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Difference feminism is a philosophy that stresses that men and women are ontologically different versions of the human being.[citation needed]

Although the title "difference feminism" is a relatively recent addition to the feminist movement, the philosophies of gender relations undergirding this category have their roots as far back as the early Greeks.[1] Forms of difference feminism often stress a fundamental biological, emotional, psychological or spiritual difference between the sexes.

Reverse gender polarity

Reverse gender polarity is the form of difference feminism that asserts that women, per se, are superior to men. It developed as the opposite of traditional gender polarity that asserts that men, per se, are superior to women. Traditional polarity was espoused beginning with Aristotle[2].

Reverse gender polarity, however, began in the medieval era with the exaltation of feminine virtue by authors like Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and Lucrezia Marinelli.[3] It became prominent again in second-wave feminism with women like psychologist Carol Gilligan.

Gender complementarity

Further information: Complementarianism

Fractional gender complementarity

Fractional gender complementarity argues that men and women complement one another as separate parts that together make up a composite whole. This form of difference feminism was most prominent in the Cult of True Womanhood developed in reaction to other forms of feminism in the 19th century. It originally developed from a neoplatonic unisex theory that one sexless soul was incarnated into two different bodies: male and female. The two, when added together, were to have formed a single mind.[4]

Difference feminism has been criticized for claiming that the sexes differ in their style of reasoning by evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker. "If difference feminism is true," he writes, "it would disqualify women from becoming constitutional lawyers, Supreme Court justices, and moral philosophers, who make their living by reasoning about rights and justice." He also notes that many studies have not found significant differences between men and women in their moral reasoning.[5]

Integral gender complementarity

Integral gender complementarity argues that men and women are each integral, whole beings unto themselves whose result when put together is greater than the sum of their parts. Michele M. Schumacher, for example, believes that there is "one (human) nature, two modes of expression... Together they form a communion of persons..."to exist mutually one for the other" " [6]

The metaphysical foundation of this theory was developed by Dietrich von Hildebrand[7] and Edith Stein,[8] and later by Personalists like Emmanuel Mounier and Jacques Maritain.[9] More recently, the theory was espoused by Pope John Paul II as a foundation for a new feminism.[10]

In regards to differences in emotions, styles or reasoning, those who follow integral complementary assert that the differences are not divisional - that women only feel or reason one way and men another. Rather, they claim the characteristic differences can be found in tendencies and inclinations rather than finite generalizations. For example, author Janne Haaland-Matlary asserts that it "is far more profound than simple biological reductionism...or... social constructivism."[11] A woman may use her "feminine genius" in practically every profession and vocation.

Pope John Paul II asserted that the challenge facing most societies "is that of upholding, indeed strengthening, woman's role in the family while at the same time making it possible for her to use all her talents and exercise all her rights in building up society."[12] For feminists who believe in integral complementary, like the new feminists, biology is not "destiny", but it is essentially important.

See also


  1. Allen, Prudence, RSM. The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution 750BC - AD 1250. Montreal: Eden Press, 1985
  2. Allen, The Concept of Woman. p. 89-126
  3. Allen, "Man-Woman Complementarity", p.3
  4. Allen, "Man-Woman Complementarity". p.3-5
  5. Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, Chapter on Gender p. 342.
  6. Schumacher, Michele M. "The Nature of Nature in Feminism, Old and New: From Dualism to Complementary Unity". p.17-51 in "Women in Christ; Toward a New Feminism". William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 2003. p. 45
  7. Von Hildebrand, Dietrich. Marriage: the Mystery of Faithful Love. Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 1991. p. 53-55; Von Hildebrand, Dietrich. Man and Woman: Love and the Meaning of Intimacy. Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 1992, p. 91
  8. Stein, Edith. "Letter to Sister Callista Koph" in Self-Portrait in Letters: 1916-1942. Washington DC: ICS Publications, 1993. Stein, Edith. Essays on Woman.
  9. Allen, "Man-Woman Complementarity". p.5-18
  10. John Paul II, "Letter to Women" in The Genius of Women (Washington DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1997)
  11. Haaland-Matlary, Janne. "Men and Women in Family, Society and Politics". L'Osservatore Romano. Vatican. January 12, 2005. p. 6-7.
  12. John Paul II, "Welcome to Gertrude Mongella, Secretary General of the Fourth World Council on Women", May 1995. No 8, as included in "The Genius of Women".

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