Social Injustice Social Issues


1. Introduction

Feminism was born from the awareness of an asymmetry, of an inequality between the sexes at a social and political level. It expresses first of all a denunciation of the relations of power and hierarchy that are justified and constructed – to the detriment of women – in society starting from the fact that human beings are men and women, male and female.

Feminism is therefore simultaneously a social and political movement – albeit diversified internally and in different periods and contexts – and a theoretical discourse (in turn constructed through a plurality of discourses) on relations between the sexes, on the symbolic status of belonging of sex, on women, but indirectly also on men.

2. Feminism, feminisms

If feminism can be defined as a work of reflection and at the same time action of transformation of women on their own experience in the world, the different interpretations of that asymmetry, the different theorized and proposed solutions give life to the various feminisms present on the historical-social scene and in theoretical reflection.

In fact, there are many historical feminisms, even conflicting with each other, both on a theoretical and political level. Just think of the proliferation of specifications and terminological variants that have designated feminism throughout its history. Thus, the feminists of the seventies were divided into Marxists, socialists, radicals, depending on the link they established with other theoretical and political traditions, or even into feminists of self-consciousness rather than social intervention, wages for domestic work or of women’s health groups, depending on the dimensions of the female experience, and therefore also on the methods of aggregation and intervention, which were favored (see Mitchell, 1971; see Calabrò and Grasso, 1985; see AA .VV., Don’t believe …, 1987; see AA.VV., The movement …, 1987).

More recently, the positions relating to the status attributed to sexual difference have produced distinctions and divergences between ‘essentialists’ and historicists or post-structuralists (see Alcoff, 1988), and between different ways of posing the question of the political construction and representation of the subject female (see, for example, on a theoretical level, Boccia and Peretti, 1988; see Bonacchi and Groppi, 1993; on a political level see the debate around the legislation on sexual violence and abortion, up to that on “representation of sex’ in politics). Even in the nineteenth century, however, feminists distinguished themselves not only between socialists and bourgeois, but also between suffragists (suffragettes) and workerists, and so on (see Banks, 1981; see Offen, 1988; see Pieroni Bortolotti, 1963 ).

These are obviously not purely nominalistic issues, especially as regards the processes of self-identification by movements and individuals; it is the problem of building a collective identity that combines belonging and a model of action. It is a problem common to all social movements, but which, in the case of the women’s movement, presents itself as crucial and difficult at the same time, as the social and symbolic status of the very subject that organizes itself in this way is in question. Women unite around a particular mode of action and relationship with each other and with the world first and foremost to define (or construct) being a woman. The mode of action, the link with other theories or movements therefore becomes a crucial step in the definition of identity. It is significant, from this point of view, that the biggest lacerations occurred not with respect to political affiliations, but rather with respect to definitions and models of action that closely touch on the “most obvious” dimension of female specificity: the body and sexuality. In different ways in different countries, the greatest tensions have arisen around the issue of lesbianism, motherhood, abortion, to the point of touching on the very relevance of the body in the definition of women. On the other hand, these have been precisely the themes that in recent decades have not only brought women together and mobilized the most, making feminism visible, but have formed the backbone of female self-reflection: on the way in which the woman’s body is defined and used in male-dominated societies and cultures, but also on the body, on the experiences of the body (motherhood and sexuality above all) as internal and not extraneous to the symbolic dimension, and as starting points for a possible constructive action of a subjectivity autonomous female and capable of impacting social reality.

It is methodologically important to distinguish between the formulation of the question on the status of gender membership, starting from the female sex, and the specific answers that are given to this question. In fact, this means making explicit the historicity of feminism not only as the historical contextualization of a movement and/or a theory, but as a process. In other words, feminism is the outcome and at the same time the agent of phenomena of social construction, in which processes of explanation and interpretation of reality and processes of intervention on it interact with each other, modifying themselves, producing new realities ( including new ways of perceiving and organizing oneself as women and of establishing relationships between the sexes) and new ways of interpreting reality itself (see De Lauretis, 1984; see Alcoff, 1988; see Scott, 1988). The articulation, even conflictual, of feminist theories and policies indicates the existence, and possibility, of differentiated processes of construction and interpretation of the woman subject as an equally strong subject, on a symbolic as well as social and political level, of the man subject , of which not only the social domain is contested, but also that in the symbolic order.

3. The historical context of feminism

The question of when we can talk about feminism, that is, the question of its historical origin, is only a little less difficult than that of what it is, and is closely connected to it. In fact, we ask ourselves whether feminism, beyond self-definitions and self-identifications, is a political movement and a theoretical-cultural event linked to a particular historical-political period and context, or whether, vice versa, it passes through history like a karst phenomenon , which sometimes disappears and sometimes emerges visible (see Mitchell and Oakley, 1986; see Offen, 1988).

If it is true that positions of denunciation and rejection of the asymmetry of power between the sexes and of the social definition of woman that derives from it can be found in different eras and contexts, the historical period of emergence and development of feminism can be identified with that which goes from the second half of the eighteenth century to the present day. The word feminism did not appear before the end of the nineteenth century (see Offen, 1988; see Pieroni Bortolotti, 1963), when the social conditions were also created for the birth of a real social and political movement, and not only for individual intellectual positions, even if shared in an international context.

In the mid-eighteenth century, however, when the Enlightenment culture began to debate not only the problems relating to the nature and role of the citizen, but also those of universality (of reason) and equality between men regardless of differences in birth , we begin to outline the theoretical and political context with which feminism must deal: that context which, at the same time, causes its birth as a process of self-identification of women as social and political subjects. It is then, in fact, that the practical, social, political, legal, as well as theoretical foundations of that polarity between equality and difference within which and against which modern feminism develops are laid; it is then, moreover, that the status of women is simultaneously and paradoxically naturalized in a necessary complementarity to man (to the ‘equal’ citizen) and constructed as such in the network of social institutions of the modern State – from the family to the labor market, to property, to parliament (see Saraceno, 1993).

It is true that the theoretical foundations of this construction, which places male man (and his reason) as neutral (i.e. not characterized by significant differences on the social, political and symbolic level), and therefore universal, can be traced much further back in the history of Western thought, and they mark the entire story (as argued by philosophers and political scientists: see Okin, 1979; see Elshtain, 1981; see Cavarero, 1989; see Pateman, 1988). However, it is only in the second half of the eighteenth century that the theoretical and political conditions were created for feminism to develop simultaneously as theoretical criticism and as political criticism and initiative: because universalism and equality become the organizational principles of society, which however continually conceal and also determine differences, translating them into enmities (between states/nations, ethnic groups, religions) or into inequalities (between sexes, but also between classes and races).

For these reasons, the French Revolution not only represented the first opportunity for women to organize themselves (in women’s clubs) in a work of ‘self-construction of citizenship’ which was soon considered illegitimate by (male) citizens, but also to reflect on the social status and symbolic assigned to them: therefore both on the meaning of equality and on that of difference. Whether one reads the Déclaration des droits des femmes et des citoyennes by Olympe de Gouges (see, 1791), or whether one reads the Vindication of the rights of women by Mary Wollstonecraft (see, 1792), one is struck by the specularity with the arguments of the rights of men/males – in the first case with the Declaration of Human Rights, in the second with the Vindication of the rights of men , written by Wollstonecraft herself two years earlier – as well as with the affirmation that women as such are subjects of rights.

These two texts already contain the problem of equality and difference between the sexes, or, if you want, of equality in (and not despite) difference, or again, of the ‘bisexuality’ of both the human being and of the citizen (see Gerhard, 1993).

The detailed formulation of a declaration of women’s rights, if it is certainly motivated by the empirical (and revealing) fact of their non-inclusion in the rights of men and citizens, in fact starts from the affirmation of women as distinct subjects, just as distinct they are the men. “The superior sex both in beauty and in courage, in the sufferings of motherhood”: this is how de Gouges defines women in the preamble to the Déclaration ; and in article 11 she states that “the purpose of every political association is the conservation of natural rights and imprescriptible rights of women and men: these rights are freedom, property, security and above all resistance to oppression”. Similarly, Mary Wollstonecraft accompanies her defense of women’s ‘equal’ rights with the affirmation of their difference from men (or these from them) as mothers. In other words, it is very clear to these authors that if the right to speech, representation and power must be equal, women and men are not entirely identical to each other.

The fate of Olympe de Gouges, who was denied the right to speak but not the right to the guillotine, the derision with which the Vindication of the rights of women was received by those same intellectuals who had welcomed the male text, the silence on the requests of the Italian Jacobins who saw themselves consigned by the Napoleonic Code, like the French, to subordination in the family as well as in society, through the institution of marital authorization: all these phenomena show how partial was the universalism on which they stood founding – thanks to the Enlightenment, the reformers and also the legislators of the end of the century – the modern state and culture. To the point of not recognizing, starting from a male assumed as universal neutral, the assumption and claim of an authentic universalism by women, whose sex was vice versa naturalized together in specificity-partiality and in difference-inferiority.

For the same reason, on the other hand, feminism, first and foremost as a political movement that questions and questions society about the status assigned to women, from the French Revolution onwards rises to prominence in all modern and contemporary nations every time they are forced in a more or less violent, more or less explicit way, to verify and review their ethical-political foundations and in particular to deal with the issues of equality (of whom, with respect to what), of rights and citizenship (who has access to it, who is excluded). This is true in the West for the struggles for independence from which many national states were born between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, for the abolitionist movements against slavery, which played such a large part in the formation of the first American feminism, up to the obligatory confrontation with feminism – however partial and even reductive – in the context of the Soviet Revolution. Think also of less obviously political changes, but certainly no less incisive in terms of social structures and personal and collective identities, such as industrialization and urbanisation. These, while modifying the ways of daily life, upset the traditional sexual division of labor and the male and female social identities connected to it, making its non-naturalness visible. Or consider the spread of schooling, especially after the Second World War, which opened up spaces of experience for girls that were common to boys and not rigidly defined in terms of content and gender destiny, encouraging new expectations and new paths for adult life; or to the more recent development of a service society, with its effects on the sexual division of labor, on the ways of defining what is masculine and what is feminine, inside and outside the family, and on the specific gender structure of contemporary societies developed. It is no coincidence that these last two phenomena – the spread of female education and the development of services – are indicated among the crucial elements for the emergence of feminism in Western societies in the seventies (see Ergas, 1986; see Bimbi, 1985; see Chafetz and Dworkin, l986).

From this perspective it is not surprising that feminist criticism – theoretical and political – also develops in relation to the forms of supranational organizations and also of supranational citizenship that have been created in recent years: as a denunciation of a concept and practice of citizenship that still time they censure the imbalances of power and resources between men and women, and as a denunciation of the male monopoly in relevant decision-making processes (for a ‘gender critique’ of the European Union see, for example, Meehan, 1993).

Women’s self-reflection and denunciation of their own condition and of power relations between the sexes does not only concern Western societies. On the contrary, the questioning of inequality between the sexes and the oppression of women are becoming crucial issues, with even dramatic effects on people’s lives, in former colonial or developing countries. The reflections and forms of organization and resistance of women that develop in these different contexts – as well as the reactions they provoke from the dominant groups – constitute a strong indicator of how much gender definitions and relations, and more specifically the tasks and placement assigned to women, are part of the processes of construction of social structures and of ethnic or national identities themselves (see for example Mernissi, 1983; see Hélie-Lucas, 1996). At the same time they point out how historically and culturally specific feminism (or feminisms) is as it developed in the democratic and industrial West (see Piccone Stella and Saraceno, 1996; see Sylvester, 1995).

Precisely because it questions society in its foundations, feminism has been and is perceived, on a political and cultural level, by men but also by many women, as a social danger to be repressed (as in the case of the conflict between the State and the suffrage movement in England at the turn of the century), or to be controlled: either by reducing the scope of the problems it poses to a particular and limited social question (namely the women’s question, in turn reduced to a question of voting or work), or by favoring the emergence of female aggregations that provide a female model and an alternative practice to the feared one of feminism, and at the same time channeling the needs for change of which this is, if nothing else, an indication. Both of these strategies have been present in Western countries since the end of the nineteenth century, involving not only governments, but also the Churches and the opposition parties themselves. The creation of a Catholic female association, for example, was explicitly favored by the Church, despite its preference for an exclusively familial dimension of female identity and experience, to counter the spread of feminist associations and groups at the turn of the century (see Di Cori, 1979). At the opposite end of the political and cultural spectrum, in the same era, as in the following decades, the debate on feminism and, more limitedly, on the place to be assigned to the women’s question in projects of radical social and political change, continually emerges within the workers’ movement and in socialist and Marxist theories (for a brief review see Merfeld, 1972). It also produced bitter conflicts between women and men within the workers’ movement and in the socialist and communist parties, of which Lenin’s severe appeal to communist women, in the midst of the revolutionary process, to respect the hierarchy of priorities and, at the same time, the his reduction of the women’s issue to a question of access to work.

Identifying the various moments of transition and the type of possibilities they offered for the development of a critical vision of women, and their organizational forms, would be too long and would also require detailed analyzes of the different national cases. What is interesting to note here is that feminism as a political movement and at the same time as a theoretical discourse seems to constitute the counterpoint, now more visible, now less, of the development of modern and contemporary societies and their forms of self-awareness and self-representation. It is precisely in moments of transition and more evident social change that the ways of social regulation, and the institutions that derive from them, appear more visible, less obvious and therefore more fragile. For these reasons the question of the theoretical and social status of women and inequality between the sexes can be more easily thematized.

Given that the ways in which gender is defined are not identical from one society to another and from one period to another, and do not even have the same consequences for all social groups, the elements that emerge most clearly and which are thematized as priorities are different depending on the circumstances. Part of the internal diversification of feminism, especially at a political level, derives from the specific social and historical position of the women from whose experience it develops, and therefore from different experiences of being a woman.

Exemplary from this point of view is the internal divergence within feminism at the turn of the century on the priority to be attributed to the fight for the right to vote. This divergence not only clashed with different evaluations relating to the effectiveness of the exercise of the vote, and different conceptions of both equality and female difference: in fact, it must not be forgotten that a substantial part of the women’s movements in the West in those years claimed the right to vote and participate in politics in the name not so much of equality, but of the specific role and maternal capabilities of women (see for example Buttafuoco, 1988; see Offen, 1988). Different class interests and even nationalities also clashed. Thus in Italy an emancipationist, although close to the socialist movement, such as Anna Maria Mozzoni, underlined the principle of political and juridical equality of the sexes with equal social conditions (therefore based on wealth, in the Italy of the time), to avoid a one-sided definition priori , and of the male part, of female difference (see Mozzoni, 1975); vice versa, a socialist like Kuliscioff, although aware of the existence of unbalanced power relations between the sexes (see Kuliscioff, 1890), considered the battle for the vote for women to be of secondary importance in a country where profound social inequalities denied it also to large groups of men and in which women belonging to the working class had other and more urgent needs (on the debate between Mozzoni and Kuliscioff, see Pieroni Bortolotti, 1963; see Ravaioli, 1974). In England and the United States this type of divergence also crossed paths with nationalistic motivations, when some feminists, in the years preceding the First World War, supported the opportunity for women (English and American respectively) to have the vote to face the waves of migratory movements which risked including the (male) masses of immigrants in the rights of political citizenship, and therefore in the decision-making processes regarding social organisation.

Similar conflicts developed in many countries around protection laws, relating to the reduction of working hours for women and the prohibition of using them in night and underground work. In this case, however, reading the different positions as simple expressions of class and social interests would be even more limiting. On the contrary, the debate around protection laws is exemplary of the knot of theoretical, as well as practical, problems implicated in feminism, and subsumed in the conceptual pair equality/difference. On the one hand, in fact, those who supported the need for a special regulation of women’s work had in mind not only the de facto overtired condition of women workers, caught between long working hours in physically demanding conditions and the responsibilities connected to work and the family care entrusted to them, but also the value of this same care, together with the costs deriving from the female body from a job that violates it. On the other hand, those who were against any special regulation not only had in mind the different situation of middle class women, who wished to access decent and non-discriminated work, but also refused to accept an a priori definition of the difference feminine which would have easily (as indeed happened) translated into subordination and marginalization, without actually managing to protect women from exploitation (for the first debate in Italy, see Galoppini, 1980). The male model referred to as a parameter against which to measure what was desired for women was certainly different: hard work, long hours, the impossibility of having time for the care and education of children in one case , educational and career opportunities, a certain social prestige in the other. However, in the two positions the dilemma is expressed between an equality understood as homogeneity with men, at the cost of sacrificing the female body and experience, first and foremost as a maternal body and experience, and a difference which, while defining women first and foremost as mothers, it placed them all as equal to each other in terms of desires and abilities, simultaneously defining them as less capable and subordinate to men.

The two positions do not so much express two radically opposite choices, beyond individual situations, as two different strategies for overcoming the dilemma itself: in the name of different priorities, but also of a different evaluation of female specificity. Those who, on this as on other issues, aimed first and foremost at safeguarding the value of the maternal experience, as an experience of the body and of relationships, took it as a principle from which to ask for positive rights for women. Therefore not only or not so much protection, but rather a guarantee of safeguarding this experience, including payment for absence from work during pregnancy and childbirth and State help in establishing paternity in the case of unmarried mothers. This is a position that finds consensus in many sectors of that feminism that has sometimes been defined as ‘social’ – attentive to the problems of everyday life, especially for less privileged women – which was inspired by the most diverse ideologies, from humanitarian socialism to Christianity.

Conversely, those who insisted on equal rights between the sexes did not aim to deny a diversity of experience, much less maternal experience (even if some of them rejected the identification of the woman tout court with the mother and therefore the reference to this dimension in its fundamental rights), but denied female specificity as a prerequisite for exclusion from male rights of citizenship, freedom, work, adequate remuneration; and they saw, on the contrary, access to these same rights as a starting point and resource for possibly affirming the autonomy of female experience.

This interweaving, however not at all obvious in its theoretical and practical outcomes, between social belonging – class, culture, race, ethnicity – forms of thematization of female experience and definition of priorities, has also recurred in the feminism of this second half of century, in the debate between white and black women, between Western women and women from developing countries, between requests for equality and denunciations of the inconveniences of parity and equality, between equal opportunity projects and refusals to conform to what already exists, between requests for institutional and legislative changes and refusal to be mediated by legal and political apparatuses designed and built regardless of, if not against, the female experience.

4. Equality and difference

In the opinion of some scholars (see Offen, 1988; see Beccalli, 1989; see Bonacchi and Groppi, 1993) the dilemma between equality and difference has characterized the entire history of feminism, in an unresolved, albeit highly conflictual, oscillation , between claims of equality and claims of difference, between the request for ‘equal rights’ (to men) and that of ‘women’s rights’. This dilemma would represent not only historically strong political positions that are irreducible to each other, but two theoretical positions that are both divergent and unavoidable: risky in their partiality, but equally if not more risky if neglected for each other. More or less recent history bears witness to this repeatedly, when the affirmation of difference results in political and social marginalization, or vice versa when the affirmation of equality forces women to adopt behaviors and expectations developed starting from male experience – from of work, to the rhythms of careers, up to sexuality.

All positions that claim equal rights and deny the possibility of attributing a priori to women not only responsibilities, but abilities and desires different from men, and which attribute every difference in abilities and aspirations to the effects of sexual division would belong to the pole of equality. of work on the one hand, and of socialization processes on the other. “We become women”, wrote Simone de Beauvoir in the 1940s (see, 1949). Those who insist on equality deny above all that the biological differences between the sexes can constitute a principle of social differentiation a priori . Conversely, they would belong to the pole of difference are those for whom sexual dimorphism produces totally distinct cultural worlds, psychic capacities, systems of symbolization – whether these are rooted in maternal experience, according to a tradition that starts from the nineteenth century and is taken up and updated by some contemporary feminists who they speak of “maternal thought”, like Susan Ruddick (see, 1980), or whether they are instead rooted in sexuality, in a different way, accentuating either the biological aspects or the psychic ones, maintain Adrienne Rich (see, 1976), Mary Daly (see, 1978), the French feminists of the Psychoanalyse et Politique group, Luce Irigaray (see, 1974, 1977 and 1984). These theorists claim the possibility for women to express their own culture with full legitimacy and autonomy as irreducible and absolutely distinct from the male one (similarly based on sexual difference).

The first position is criticized by the supporters of the second as purely emancipatory, aiming to insert women into the world of men, therefore to force them into ways of being and thinking that are foreign to them, if not hostile, while it does not attribute any meaning to the differences of bodies and the experiences that derive from these: thus preventing the effective construction of a female subject and of a world that bears its mark. Conversely, the second is criticized as substantially essentialist, if not biological and ahistorical. She is also accused of positively overturning, defining them as originally feminine traits, the effects of a division of labor and power marked by male dominance.

In the recent debate, the question of equality/difference – and the related question of what woman is, that is, whether it is possible to talk about ‘woman’ and not just women – seems to have shifted or been redefined. In fact, contemporary feminism, the one that developed in the Western world starting from the seventies, was born as a criticism of an emancipation that is still largely constrained and lacking, and at the same time as a criticism of the emancipatory model itself. The watchwords were those of ‘liberation’, not the ’emancipation’ of women, and the male model was denied as a value, starting from the reflection on the costs of oppression of women, but also of the repression of needs and desires , which it imposed.

Where the terrain of the risks of equality has been widely explored, both theoretically and practically, together with the difficulty of obtaining it, reflection and debate have shifted to the meaning of difference; that is, the question has increasingly moved from the terrain of the rights to be claimed to that of the definition of the subject of these rights – the woman precisely. Paradoxically, as women become increasingly visible in societies of partially realized emancipation, their theoretical status (not questioned even by the most liberal emancipationists of the past) no longer appears obvious and taken for granted. All this is an outcome of the work of theoretical analysis and political construction carried out by feminism. To the extent that women’s policies, women’s aggregations, women’s theories exist, in fact, we question ourselves about what woman is, what – if there is – a female subject, a feminine, beyond, or beyond below, of empirically existing women, which constitutes the horizon of their identification, not only political, but also symbolic (obviously, a similar question could also be formulated in theory for the male sex: but since the existence and legitimation of the latter to found worlds of meaning and practical-political strategies, it appears historically unthinkable).

For this question, alongside the essentialist answer there are at least three others. The first, identifiable in what in Italy is known as the theory of sexual difference (see AA.VV., Diotima …, 1987), places being a sexual body as the original fact of every process of signification. The sexual difference would consist in the passage from the biological reality – of the female sexual body – to the symbolic dimension, which women must appropriate outside of male mediation. If at the origin the subject is dual, rather than one, it follows that women, after having denounced their extraneousness to the world of the one-neutral-masculine (“a society of strangers”, as Virginia Woolf already wrote in Three Guineas ) , they must move on to the construction of a society of women.Although this theory has in common with the essentialist one the rooting in biology, in the body (and is strongly influenced by Irigaray’s theories, which are also very complex and not reducible to pure essentialism), however they do not a particular content of femininity derives from this; that is, it is not postulated that all women are substantially similar. On the contrary, women’s access to the symbolic through the mediation of other women is posited as a condition for their access to differences. this position also comes with the strongest criticisms not only of the strategies, but of the very concept of equality (see Cavarero, 1989).

The second answer is almost at the opposite pole. Noting how every concept and every discourse is socially constructed, post-structuralist feminists (see Kristeva, 1980; see Flax, 1987) not only show how the concept of woman and the male/female polarity have been constructed in different discourses and contexts, but they also highlight the impossibility of a ‘positive’ construction of the female subject. The difference disappears in the thousand individual differences and in the continuous process of construction-deconstruction that breaks down the apparent unity of experience and discourse.

A third response – present among some post-structuralists, especially historians (see Scott, 1988; see Chevigny and others, 1989) but also philosophical (see De Lauretis, 1984), and perhaps more similar to sociological reflection (see Piccone Stella and Saraceno, 1996) – while it shows how feminine and masculine are historically and socially constructed within precise power relations (which are therefore not just ‘discourses’, or ‘texts’, but structures of relationships), it does not deny that differences exist of sex in ways of acting and thinking, but contextualizes them in space and time, without making their origin absolute in biology, even if mediated symbolically. From this point of view, even the not only negative existence of a female subject is possible as the outcome of a historically situated political and self-reflexive practice, and therefore both partial and local.

Also following these reflections on the concept of difference, recently some scholars (see for example Scott, 1988) have suggested that we need to review the entire story of feminism as an oscillation between equality and difference. In this way, we would give an account not only of the complexity of the phenomenon at a political level, but of the theoretical effort that has, more or less explicitly, characterized feminism throughout its history. More than the dilemma between equality and difference, according to this interpretation, the different theoretical and political positions expressed by feminism would testify to the attempts to explain and articulate, as well as practically resolve, the ‘dilemma of difference’.

In fact, ‘difference’ constitutes at the same time the place from which women start to define their place in the world and the first object of their work of criticism, or deconstruction (to the extent that they refuse the dominant ways of defining it). In short, whether it is ignored or vice versa it is thematized, the difference always risks being recreated.

To get out of this dilemma (which also concerns other differences, for example those of race or ethnicity) it is necessary not so much to oppose difference to equality, and strategies of difference to strategies of equality, as to think differently about the two terms of this apparent dichotomy , and their relationship, starting from a critical analysis of how the two terms are constructed.

The alternative between equality and difference, their radical opposition, is in fact a social construction, rather than a symbolic one, which should be deconstructed politically and culturally by those who have an interest in differences. It corresponds to power relations in which those who predominate define the standards – literally the identity of themselves defined as whole – placing those who are not identical in partiality, in incompleteness. The absorption of the concept of equality into that of identity, uniqueness, homogeneity (which even some feminists seem to accept as the only meaning of this term), in effect cancels and distorts the historical origin of this concept and its close interdependence with that difference. The question then is not whether equality denies or censors differences, but rather how the objectives are constructed with respect to which individuals – in our case men and women – are considered equal, how the resources are provided – legal, but also social – for this equality and, finally, what are the criteria and purposes for which the differences are asserted.

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