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NWSA Journal 15.2 (2003) 157-160

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Grant, Judith. 1993. Fundamental Feminism: Contesting the Core Concepts of Feminist Theory. New York: Routledge. Has Liberalism Failed Women? Assuring Equal Representation in Europe and the U.S. edited by Jytte Klausen and Charles S. Maier. New York: Palgrave, 2001, 243 pp., $39.95 hardcover.
Debating Women's Equality: Toward a Feminist Theory of Law from a European Perspective by Ute Gerhard. Translated by Alison Brown and Belinda Cooper. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001, 264 pp., $45.00 hardcover.

At the end of every year since 1927, Time Magazine anoints the "person of the year" (changed from the less gender-neutral "man of the year" only in 1999). It's likely that market considerations, more than anything else, determine who is raised to such iconic stature. Still, the decision to don the 2002 cover with a "dynamic trio" of women merits pause. Is the gender of the three whistle blowers evidence of the unique voice--concerned more with people than profit--women bring to corporate America? Were these powerbrokers examples of maternalism in business? Not according to the editors at Time. Despite the feminine face of the cover, the accompanying story depicts the three as a few good men, not nurturing females: They "saw the ship in citizenship" and assumed the helm. To emphasize their bravery (likened to 9/11 firefighters) and the stakes at risk, the story notes that all of the women are the chief breadwinners in their families. One additional biographical detail completes the masculinization [End Page 157] of Time's heroes: two have husbands who are "full-time, stay at home dads" ("The Whistle Blowers" 2002/2003, 33).

Women have been debating what difference women's difference makes at least since the nineteenth century. For American feminists in particular, the question of difference is further complicated by renewed attention to women's differences from each other, nationally and internationally. How might we square the circle of group differences within the individualistic frame of classical liberalism, where equality seems to require sameness? Should women and other marginal groups pursue a strategy of sameness or difference? Can we define these groups without essentializing or fixing their identities? What are the risks entailed in relying on legal reforms? To the already rich North American scholarship exploring these questions (e.g., Iris Young, Charles Taylor, Anne Philips, Will Kymlicka, and Melissa Williams, to name a few), the two books under review offer valuable lessons from the other side of the Atlantic. While political thinkers in North America are tying themselves into theoretical knots to avoid foreclosing the relationship between identity and political interest, a variety of bold experiments that occlude the issue of group definition have been taking place in Europe. In several European countries, legally mandated quotas are being used to secure equal representation for women in political organizations, governments, and among electoral candidates. The French call this politics of presence parité. Gender parity is the focus of the anthology edited by Jytte Klausen and Charles S. Maier.

Despite great variation in execution (for instance, the British investment in gender parity encompasses only the Labour Party's adoption of a women's shortlist for parliamentary candidates, whereas in Germany, parity entails supplementary constitutional guarantees to "promote the realization" of women's rights), all of the parity experiments presume that the absence of women in governing bodies is a democratic deficit warranting affirmative action (8). They share three additional premises: 1) the state is gendered in ways that disadvantage women, 2) sex is a separable and unique identity, and 3) sex already exists as a juridic category. (Here the lack of an equal rights amendment for women in the United States is a crucial difference.) Simply put, political parity presumes that gendered bodies matter. Women's difference is left untheorized. Implementation relies on gender (or sex) solely as a descriptive identity. "Parity in representation," as the French parité activist and contributor Fran&ccedil...


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