(This is my summary of a chapter in a book I often used in university classes: Thirteen Theories of Human Nature, by Stevenson, Haberman, and Wright, Oxford Univ. Press.)
Traditionally theories of human nature are conceived of by men and seem to equate human nature with male nature. Some of these thinkers believed that women were just different from men; others that they were inferior.
There are two basic responses from feminist theory. Humanist feminists believe that the notion of a shared human nature is valuable even if it didn’t accommodate sexual differences. Such humanists emphasize a core human nature that women and men share. In this view, traditional theories go wrong when they ignore this common nature or suggest that women can’t fulfill that nature as men can.
The second view, social constructionist, derives from the work of the 20th-century philosopher Simone de Beauvior. She argues that gender is a socially constructed rather than biological category: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” ( suppose there are various socially constructed ideas of maleness too.) She also believed that women often don’t experience full selfhood because of oppressive social constraints.
But both views believe in a common human nature, and that social and political change is needed to remove the constraints on woman fully developing this nature.
Feminist Philosophy and Feminism
Feminist philosophy supports female equality and opposes oppression of women. Feminism as a political movement grew out of feminist philosophy—emphasizing the right to vote or working for abolitionist, antiwar, or disarmament. While political feminism stresses action and political change, feminist philosophy seeks to understand the nature of inequality and the oppression of women.
Contemporary Humanist Feminism
CHF stresses the equality of men and women, demanding equal treatment for women. Thus they are skeptical of notions of justice that omit consideration of private family life, the context of much of women’s oppression—-unpaid housework, maternal care, submission to their husbands, etc. Other humanistic feminists emphasize the equality of opportunity. Societies should be so arranged as to provide the conditions under which all citizens can actualize the potential inherent in their natures.
Neohumanist Feminism and Dehumanization
Can the notion of dehumanization shed light on the value of a shared human nature? Some feminists argue that the concept of dehumanization captures what is morally wrong with discrimination, domination, and oppression against any group. Dehumanization can be directed at anyone, and it is also connected to justice. Justice is about equality in family life, the chance to develop one’s capacities, the right not to be treated inhumanely, and more. In the end, justice must spring from a consideration of our shared human nature.
Critical Perspectives on Humanist Feminism
Some feminists criticize humanist feminism as ignoring the differences between men and women by adopting traditional male conceptions of human nature. Others argue that human nature is defined either from an external biological perspective, which doesn’t make moral prescriptions or an internal notion that reduces to morality to individual subjective values. One solution to this problem would be to recognize that biology and moral norms can be joined since we are all by nature social beings. After all, human beings are interdependent, as the feminist have always emphasized.
My Reflection – The world would immediately improve if half of all social, political, governmental positions were filled by women.