Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Confucianism and Sexism

Van Norden discusses sexism very briefly (pp. 330-31) in his book. I realize, and he does too, there are whole volumes dedicated to the topic. But I wanted to discuss an interesting issue that Van Norden raises–not to critique his book but because I stumbled across the issue there this morning while coffeeing up. Van Norden writes:

“There is nothing, I think, essentially sexist about Ruism. Ruism emphasizes the importance of acting in accordance with our roles. But it is not a requirement of Ruism in itself that these roles be static or attached to specific genders.”

(For those who are unfamiliar, “Ruism” is another–maybe clearer, maybe somewhat problematic–way to refer to Confucianism.)

I think Van Norden’s view here is probably like that of a lot of contemporary defenders of Confucianism. But it raises a question: Is there something essential to Confucianism that transcends, or would allow it to transcend, its actual socio-historical role in sexist practices and institutions? Or maybe that’s too broad; more pointedly, how could a role-based ethical view remain identifiably Confucian if we divorced it from its actual substantive views about role-appropriateness based on sex? Or am I assuming too much in the latter about Confucianism’s actual substantive views about sex-based role-appropriateness?

Lots of questions; any answers?

February 15, 2008 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Confucianism, Feminism, Sexism | 17 comments