Confucian Family-State and Women: A Proposal for Confucian Feminism

In Ashley Butnor & Jen McWeeny (eds.), Liberating Traditions: Essays in Feminist Comparative Philosophy. New York, USA: Columbia University Press. pp. 261–282 (2014)
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I shall argue that, with a proper realignment of core Confucian values, an explicitly feminist reading of Confucianism—a conception of Confucian feminism—could be constructed to promote the feminist goal of gender equality in contemporary Confucian societies. My paper proceeds in the following order: first, I shall identify two aspects of Confucianism implicated in the Confucian subjugation of women: li and family. Given the centrality of both li and family in Confucianism, it may seem that Confucianism is inherently antagonistic to the feminist goal of gender equality. In order to determine whether this is the case, I shall reconstruct the valuational system of Confucianism and examine the proper locations of li and family within it. I shall argue that Confucian ethics promotes women’s self-cultivation on a par with men’s and that Confucian emphases on li and family do not necessitate the subjugation of women. However, some may worry that the importance of family in Confucianism may require the undivided attention of at least one parent, which in reality would be mostly the mother. To alleviate this worry, I shall argue that a democratic Confucian welfare state, entailed by the Confucian thought system, ought to pick up the responsibility of providing comprehensive assistance to families so that families can thrive in the Confucian polity.

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Ranjoo S. Herr
Bentley College


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