Feminist metaphysics

Where metaphysics tries to explain what is the universe and what it is like, feminist metaphysics questions how metaphysical answers have supported sexism.[1] Are ideas we have about fundamental subjects like: the self, mind and body, nature, essence, and identity formed with gendered bias? For instance, feminist metaphysics would ask if Cartesian dualismthe concept of humans having minds separate from our bodiesprivileges men or masculinity.[1]

Social construction

The famous quote “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” coined by Simone de Beauvoir, can be considered feminist metaphysical critique. De Beauvoir does not deny that some people are born with female body parts, but that those body parts need not imply how one is socially situated. Yet for many societies being in possession of those body parts prescribes social roles, norms, and activities, and the differences are said to be necessary, because they are natural.[2]

Since de Beauvoir many feminists have presented the view that social hierarchies are perpetuated by the fallacy that they are metaphysically "natural". In fact, the power that comes from naturalising myths about universal categories, has made feminists wary of accepting that any category at all is "natural". And subsequently a response is that any such supposedly "natural" category, should not be a basis for how we organize ourselves socially.[3]

Critique of social construction

If being a woman is not due to "situation", like biology, de Beauvoir claims that it is due to "instrumentality" of women's freedom. Critic Judith Butler finds this problematic because de Beauvoir's reasoning, now plots "situation" against "instrumentality", plays into Cartesian body-freedom dualism.[4]


  1. Haslanger, Sally; Sveinsdóttir, Ásta Kristjana (2011). "Feminist Metaphysics". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2011 ed.). ISSN 1095-5054. OCLC 224325075.
  2. de Beauvoir, Simone (1949). The Second Sex. New York: Vintage Books. pp. Chapter 1. ISBN 978-1-473-52191-9. OCLC 896850610.
  3. Warnke, Georgia (2008). After Identity: Rethinking Race, Sex, and Gender. Cambridge, UK & New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-88281-1. OCLC 165408056.
  4. Butler, Judith (1990). Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-415-90042-3. OCLC 19630577.

Further reading

  • Battersby, Christine. The Phenomenal Woman: Feminist Metaphysics and the Patterns of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1998. ISBN 978-0-415-92035-3 OCLC 37742199
  • Howell, Nancy R. A Feminist Cosmology: Ecology, Solidarity, and Metaphysics. Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 2000. ISBN 978-1-573-92653-9 OCLC 36713191
  • Raschke, Debrah. Modernism, Metaphysics, and Sexuality. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press, 2006. ISBN 978-1-575-91106-9 OCLC 63679917
  • Witt, Charlotte. Feminist Metaphysics Explorations in the Ontology of Sex, Gender and the Self. Dordrecht: Springer, 2010. ISBN 978-9-048-137831 OCLC 695386850
  • Schües, Christina, Dorothea Olkowski, and Helen Fielding. Time in Feminist Phenomenology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-253-00160-3 OCLC 747431814
  • Witt, Charlotte. The Metaphysics of Gender. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-199-74040-6 OCLC 706025098
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