Secularism and Gender Equality
In much of the discussion of secularism these days (much of it in relation to Islam), there is an assumption that gender equality is part of the process of secularization. History suggests otherwise: the privatization of religious belief that marked the separation of church and state in the West in the nineteenth century coincided with the rise of a domestic ideology that associated women with the private sphere and men with the public sphere. "Separate spheres" insisted not on the equality of the sexes, but on the inequalities that necessarily followed from their differences. The history of secularization is a more complicated process than is indicated by stark contrasts between "the religious" and "the secular."
Joan Wallach Scott is the Harold F. Linder Professor in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, where she has been teaching since 1985. She received her PhD from the University of Wisconsin and is the winner of several scholarly and teaching awards, including the American Historical Association's Herbert Baxter Adams Prize. Scott's recent books have focused on the vexed relationship of the particularity of gender to the universalizing force of democratic politics. These works include Gender and the Politics of History (1988), Only Paradoxes to Offer: French Feminists and the Rights of Man (1996), Parité: Sexual Equality and the Crisis of French Universalism (2005), and The Politics of the Veil (2007).
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