays on the Duhem-Quine Thesis (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1976, esp. p. xxi).Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    In ‘The Rationality of Science’ (from ‘Against Method’) in Harding’s Can Theories Be Refuted? (op. cit.) pp. 289–316, esp. p. 289. Notice Feyerabend’s metaphor when arguing against the view that rationality is agreement with fixed rules: “Rather than choosing either a dragon or a pussycat as our companion ... We can turn science from a stern and demanding mistress into an attractive and yielding courtesan who tries to anticipate every wish of her lover” (p. 311).Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    T. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd Edition, The University of Chicago Press, 1970. Kuhn’s notion of paradigm could also be used as an explanatory model for the repetition charge: the reason why there has not been a “scientific revolution” in matters related to feminism would be that feminists’ paradigms are “incommensurable” with the formalist view of the growth of knowledge. On the importance of “articulation” between models and examplars, see my “Paradigmes et bon sens”, Dialogue 16 (1977), 629-652.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    K. R. Popper, Conjectures and Refutations (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963, pp. 238–239).Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    E. W. Adams, The Logic of Conditionals, op. cit., esp. p. 18.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    ‘Cinderella as a Winner’ is a chapter in T. Boslooper and M. Hayes, The Femininity Game, op. cit. On the “lucky estimate” model, see E. W. Adams, The Logic of Conditionals, op. cit., pp. 82-87.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    See G. Greer, The Female Eunuch (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971, esp. p. 8 and pp. 328-329) on “men are not free” as an argument why nobody should be;S. Rowbotham, Women, Resistance and Revolution (New York: Penguin Bk, 1972, esp. pp. 200-247); S. G. Harding, ‘Feminism: Reform or Revolution’, Philosophical Forum 5, Nos. 1-2, Fall 1973/Winter 1974, pp. 271-285; and C. Pierce’s review in Signs 2 (1976) 422-433; J. Russ, The Female Man (New York: Bantam Bk, 1975).Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    On this, see e.g., P. M. Spacks, The Female Imagination (New York: Avon Bk, 1972), S. Paradis, Femme fictive, femme réelle. Le personnage féminin dans le roman canadien-français (Ottawa: Garneau, 1966), E. G. Davis, The First Sex (New York: Penguin Bk, 1971), Des femmes de Musidora, Paroles... elles tournent! (Paris: Editions des femmes, 1976). Notice that if we apply I. Levi’s rule for the contraction/extension of a corpus of knowledge — that the risk of error in entertaining a hypothesis be probabilistically related to the addition of information which this hypothesis could provide — to feminist writings, the repetition charge eliminates the “risk of error” (no new information is to be expected) and further creates what may be termed “a risk of truth” (rehearsing unpalatable features of knowledge). See I. Levi, ‘Acceptance Revisited’, op. cit., esp. p. 9.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    I refer to P. K. Feyerabend’s notion of “incommensurable theories”, in ‘The Rationality of Science’, (op. cit.) pp. 289–316 op. cit. Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    I refer to T. Kuhn’s notion of puzzle-solving in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, op. ci. This “dislocation” of broad and specific issues, thereby the neglect of the core of women’s studies, may be taken as an epistemological version of what B.-C. de Coninck calls La partagée (Paris: Minuit, 1977).Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    I. Lakatos, ‘Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes’, in Harding’s Can Theories be Refuted!, op. cit., pp. 205–260, esp. p. 241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    P. K. Feyerabend, ‘The Rationality of Science’, (op. cit.) op. cit., pp. 299–301. The multiplicity of concrete contents thereby ascribed to feminist writings in terms of expletive novelties could be taken as an epistemological version of what A. Ceresa calls La fille prodigue (Paris: Editions des femmes, 1975).Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    This may be seen as a good epistemological case of what P. K. Feyerabend calls the “sociology of repression” in ‘The Rationality of Science’, (op. cit.), pp. 314–315. As well put by L. Irigaray, we do not know exactly what a male’s language is because the assumption is to define everything in sexually neutral terms; yet, we can say that there is no language but a male’s language. See Ce sexe qui n’en est pas un, op. cit., p. 138.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    H. Törnebohm, ‘On Piecemeal Knowledge-Formation’, op. cit., p. 317.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    See J. Moulton, ‘The Myth of the Neutral Man’, summary in C. Pierce’s article on philosophy in Signs 1 (1975), 487–503; J. Agassi’s comment and C. Pierce’s reply in Signs 2 (1976), pp. 512-514. On language, see K. One, ‘Manglish’, Everywoman, Nov. 1972, p. 12 and M. R. Key, Male/Female Language (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Pr., 1975).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    A positive way of putting this thesis appears in the “androgynous” perspective. On this, see C. G. Heilbrun, Toward a Recognition of Androgyny (New York: Knopf, 1973); A. S. Rossi, ‘Equality between the Sexes: An Immodest Proposal’, Daedalus 93 (1964), 608-643; M. Daly, Beyond God the Father (op. cit.); G. G. Yates, What Women Want, The Ideas of the Movement (op. cit.). Another way appears in pleas for the couple as the model; see R. Gary, Clair de femme (Paris: NRF Gallimard, 1977); M. Champagne, La violence au pouvoir (Montréal: Editions du Jour, 1971). A puzzling suggestion appears in G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, L’anti-Oedipe (Paris: Minuit, 1972, esp. pp. 350-352): there is not one, not two, but “n sexes”. This thesis is given as an interpretation of Marx’s puzzling statement on a human and a non-human sexes, in Critique de la philosophie de l’État de Hegel. Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    This is my way of understanding the epistemological origin of the problem whether women studies are on or of women; see, e.g. M. Parlee in Signs 1 (1975), 119–139; M. T. Shuch Mednick, Signs 1, Part 1, 763-770. This is also my interpretation of the reason why the “starting-point” problem should be so difficult in feminist writings; see, e.g. H. Cixous, Les commencements (Paris: Grasset, 1970). This is finally my suggestion for reconstructing the problem of universalization from a feminist perspective; see, e.g. C. G. Allen, ‘True sex polarity’, and’ sex-Identity and Personal Identity’ in W. Shea and J. King Farlow (eds.), Contemporary Issues in Political Philosophy (New York: Science, History Publ., 1976, pp. 93-125)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    I. Levi, ‘Acceptance Revisited’ and Gambling with Truth, (op. cit.) Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    See L’ARC, Simone de Beauvoir et la lutte des femmes, Vol. 61; R. D. Cottrell and J. O. Grace in Signs 1 (1976), 977–979; M. L. Collins and C. Pierce, ‘Holes and Slimes: Sexism in Sartre’s Psychoanalysis’, Philosophical Forum 5, Nos. 1-2 (Fall 1973/Winter 1974), pp. 117ff; S. Lilar, Le malentendu du deuxième sexe (op. cit.); B. Friedan, It Changed My Life (op. cit.); H. Nahas, La femme dans la littérature existentielle (Paris: P.U.F., 1957).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    An important example of studies to be made is the question: what epistemological changes did J. S. Mill have to introduce in order to defend women on an apparently Humean model, while sexism may be shown to be deeply rooted in Hume’s method itself? Preliminary researches in this line are done in S. Burns, ‘The Humean Female’ and my comment ‘The consistency of Hume’s position concerning women’, both in Dialogue 15 (1976), 415–441 and our joint paper on ‘Hume on Women’, in L. Clark and L. Lange (eds.), Sexism of Social and Political Theory (The University of Toronto Press, 1979), pp. 60-74. Another interesting example would be C. Demar, L’affranchissement des femmes (1833, reprint in Paris: Payot, 1976) and its relationships to St-Simon and his disciples. On this, see also B. Groulx, Le féminisme au masculin (Paris: Denoël-Gonthier, 1977)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    I refer to “ultimate partition” as the list of strongest consistent potential answers, see I. Levi, ‘Acceptance Revisited’, (op. cit.) op. cit.; I refer also to I. Niiniluoto’s useful distinction between “answerhood” (what can count as potential answers to a given question) and “questionhood” (what one should ask in the first place on a given occasion) in his ‘Inquiries, Problems, and Questions: Remarks on Local Induction’, in Bogdan’s Local Induction, op. cit., pp. 263-297, esp. p. 264.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    The expression is from I. Levi in ‘Acceptance Revisited’, op. cit., see pp. 10–19, 68.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Louise Marcil-Lacoste
    • 1
  1. 1.Université de MontréalCanada

Personalised recommendations