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Perfectionism and Contemporary Feminist Values

Kimberly A. Yuracko

Publication Year: 2003

Although formal barriers to women's social and political participation have crumbled, society remains, to a significant degree, gendered in the roles that women and men play. Women's and men's choices regarding work and family are largely responsible for maintaining and reinforcing the differences. While feminists recognize the need to criticize women's choices, too often they focus on restrictive conditions rather than the choices themselves. Kimberly A. Yuracko argues instead that encouraging women to make choices in accordance with a grounded and well-defined conception of perfectionism -- a philosopy concerned with human flourishing -- is the most effective way to redress persistent gender inequality. To this end, Yuracko seeks not only to expose the perfectionism underlying current choice critiques, but to articulate a concrete set of feminist perfectionist principles that would improve the quality of individual women's lives and improve the social standing of women as a whole.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v

Contents

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pp. vii-

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

This book has been a long time in the making, and it has benefited greatly from many people's help along the way. I am sure that neither Professor Susan Moller Okin nor Professor Mark Kelman had any idea of the magnitude or duration of the advising roles they were taking on when they began working with me while I was still in college. Susan Okin has both challenged and encouraged...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-7

Formal barriers to women's social and political participation have crumbled, yet society remains, to a significant degree, gendered in the roles that women and men play. Women's and men's choices regarding work and family are largely responsible for maintaining and reinforcing the differences. Women continue to have less social, economic, and political power than do men, and...

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Part One. Feminism and Perfectionism

Two problems set the stage for this book. The first is the problem of women's seemingly bad life choices. The second is the inadequacy of existing perfectionist theories to explain why these choices are bad. It is the collision of these problems that forms the basis for the rest of the book. Most feminists avoid criticizing choices directly by focusing instead on...

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2. Three Hard Choices

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pp. 11-26

This book focuses on three types of choices that are problematic for feminist theorists and activists.1 It focuses on women's choices to commodify their sexuality in the marketplace; to sexually objectify themselves for men, albeit without a direct exchange of sex for goods; and to leave the paid workforce in order to become full-time homemakers. I have chosen to focus on these...

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3. An Introduction to Perfectionism

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pp. 27-47

In contrast to liberalism's focus on social rights and fair conditions, perfectionism focuses directly on how people should live. Perfectionism, broadly defined, is a theory of the good life. According to Thomas Hurka, perfectionist theory "starts from an account of the good human life, or the intrinsically desirable life. . . . Certain properties, it says, constitute human nature or are...

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Part Two. The Inadequacy of Nonperfectionist Choice Critiques

The first part of this book contrasted feminists' neutral-sounding criticisms of women's choices with perfectionist theories advocating particular visions of human flourishing. While the previous chapters attempted to take feminist arguments on their face and highlight their divergence from perfectionism...

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4. Coercion Critiques

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pp. 51-75

This chapter compares society's traditional conception of coercion with many feminists' far more expansive use of the term. As shown in chapter 2, feminists describe many women's choices to sexually commodify themselves, sexually objectify themselves, and become full-time homemakers as forced, pressured, or coerced, in order to delegitimize the choices. The use of such...

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5. Socialization Critiques

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pp. 76-87

The second major way in which feminists challenge women's choices is by arguing that they are the product of a restrictive and sexist socialization. The socialization renders the choices suspect. Choices made under fair and just conditions are legitimate and accepted while choices made under unjust conditions...

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6. Equality Arguments

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pp. 88-102

As the previous chapter argued, feminists often explicitly or implicitly suggest that women's choices are not "real" or legitimate because they are made under conditions of gender inequality. The chapter considered this argument in the context of a larger discussion of the effects of women's socialization on the "authenticity" of their choices. This chapter analyzes and tries to explain...

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7. Vulnerability-Based Choice Critiques

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pp. 103-108

A final type of argument feminists use to challenge and criticize women's choices focuses not on the conditions under which women make their choices but on the probable consequences of their choices. Vulnerability-based arguments criticize women's choices on the grounds that the choices will make them vulnerable to some future harm. The arguments may initially sound...

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Part Three. Toward a Pragmatic Feminist Perfectionism

In this final part, I try to respond to the two problems that set the stage for this book: feminists' inability to challenge women's choices without resort to perfectionism, and the inadequacy of existing perfectionist theories to explain the bases of feminists' judgments. I respond by suggesting perfectionist principles that seem to underlie feminists' choice critiques. The last four

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8. Four Perfectionist Principles

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pp. 111-128

The previous chapters have shown that nonperfectionist arguments provide inadequate bases to justify the scope of feminists' challenge of women's choices to commodify their sexuality, objectify their sexuality, or become full-time homemakers. I have shown that nonperfectionist arguments can justify challenging only a small subset of the choices feminists commonly...

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9. Conclusion

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pp. 129-136

This book has sought to assess the dogma of contemporary academic and political feminism in order to uncover a feminist agenda that academic feminists generally deny exists, yet one by which most ordinary women feel they are judged. This book has examined feminists' attempts to criticize women's choices in neutral liberal terms, which effectively make such criticism seem...

Notes

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pp. 137-164

Index

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pp. 165-169


E-ISBN-13: 9780253109729
E-ISBN-10: 0253109728
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253342089

Page Count: 184
Illustrations: 1 index
Publication Year: 2003