Gender equality: Core principle of modern society?

by Anne Phillips

09 May 2018
Journal of the British Academy, volume 6 (2018)
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Abstract: Gender equality is sometimes claimed as a core principle of ‘modern’ society, in ways that encourage complacency about how far societies have progressed, but also feed into hierarchies of countries and cultures. From this perspective, the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which enfranchised women over the age of thirty, would appear as a key moment in the unfolding of the principle of women’s equality with men. But equal voting rights was not the major driving force in the legislation, and the story of the subsequent century has not been one of steady progress. Drawing on evidence from women’s political representation and material about the increasing gender differentiation that accompanied the so-called birth of modernity, this article argues against the attribution of a logic to modernity that will eventually deliver gender equality. It is through politics, not the unfolding of some core principle, that change occurs.

Keywords: gender equality, modernity, women’s enfranchisement, political representation.

The British Academy Lecture, read 1 February 2018 (audio recording)

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