Similarity, Inclusion, and Assimilation
The most widespread tendency among the women who identified themselves as feminists in the 1960s and early 1970s stressed women's similarity to men, not their differences. The emphasis was on women's rights and not on women's culture or women's difference. The increasing number of women working outside the home coincided with the feminist push for equal rights in employment. The arguments for these rights were squarely based on the grounds that women should be judged by the same criteria that men were supposed to be judged by. Now, although women are by no means paid equally to men, the typical married woman does work outside the home, and in that sense, women have been assimilated to the male-dominated world of jobs.
The younger and more radical feminists of the 1960s were concerned not so much with job assimilation as with sexual assimilation. The "sexual revolution" aimed to legitimate sexuality for women, and feminists stressed in their arguments the similarity between female sexuality and male sexuality. The emphasis was on the clitoris and orgasm and on women's need for sex and sexual freedom. This "revolution" carried much further the trends toward sexual emancipation in the middle class that had begun in the
1920s and virtually demolished the nineteenth-century dichotomy between asexual "good women" and sexual "bad women."
Unfortunately, this assimilation, which freed married women to work outside the home and to be sexual, has proved to be a mixed blessing. Although some women gained, many women are working at low-paying jobs in the public sphere while continuing to be responsible for home and family. Men are not increasing their participation in housework in response to women's working outside, and women are working two jobs instead of one. Women's sexual assimilation has also put pressure on women to be sexually available and may be related to an increase in rape and other kinds of unwanted sexual contact. Partially in response to these recognitions, many feminists who were stressing similarity earlier began to stress difference.
The feminists of the late 1960s and early 1970s, with the exception of lesbian separatists, tended to focus on women's exclusion from the rewards, challenges, power, freedom, and fun of the male-dominated world of work, politics, sexuality, and leisure. Liberals like Betty Friedan pointed out that housewives who are usually just as educated, competent, and energetic as their husbands cannot be expected to live vicariously through their husbands while imprisoned in a suburban wasteland. They needed jobs commensurate with their training. Alice Rossi's "immodest proposal" also emphasized the goal of letting women into the world of work on an equal footing with men. Socialist feminists explained women's problems as relating to the exclusion of women and their work (housework) from the public world of production and exchange. Shulamith Firestone, who constructed her own amalgam of socialist and radical feminism, saw equality explicitly as being attainable if we could but eliminate women's physical childbearing, thus making it possible for women to be fully assimilated into the world of work and sexuality.
In contrast to the predominant tendencies toward assimilation, some radical feminists from the very beginning warned against assimilation to the male world and argued for varying degrees of separatism instead. Ti Grace Atkinson, a nonlesbian separatist, urged women to end their identification with all those heterosexual institutions, especially marriage, that give women a stake in the male world and oppress them at the same time. Although in a
sense these feminists were in fact stressing difference because they rejected males and a world that they believed males had constructed, they did not want to stress women's difference because they felt that this difference was created in oppression. To embrace women's "virtues" seemed dangerous because they were presumed to have developed in the context of oppression. From this stand-point then, both inclusion and difference are suspect. Women should not seek inclusion (except to destroy the oppressive male gender categories), and women should not stress difference (except to create a different person from oppressed women now).
The thrust for inclusion on an equal basis in the public world of work was complemented by research in psychology and sociology by feminist academians that focused on gender similarities rather than differences. When a psychological difference was found between women and men, there was a strong tendency to question the accuracy of the study or to attribute the difference to women's "socialization" (which presumably could be changed so as to eliminate the difference). Maccoby and Jacklin's Psychology of Sex Differences reported fewer differences than had usually been attributed to boys and girls; it is a compendium of scientific research documenting similarity. In sociology, Rosabeth Moss Kanter argued that any lack of competitive motivation on the part of women was a result of the dead-end nature of women's jobs. Her research suggests that if women were not excluded from the status ladders to which men have access, their orientation to occupational achievement would be identical to men's.
Ethnomethodologists Suzanne Kessler and Wendy McKenna made a more radical argument that fits with similarity by questioning the fundamental assumption that there are two genders. They suggested that gender categories themselves may be arbitrary, or that the characteristics by which gender is "recognized" are arbitrary. By implication, then, assimilation could be effected by simply demolishing the differentiating categories.
These feminists stressed similarity out of an acute awareness that difference had almost always been used against women to imply women's inferiority or incapacity. If a woman admitted to difference from a man, she was immediately in danger of admitting to deficiency or agreeing to give up some possibility. Naomi Weisstein in a classic early article noted that presumably "scientific"
tests of characteristics or capacities (designed by men) always have right and wrong answers and that women always seemed to end up being wrong. Even women's presumed virtues were turned into failures, so best to emphasize women's similarities to, not their differences from, the dominant gender. Feminists had every reason to fear difference because difference was used to explain and justify women's secondary status. This fear continues, and, unfortunately, it continues to be justified. Jean Lipman-Blumen, a sociologist, shows how gender differences are used against women in sometimes quite contradictory "male control myths." In psychology, Rhoda K. Unger describes how women scientists for years have been disproving derogatory hypotheses concerning the way in which women differ from men, but as these hypotheses have been disproved and dropped, others have been substituted. Thus the emphasis on similarity, while empirically supported, has tended to have a defensive quality about it.
A related fear of feminists in the 1970s had to do with biology. Most feminists who stress similarity have been extremely leery of any biological perspective on gender differences. If the differences that are used to justify women's disadvantaged position could be shown to be related in any way to biological differences, then it was feared that perhaps they were immutable and women's disadvantage must inevitably continue. It is true that biology has been used and continues to be used to "explain" and justify the status quo. For example, Steven Goldberg argues that because of their "hormonally based" aggressiveness, men try harder and compete more aggressively and therefore win in competition with women. Since males' success is based on hormones, according to Goldberg, he concludes that nature has made male superiority inevitable. One might note that it is quite a conceptual leap from aggression to trying harder and to winning, but Goldberg's approach is characteristic of the simplistic nature of reductionist attempts to explain and enshrine male dominance by recourse to biology.
The stress on similarity was of course not simply negatively motivated by the recognition of the ways in which difference had been used against women. The similarity emphasis was mainly based on the profound truth that males and females are far more similar than different—biologically, psychologically, and even socially. Biologically, men and women have twenty-three chromo-
somes in common and only one chromosome that is different; both women and men have the same hormones, only in somewhat different proportions. Psychologically, men and women think, reason, possess the same gamut of emotions, and so forth. Most important, on the societal level, the predominant trend in modern society has been toward assimilation. Men and women go to the same schools, take the same IQ tests (tests that, incidentally, were designed to minimize gender difference), attend social functions together, are expected to marry and form a household together, and often have parents who at least believe in equal treatment. The high degree of assimilation in boys' and girls' school curricula made inequities stand out (boys took shop, girls took home economics, girls were cheerleaders, boys played sports). Now this unequal access has been seriously challenged and rectified to some extent.
Feminists in the 1970s helped the process of assimilation along considerably and (in spite of the current talk about backlash) changed the entire tone and level of public talk about women. One simply cannot say the sexist things nor make the sexist jokes that were commonly made by men in the 1960s. The jokes are still made, but not so publicly. Moreover, one cannot refuse to hire a woman on the grounds that she will "just get married and quit anyway." Perhaps of all the movements of the 1960s, feminism has had the most lasting impact. Women have been assimilated to a large extent into the occupational structure outside the home. This does not mean job discrimination has ended—far from it—but sexism has at least been defined and declared illegal and immoral. Women are human and women are individuals. These are the positive gains of minimizing difference.