Feeney was a case about sex discrimination. The issue was whether a law giving veterans priority in hiring was discrimination based on sex-- because veterans were overwhelmingly male, even moreso then than they are today.
I think it totally matters why someone discriminates. But I think that not intending to discriminate isn't reason to discount, or ignore, or accept that discrimination. The effects are harmful either way-- and may be more harmful when you can't even point to someone's negative intent. I think many people today unconsciously discriminate, and show their biases through their actions without truly intending to harm women. I’ve seen a number of men who would state that they believe men and women are equal—and I believe that consciously, that is true. However, their unconscious prejudices show in unthinking actions in humor and behavior—and it is just as harmful when done unthinkingly as when it is done with the intent to show superiority.
I don't know which type of discrimination is more harmful or if they end up being essentially the same. Both are part of an overarching, unfair system that disadvantages women. I lean towards unintentional discrimination being worse, though. When people intend to discriminate, it tends to be more obvious-- and easier to fight. It's out in the open, and can be combated. People can be confronted with their beliefs.
When discrimination is unintentional, it can be harder to fight. If someone is resistant to believe they are discriminating, they are unlikely to make any actual efforts to change things. We don't want to believe we're capable of doing bad things, so people engage in denial and protest, get defensive, and shut down the conversation. And then they act like picks, to show that it's "normal" and not discrimination.
I think unintentional discrimination is so, so, harmful-- and that it hurts the people who have those beliefs too. Because it isn't always the supposed ally doing the discriminating-- it can be the individual who faces blatant discrimination every day, and who ends up internalizing it, and incorporating it into his/her worldview. And then... they begin to unintentionally discriminate against others themselves. And the cycle (because really, it's all a cycle, isn't it?) continues, with new people incorporating thoughts into their world views, and spreading it like some easily diffusing venom in the water supply.
So how do we combat unintentional-- and even potentially well meaning-- discrimination? I don't know. And it frustrates me, it frustrates me deeply. I'm young enough to believe that my naivete is not misguided, and that there IS a way to deal with all this, a way to educate others without offending them, a way to showcase the wonderful spectrum of humanity-- but I don't really know how, other than to be that annoying chick who interrupts a conversation to challenge others' blanket statements.
Do you have any ideas?