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Sexual Equality and the Crisis of French Universalism


Sexual Equality and the Crisis of French Universalism

France today is in the throes of a crisis about whether to represent social differences within its political system and, if so, how. It is a crisis defined by the rhetoric of a universalism that takes the abstract individual to be the representative not only of citizens but also of the nation. In Parité! Joan Wallach Scott shows how the requirement for abstraction has led to the exclusion of women from French politics. 

During the 1990s, le mouvement pour la parité successfully campaigned for women’s inclusion in elective office with an argument that is unprecedented in the annals of feminism. The paritaristes insisted that if the abstract individual were thought of as sexed, then sexual difference would no longer be a relevant consideration in politics. Scott insists that this argument was neither essentialist nor separatist; it was not about women’s special qualities or interests. Instead, parité was rigorously universalist—and for that reason was both misunderstood and a source of heated debate.


“This is an extraordinary book that accomplishes two formidable tasks. Here, Joan Wallach Scott not only deftly guides the reader through the complexities of contemporary debates in France on the subject of parité, a movement that asks for equal representation between men and women in public office, but also situates these debates within the broader context of political representation in France. Parité! will prove an indispensable resource for anyone interested in the history of political representation, women’s struggle for political equality, and the history of modern France more generally.”--Paul Friedland, Bowdoin College


Paul Friedland | Paul Friedland

“This book by Joan Wallach Scott, one of the most important feminist historians writing today, is a fascinating and original discussion of the new direction taken by French feminism in the 1990s: the mouvement pour la parité, which demanded that elected offices be filled by men and women in equal numbers. Scott traces the intellectual genesis of the movement, its gaining of strength, its complex interaction with the rights of same-sex couples, and finally its partial success. Intensely thought-provoking, Parité! will be of enormous interest to anyone interested in modern European politics and history, or in feminism.”--David A. Bell, The Johns Hopkins University

David A. Bell | David A. Bell

"Scott’s clear and historically grounded analysis will help readers understand the intricacies of French politics in general and the parity movement more specifically."

Catherine Raissiguier | Signs

Table of Contents

1. The Crisis of Representation
2. The Rejection of Quotas
3. The Dilemma of Difference
4. The Campaign for Parité
5. The Discourse of the Couple
6. The Power of the Law

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