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Javier Garcia Manglano, researcher Juan de la Cierva of the University of Navarra Institute for Culture and Society
The enriching difference
"The strongest reason for women to speak out is that the world needs to hear their voice. It would be catastrophic for all if the cry of half the human family were drowned out. Truth has a feminine and a masculine side; these relate not as inferior and superior, not as worse and better, not as weak and strong, but as complements of a necessary and symmetrical whole. Although we see women who reason like the coldest of men, and men who are moved by the helpless like the most tender of women, the agreement prevails that there are traits more properly masculine and others feminine. Both are necessary.
The first time I read these words I was puzzled, annoyed: comfortable with some phrases, suspicious of others. From agreement, a woman's voice should sound as loud as a man's, but because they are different? It is disturbing to think that equality is built from complementarity; or that the marvelous richness of the human being is manifested in masculine and feminine traits. It is uncomfortable to proposal to base equality on difference, without denying or exaggerating it.
History shows that difference can lead to abuse. We are afraid that the past will repeat itself and we cry out: no more injustice! That is why it is difficult for us to understand the word "different" as source of wealth. It sounds dangerous, a prelude to discrimination. For fear of the dark past, we eliminate the grays: we prefer a world of black or white, equal or different, with me or against me. Common ground, moderated dialogue, nuanced argument thus disappear. When it comes to equality, every gray is black: not to affirm it radically is considered treason. That is why I was disturbed by the initial quotation ; it must be the work (I thought) of a very privileged author, who never suffered the terrible consequences of unfair discrimination. Nothing could be further from the truth.
North Carolina, 1858. A society divided by the racial question, on the verge of fratricidal war. A society that underlined the differences with laws and blood: in which black Americans and women had limited access to property and Education. That year, at the bottom of this unjust world, Anna Julia Cooper was born, a slave, illegitimate daughter of her mother's "owner". In her life she experienced injustice and oppression in ways that are hard to imagine. Woman, black and poor: in terms of intersectionality, the most oppressed node of the social matrix. She wrote the text that concerns us.
Pioneer: she gained access to a world reserved for whites (the Education) and mastered activities reserved for men (mathematics and writing). She obtained a doctorate from the Sorbonne and published A Voice from the South, calling for equal rights for women and blacks. Her argument: the world needs the contributions of all, for in the complementarity of our differences lies our richness, as human beings and as a society.
I continue to be surprised by Cooper's finding , representative of a feminism that some call complementarity. There is something in her way of integrating difference that I find attractive: she seems to facilitate dialogue, mutual understanding, the evaluation of what each one (individually and in group) can contribute to the common good. It inoculates us from the fear of basing equality (of rights, of desires, of dignity) on differences, without denying or exaggerating them.
Searching for common humanity: therein lies the genius of original feminism. Cooper speaks again: "It is not a question of pitting the intelligent woman against the ignorant woman; nor the white woman against the black woman (...); nor is ours even the cause of woman against man. No; woman's strongest claim is simply this: that the world needs to hear her voice." Why? Because it is hers. Because it is feminine. Because different is not the same as unequal.
There was a generation capable of looking at difference without fear: without denying or exaggerating it. In admirable balance, they avoided two types of extremism: that of those who, for fear of losing privileges, condemn every woman (and every man) to fixed, monolithic roles; and that of those who, for fear of injustice, deny and annul the possibility of a genuinely feminine (or masculine) contribution to society. From this heritage, International Women's Day can constitute a celebration of the feminine in itself, avoiding that veiled comparison with the masculine that ends in the negation of both. Far from impoverishing egalitarianism, let us aspire to an equality in which men and women, each man and each woman, can contribute their enriching difference to society.