Taking Public Responsibility for Gender: When Personal Identity and Institutional Feminist Politics Meet
This essay explores the challenge that soft decertification poses for feminist politics. In soft decertification, people continue to have a formal legal sex/ gender status; however, public and other bodies act as if such status was no longer determinative (at least in certain contexts). As glimpses of soft decertification emerge, what are its implications for gender equality initiatives hitherto focused on addressing the asymmetrically patterned lives of women and men? What new ways of understanding gender are coming to the fore, and what challenges arise for bodies engaged in equality governance in trying to address them? This essay explores these questions through the prism of responsibility - the ethical, political, and legal obligation to pay attention or respond that different bodies have because of their capacity to undo or ameliorate social inequalities and other injustices. Specifically, it asks: What does responsibility for gender entail when gender is treated as both institutionalised and self-determined; public and private? The essay addresses two contexts where equality governance approaches gender as a site of institutional re-making and redress. The first concerns the front-stage initiatives and policies of public sector provision; the second concerns the back-stage scenes of organisational action, where informal decision-making arises. In both cases, taking responsibility for gender, as an institution, is far from straight-forward. This essay explores the importance of doing so - not just despite, but because of, the complex conditions responsibility confronts when institutional forms also exist as individual attachments.
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