The notion of difference among the sexes has been studied extensively in terms of cognition and brain activity. An MRI can back these claims, showing male and female brains 'lighting up' in different locations based upon different stimuli. Anyone with a close relationship to a child can attest to the fact that they were born with certain traits. Perhaps their nephew is very shy, while their niece has never met a stranger. In other words, some difference among individuals is innate, fundamental. This notion has been applied to studies in the animal world. Susan Allport, author of A Natural History of Parenting,, notes that "Males provide direct childcare in less than 5 percent of mammalian species, but in over 90 percent of bird species both male and female tend to their young." While researchers have focused on other species, they have been hesitant to apply this sort of lens to human families, largely because this sort of biological inherency does not directly align with the push for equality and equal rights that have been so important in recent history in the United States. Fundamentally, to state that biology creates difference in humans and that this sort of difference has the ability to manifest itself in divergent capabilities carries political and social risk for minority and oppressed groups.
This has been a main tenet of the argument against difference feminism, yet even some of the most socially radical women have yet to abandon the importance of difference. This paper will examine the limitations of difference feminism, applying a critical lens to the discussion both for and against, with special attention to current political implications. The devaluation of care work in the United States will figure prominently, as well as policy solutions that are pro-women on both sides of the debate.
Many women, despite their views of difference feminism, hold varying expectations for the behavior of women. In her article "What Abu Ghraib Taught Me", Barbara Ehrenreich recounts her the process by which she became disillusioned with the notion of female moral superiority. Despite claiming that she "never believed that women were inherently gentler and less aggressive than men", Ehrenreich divulges her shock at the images of Spc.s Megan Ambuhl, Sabrina Harman, and Lynndie England, stating "secretly, I hoped that the presence of women would over time change the military, making it more respectful...but I don't think that anymore." Ehrenreich lays the foundation for a concise argument for gender equality; namely, if women want to achieve equality, they must let go of the notions of higher moral existence. In other words, if women are as good as men, they are also as bad as men. The message becomes somewhat convoluted as Ehrenreich seems unable to let go of the idea that women may still be able to change corrupt, male-dominated systems. She proves herself an optimist in favor of the difference feminism she previously decried,...