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Feminism and the Changing State: The Case of Sex Discrimination

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

This paper examines the ambiguous relationship between feminism and the state through the lens of sex discrimination legislation. Particular attention will be paid to the changing nature of the state as manifested by its political trajectory from social liberalism to neoliberalism over the last few decades. As a creature of social liberalism, the passage of sex discrimination legislation was animated by notions of collective good and redistributive justice, but now that neoliberalism is in the ascendancy, we see a resiling from these values in favour of private good and promotion of the self through the market. This cluster of values associated with neoliberalism not only serves to reify the socially dominant strands of masculinity, it also goes hand-in-glove with neoconservatism, which is intent on restricting the inchoate freedoms of women. The erosion of social liberal measures has caused many feminists to feel more kindly disposed towards the liberal state. Some attempt to unravel the contradictions relating to feminism and the state with particular regard to the key discourses of equality of opportunity.

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Research theme: Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

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