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Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

Women's Ways of Knowing Revisited (Part 1)

Since the days of Genesis, human beings have struggled to understand the ways in which women and men differ and the ways in which they may legitimately be viewed as similar. Until the rise of modern secular individualism in the seventeenth century, the significance of sexual difference seemed all but self-evident to most peoples, who normally drew upon that difference in their social and symbolic organization of their world. Christians, drawing upon readings of Scripture and tradition, took the difference seriously, even as they recognized the equality of souls in the eyes of God. Secular individualism, by introducing the idea of worldly equality, opened the way for feminist claims that women should be viewed as the equals of men in the here and now, not just in the hereafter. And, in our time, postmodern feminism has pressed beyond those claims to insist that any notion of natural difference between the sexes invidiously disadvantages women and must be repudiated. But the notion of difference has refused to lie down and die, especially since even those who most protest its oppressive character still seek to justify their belief that women as a gender have been and continue to be oppressed.

Ten years ago, Nancy Goldberger, Jill Tarule, Blythe Clinchy, and Mary Belenky published Women's Ways of Knowing, reissued now with a new introduction. To further mark the anniversary of that publication, they have edited a companion volume, Knowledge, Difference, and Power: Essays Inspired by Women's Ways of Knowing. Taken as a whole, the new volume, comprising 14 chapters, including one apiece by each of the original authors, implicitly marks an official canonization of their initial effort--one that is nonetheless self-congratulatory for the authors' admirable willingness to include a smattering of criticism. If anything, the criticism, including a measure of self-criticism, merely underscores their deep satisfaction at the reception their work (in this volume now familiarly referred ...

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