Volume 21, 2005
Human Rights, Religion, and Democracy
Lisa H. Schwartzman
Neutrality, Choice, and Contexts of Oppression
Examining Feminist Perfectionism
In her recent book, Perfectionism and Contemporary Feminist Values, Kimberly Yuracko argues that perfectionism is a promising theory for feminists, and she suggests that “what really motivates and drives feminists’ arguments is not a neutral commitment to freedom or equality but a perfectionist commitment to a particular, albeit inchoate, vision of human flourishing.” In my paper, I explore the connections between feminism, perfectionism, and critiques of liberal neutrality by focusing critical attention on Yuracko’s arguments. After summarizing Yuracko’s position, I contend that she wrongly portrays feminists as criticizing the “choices” of individual women, rather than attacking the structures of power in which these choices are situated. By misconstruing feminist arguments in this way, Yuracko suggests that feminists are endorsing a form of liberal neutrality, rather than offering a critique of such neutrality in favor of a more radical analysis.
In the second half of my paper, I develop an alternative analysis, which I call “equality as non-domination,” which I think more accurately describes many of the feminist arguments Yuracko considers. I compare my alternative account to both liberal neutrality and to Yuracko’s perfectionism. Because feminism is centrally concerned with criticizing social structures of domination and unjust hierarchy, I conclude that it cannot be understood as falling squarely on either side of the neutrality/perfectionism debate.