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Justice and feminism Armitage, Faith


This paper is a contribution to the debates in contemporary political theory around competing understandings of social justice, and their implications for feminist struggles to eradicate gender inequality. While feminism has long advocated forms of distributive justice, which aim to distribute important resources equally between individual women and men, in recent years, many feminists have shifted to new understandings of social justice. This new paradigm, cultural justice, locates the primary social injustices in the state's failure to publicly recognize and value the cultural or identity-related differences that put some social groups, such as women and visible minorities, at a disadvantage. Against this trend, I argue that feminism needs an ethic of socio-economic egalitarianism, derived from individualist and distributive understandings of society, in order to effectively combat gender inequality. Chapter 1 outlines the main features of the paradigm shift in theories of justice from distributive to cultural justice, as well as the related shift within feminist political theory from notions of gender inequality to gender difference. I argue that the feminist project associated with distribute justice, which may be called 'equality feminism,' seeks substantive, or strict, equality between women and men, and that this is essential for combating the economic dimension of gender inequality. Chapter 2 critiques the tradition of 'cultural feminism.' This tradition, following the logic of cultural justice, understands women's inequality as rooted in the public's failure to value women's distinctive culture, which reflects virtues such as patience and a greater capacity for nurturing. I argue that this understanding of injustice, which centres on gender difference not inequality, is flawed because its program will reproduce patterns of gender hierarchy and segregation. Chapter 3 addresses the way political theorists deploy notions of difference and culture in international contexts. Some writers maintain that western feminists inappropriately impose their norms of gender equality on different cultures, offending both cultural pluralism and non-western women's agency. By contrast, universalist feminists argue that there are similar notions of gender equality emergent in all cultures, and that feminists must not sacrifice women's rights in the name of respect for cultural differences. I outline a distributive model of universalist feminist justice that responds to critics' concerns for cultural pluralism and women's freedom. In summary, the more conventional understandings of social justice, which rely on the logic of distribution, and the ethics of individualism and socio-economic egalitarianism, are not inimical to contemporary feminism. In fact, they are complimentary projects that attack the poverty, violence, ill health, truncated human rights, and diminished freedom suffered disproportionately by women everywhere, and that attempt to increase the real equality of women and men in all cultures.

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