Setting Feminism Straight

By R.N. Carmona

I. A Brief Survey of Feminist Schools

We find ourselves in what is increasingly being dubbed the Fourth Wave of Feminism. What differentiates this new wave from previous ones is that this wave is more world conscious. It isn’t bound to a local scene or the concerns of an isolated population. Rather, it is a global movement that has united feminists in a common thread shared by women all over the world. It has mostly dispensed with the individualism that characterized the third wave and instead takes a more collectivist approach.1 The concerns of women in a highly polarized political climate here in the United States don’t matter more than the concerns of women in the Muslim world. Jennifer Baumgardner, writing for The Feminist Press at CUNY, puts it succinctly:

Because of media advances and globalization, waves of mass change are coming faster and faster. The waves are all part of the same body politic known as feminism, and combine to become a powerful and distinct force.2

The Fourth Wave may be the most powerful wave yet, but a glaring issue limits its power: there are people who not only misunderstand feminism, but also either stand against feminism or misrepresent feminism. The former and the latter are more related than one realizes. Those who misrepresent feminism are very often responsible for those who stand against it. Some Christians and Muslims believe that women are inferior to men and will therefore oppose feminism by default, but there are anti-feminists who don’t have religious reasons for opposing feminism. Their reasons are based on the misunderstandings of self-proclaimed feminists. We will return to this in the next section.

To set feminism straight, a return to the basics is required. Once the different schools of feminism are made explicit, misunderstanding should be quelled. Misunderstanding occurs due to oversimplification of the thought of one school or another. I agree with Richard Carrier, who stated that, “Feminism is often badly understood by people who don’t study it well or don’t read widely among contemporary feminist authors.”3 A successful movement, of course, has to move against some form of oppression or move toward some end, but it also has to stop and gather its fugitives. It, in other words, shouldn’t exclude people who want to identify with it. However, it should be responsible for ensuring that its members understand the movement. It is responsible for its reputation and since the reputation of the movement is based on its members, cohesion and continuity are a must. We are in a digital age in where people listen to someone on a YouTube channel or a blogger in the blogosphere. It’s a readily accessible form of media. It’s often short and sweet when compared to a book, so the more learned and educated in a movement have to stop to protect the movement from misunderstanding and mischaracterization. To do this, however, one must gather the fugitives, and to accomplish this, they have to be shown where they’ve gone wrong. They need to be corrected. Often what is needed is a return to the basics. With that, it is time now to turn to a brief survey of the different schools in feminism. I will focus on three of the most prominent, especially since they’re still relevant within the Fourth Wave.

Radical Feminism

Finn Mackay, a contemporary feminist activist, is aiming “to restore the revolutionary edge to feminism by reclaiming the political stance of radical feminism.”4 She summarizes radical feminism as follows:

[I]dentifying women and men as two distinct political classes, and having four defining beliefs: in the universality of patriarchy and the need to end it; in the need for women-only spaces and political organising; in recognising male violence against women as a keystone of women’s oppression; in seeing institutions of pornography and prostitution as examples of male violence.5

The last of her points focuses on sex, and there are conflicting thoughts among feminists in that regard. Some are, in other words, sex positivists or sex negativists. Others are entirely neutral. Such a topic is too tangential for our purposes, but among the above points, though all four are connected, three are more connected since, as mentioned, sex negativity is imported into the fourth. The second and third points are, however, reducible to the first point: the patriarchy. The patriarchy isn’t a reified, metaphysical notion as some have come to misunderstand it. Rather, it is a pervading social construct that has roots among different cultures and nations. By patriarchy, Mackay states, she means “male supremacy…a society where every avenue of power – especially mainstream institutions of power – is overwhelmingly dominated by men.”6 The patriarchy entails a recognition of how society is structured. It is at the helm of stereotypes, e.g. throw like a girl; run like a girl, and it hands down harmful prescriptions, even to men, e.g., men don’t cry, especially not in public. Men can’t express emotion, but women certainly can. So with it is the idea that men and women are wholly different, either in a psychological or neurobiological sense. The patriarchy–the structure of most modern societies–feeds these stereotypes and prescriptions. In Latin America, a diversity of cultures harbors these patriarchal hand-me-downs. “Los hombres no lloran”–which is Spanish for “men don’t cry”–is told to Latino boys in a number of cultures. Some fathers will beat their sons more if they choose to cry. Daughters often express pride in the fact that they’ve never seen their father cry. When it finally happens, it takes something overwhelming, very often the death of his spouse. A radical feminist isn’t against the patriarchy solely because of its oppression of women, but also because of its oppression of men. They recognize that the patriarchy harms men also.

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Where this school of feminism faces problems, however, is with its second point. It isn’t merely about women’s restrooms and women’s only spaces where women can gather and socialize. It’s also about viewing transgendered women as men. In 1973, at the West Coast Lesbian Conference, the keynote speaker Robin Morgan said:

I will not call a male “she”; thirty-two years of suffering in this androcentric society, and of surviving, have earned me the title “woman”; one walk down the street by a male transvestite, five minutes of his being hassled (which he may enjoy), and then he dares, he dares to think he understands our pain? No, in our mothers’ names and in our own, we must not call him sister.7

Thankfully, these views are out of style among most contemporary feminists, but it is still at play among radical feminists. Radical feminists reject the notion that men and women are different neurobiologically and therefore, psychologically. It is, therefore, a foreign idea to them, this notion that a morphological man feels like a woman. This, unfortunately, seems to confuse sex and gender. Your sex is an ascribed status. Your gender is achieved. In other words, you are born male or female, but your gender is assigned to you. If you’re born a female, your room is most likely pink and if male, its most likely blue. If parents are less traditional, lavender is a feminine color whilst green is a masculine color. Transgenders, given gender dysphoria, will come to disagree with their assigned gender. They, however, recognize that they’re one sex or the other, and this will lead some to pursue a sex change. As stated in the link, gender dysphoria is not characterized as a mental illness. Even if it was, there is an assumed stigma and consequentially, an underlying ableism in anyone who dismisses transgenders as mentally ill. Modern day radical feminists are then tasked with dealing with this outstanding problem. Kelsie Brynn Jones, herself a transgender women and activist, writes:

[Radical Feminists] have continued to use anti-transgender rhetoric, using the banner of feminism in the same way that Westboro Baptist Church uses Christianity. They consistently use rhetoric suggesting that trans women are would-be rapists, that we are “men invading women’s spaces” – (Cathy Brennan, head of Gender Identity Watch) and are “forcing penises on lesbians” – (Justin Norwood, Gender Identity Watch), intimating that “penis” is a threat, with the assumption that trans women are nothing more than whatever genitals they may have been born with. The statistics, however, consistently show disproportional sexual aggression against transgender women, and to a lesser degree transgender men, when compared with the cisgender (simply a term meaning those who’s gender identity matches their assigned sex at birth) population.8

Whatever the takeaway from radical feminism, the attitudes toward transgender women that prevailed among earlier radical feminists cannot prevail in the modern day. Aside from gathering the type of fugitives I talk about below, feminists, in general, have to point our the inherent flaws and subsequent issues with such attitudes. There are common threads among women and the LGBTQ, and there is therefore potential to assist one another on your respective fronts. Excluding transgender women is to side with the oppressors of their movement. Naturally, the two should be allies. Though this fugitive is of a different sort, the same advice is applicable: more education. In other words, more education will dispense with the notion that a transgender individual is nothing more than their genitals. More education will do away with the threats some women feel. As Orange is the New Black has shown us, women will continue to have conflicting views toward transgender women, but a movement that doesn’t check its assumptions will be misrepresented. Discomfort with these women will be misconstrued for hate toward them. This will then be a banner through which others declare their anti stance and mischaracterize what it is you truly stand for. At the risk of including transgender women simply to avoid possible consequences, including them must be for the right reasons, and only further education, i.e., further study into transgenderism, is needed.

Cultural Feminism

It is time now to turn to cultural feminism. Though it emerged from radical feminism, it quickly took its own shape and the differences between the two schools were quickly on display. Both have in common that they’re social movements working against the existing structure of society, but cultural feminists work actively to form a women’s culture.

Many of then turned their attention to building alternatives, so that if they couldn’t change the dominant society, they could avoid it as much as possible.  That, in a nutshell, is what the shift from radical feminism to cultural feminism was about.  These alternative-building efforts were accompanied with reasons explaining (perhaps justifying) the abandonment of working for social change.  Notions that women are “inherently kinder and gentler” are one of the foundations of cultural feminism, and remain a major part of it.  A similar concept held by some cultural feminists is that while various sex differences might not be biologically determined, they are still so thoroughly ingrained as to be intractable.9

This school therefore puts emphasis on the devaluation of feminine attributes. We saw earlier that this is normal within patriarchal societies. Throwing like a girl, running like a girl, and showing too much emotion are used as mediums to tease and bully others. From early on, children tease each other in these ways. Cultural feminism, despite mischaracterization, does not advocate a matriarchy. It doesn’t, in other words, want to replace the patriarchy with a matriarchy. It doesn’t want to restructure society so that women “run the world”–a point we’ll return to later. Outside of what’s briefly outlined above, it doesn’t say much more. Whereas radical feminism focused on the patriarchy and the need to dispense with it, cultural feminism not only wants to build a women’s culture, but it wants to end the devaluation of feminine attributes.

Unfortunately, cultural feminism faces a problem and though it is less a problem than the one facing radical feminists, it still has to be addressed. Cultural feminists, despite wanting to build a women’s culture, take in the dirty laundry of the existing culture. This idea that women are kinder and gentler is to assign truth to the differences society believes men and women have. This notion of gentle gets mixed up with the idea that women are more emotional and that it’s normal for them to show emotion in public. On the flip side, men are less emotional–at least in public, and if a man were to show emotion in public, he is less of a man or, on a more curious note, he’s acting like a girl. So in taking in notions of a kinder, gentler women’s essence, they have, hopefully inadvertently, retained existing stereotypes. If the point is to build a women’s culture, this culture should be free of the binds of what had previously existed. This curious import of failed notions has to be realized. Taking in of these sorts of fugitives would then involve seeing the problems inherent in such ideas.

Jada Pinkett-Smith, her religious tone aside, believes in the essence of a woman though she doesn’t ignore that a man has essence as well. She also does not ignore the prevailing structure of society and its shortcomings. She states that women have been “stripped of Goddess recognition,” but also that “the men, who restructured our societies from cultures that honored woman, had no idea of the outcome. They had no idea that eventually, even men would render themselves empty and longing for meaning, depth and connection.There is a deep sadness when I witness a man that can’t recognize the emptiness he feels when he objectifies himself as a bank and truly believes he can buy love with things and status. It is painful to witness the betrayal when a woman takes him up on that offer.”10 Inherent in this is the suggestion that perhaps radical and cultural feminists should have never diverged. Perhaps the two schools are better served together than apart, and this perhaps plays a pivotal role in the intersectionality among feminists today–a point we’ll return to below.

Liberal Feminism

Liberal feminism retains the talismanic individualism of previous waves. “Liberal feminism conceives of freedom as personal autonomy—living a life of one’s own choosing—and political autonomy—being co-author of the conditions under which one lives.”11 This is at the center of women’s reproductive rights. It is also at the center of sex positivism. As a neo-Kantian, I am moved by such individualism and emphasis on autonomy though there are problems inherent in this sort of thinking as well. If the movement were through and through individualistic, it would fail to do away with notions of sanctity–notions that trickle down to individuals from state authority, whether religious or not. That a woman dishonors herself in having multiple sex partners has a religious undertone. It is, however, a staple in the patriarchy. This plays into objectification–reducing a woman to her body parts. It also plays into the cliche “sex sells” and also feeds into the mentality that sex can be bought, an issue that cuts both ways. On one end, some men feel entitled to sex given that they spend enough money on a woman; on the other, some women tend to see all “nice” men as having such ulterior motives. Gathering of the fugitives will therefore involve a move toward a more collectivist way of thinking. Autonomy and personal freedom should be focused on, but not absent the structure of society and the notions that follow from it.

This gathering of the fugitives is already happening within the Fourth Wave. Kira Cochrane, writing for The Guardian, states:

The majority of activists I speak to define themselves as intersectional feminists – or say they try to live up to this decription – and when I mention this to Kimberlé Crenshaw, the US law professor who coined the term intersectionality in 1989, she’s genuinely surprised. The theory concerns the way multiple oppressions intersect, and although, as Crenshaw says, it can be interpreted in a wild variety of ways, today’s feminists generally seem to see it as an attempt to elevate and make space for the voices and issues of those who are marginalised, and a framework for recognising how class, race, age, ability, sexuality, gender and other issues combine to affect women’s experience of discrimination. Younis considers intersectionality the overriding principle for today’s feminists, and Ali says she constantly tries to check her privilege, to recognise how hierarchies of power are constructed.12

This intersectionality comes with the recognition that the focuses of one school are neither greater nor lesser than the focuses of another. If success is to be achieved, an equal attention must be paid to the patriarchy, the devaluation of feminine attributes, and individual autonomy and personal freedom. It is the recognition that these things are better served together rather than apart–that they are better addressed in unity rather than in insolation. Internally, feminists are gathering the fugitives, but there are self-proclaimed feminists on the fringe that aren’t being gathered, and it is these people that are causing problems for the movement and causing would-be allies to assume the anti stance or show no concern for what feminists truly stand for. They, in other words, take mischaracterizations and misunderstandings at face value and worry not over the facts of the matter, which leads us into what feminism is not.

II. What Feminism Is Not

Feminism isn’t the exclusion or the hatred of men. It is not the replacement of the patriarchy with a matriarchy. It is not a shift from devaluing feminine attributes to devaluing masculine attributes. It is not an attempt to oppress men, ostracize them, and villainize them. But the question remains as to why it feels this way for some people. In other words, the question remains as to why anti-feminists see this as being the case. There is some sense in which self-proclaimed feminists exclude men or show hatred toward men, but that isn’t a mark against feminism, but rather, a mark against that individual or set of individuals. They are essentially communicating their misunderstanding to others and in a sense, imparting this misunderstanding. Their misunderstanding, in other words, becomes the misunderstanding of the anti-feminist.

When Beyonce, for instance, takes the joint messages of radical and cultural feminism and proclaims that girls run the world, and advocates symbolism of female dominance over males (e.g., in having a male lion on a leash), she is imparting a grossly misunderstood version of feminism. It is, in effect, the slaves ruling their masters, the oppressed becoming the oppressors. That is not what feminism is seeking and any feminist who thinks that is the kind of fugitive members of the movement are failing to gather. It is precisely these kind of people that are hurting your movement. They are the ones that lead to caricatures of feminism. They are at the center of images like the following:

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The notion of a “potential rapist” seems connected to devaluation of masculine attributes or attributes considered masculine, e.g., aggression. Being aggressive, competitive, cut-throat, or what have you doesn’t require that one be a male. In fact, women can have such attributes. Moreover and more importantly, having such attributes doesn’t imply that you can potentially rape someone of the opposite or same sex. Inherent in such a statement is a misunderstanding of what goes through a rapist’s mind. A rapist doesn’t reason that because s/he is attracted to a person, then s/he will rape this person if s/he doesn’t consent to sex. Rape, like a lot of behaviors, goes back to how society is structured. It isn’t about passionate attraction. It’s about power, control, and dominance. It’s about exerting one’s imagined authority over a vulnerable victim.13

Feminism isn’t a hate movement though she seems to think that’s the case. She thinks that’s the case because feminism, to some (usually) younger women, means treating men like garbage. It means assigning intentions to them that they, in fact, do not have. It’s less about buying you a drink and more about attempting to get you drunk so that you’re more likely to sleep with him. It’s less about him being nice and more about him trying to buy his way between your legs. Young women perpetuate these ideas and then they are bought wholesale by uncritical people–people who have no intention of actually understanding feminism. As exemplified above, a woman can take the anti stance. The notion that only men are anti-feminists because they can’t stand the sound of women standing up for their rights is clearly misled. It is time to gather such fugitives. Misunderstandings and mischaracterizations have to be corrected once and for all.

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As seen above, it is an issue of education. Some feminists have taken liberal arts classes and that might be why they’re better equipped to explain and/or discuss feminism, but this shouldn’t be a knock against such people. Yet it is. That’s because these kind of people have purchased bad ideas from them doing feminism a disservice. The people in the photos above aren’t your fugitives. Your fugitives are the people they’re getting these ideas from: that feminists hate men; that feminists want to exclude them; that feminists seek female dominance and perhaps a matriarchy; that feminists are looking to devalue masculine attributes; that feminists ignore the effects the patriarchy has on men and that they, in fact, ignore men’s issues across the board. These ideas aren’t true to feminism, but there’s still the question as to why people think they are. Mackay has a succinct summary of feminism and not surprisingly, she alludes to common misconceptions:

Feminism is one of the oldest and most powerful social movements in history; it is a revolutionary movement, and that means change. There is so much wrong with the present system that we can’t just tinker round the edges, we need to start again; our end point cannot be equality in an unequal world. This is also the reason why feminism is not struggling to simply reverse the present power relationship and put women in charge instead of men (though this is a common myth about feminist politics). Feminism is about change, not a changing of the guard.14

The American freedom of speech has become license to share misinformation. This is analogous to the atheism movement as we’ll see shortly, but there’s a censorship that must take place. Allowing certain people to share their misinformed ideas runs the risk of the very defamation of a group of people who do not subscribe to such ideas. It, in other words, ruins the reputation of the movement itself. Mark Twain once stated that “a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” That is to say that it is difficult to recover from what amounts to bad PR. At some point, censorship is necessary because this isn’t a question of mere freedom of speech, it is also a question of blatant or unintended harm of others. There is a sense in which learned members of a community are harmed by the misinformation of other people. When you’re seen as a rampant misandrist because of the actions of a misinformed member within your community, your attention is better served if paid to such members rather than them who latched on to such misinformation. People who take an anti stance against something are typically uninformed about that something, so people like that essentially shoot themselves in the foot anyway. The member can be reeled in, so to speak, and that will prevent further misinformation from spreading.

Will it then follow that everyone is on the same page? Of course not. There will be disagreements within the group, but none of that should play against what it stands for. No member should take the individual schools or the intersection of them and hold to erred beliefs and/or spread misinformation that is imagined to be based on them. If you’re one of the few people who’ve read up to this point, you might be thinking what the hell makes me qualified to speak on such a matter. I neither mind being labelled a feminist nor identifying as one, but I recognize that there are people much better suited to speak with authority about it. Given that, I am only an ally rather than a committed spokesperson. What I’m doing now stems from the recognition that a similar poison runs through the veins of my own movement.

III. Analogies to the Atheism Movement

This in turn makes me qualified to give the sort of advice I’ve repeated throughout. There’s a certain censorship necessary among atheists because quite frankly, some people identifying with our movement aren’t on the same page as the rest of us. Others are harming the movement via their own actions. We have the reputation of being meme pushing, religion hating, fedora wearing non-believers. We are all new atheists who are on board with every jot and tittle written or spoken by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. If one of them says something, that is a mark against all of us. That we’re freethinkers doesn’t factor into the equation. The more vocal or in this case, more famous, among us get to decide what the rest of us believe and think. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

I’ve made my disagreement with the aforementioned quite explicit. I have, in many places, admonished fellow atheists to up their game. I talk about my personal growth as an atheist, i.e., what has gone into knowing what I know now and being able to debate, discuss, and explain the way I do. I also focus on them who haven’t endeavored to adopt a more sophisticated and nuanced approach. These are the kind of people who are satisfied with mocking religion. More crippling to our movement is that they don’t stop there. They also mock religious people. Some have adopted this unchecked ableism when comparing religious belief to delusions or mental illness. Religious people can be delusional. Non-religious people can be delusional. Mental illness isn’t required to have delusions nor is there a stigma on mental illness or the mentally ill. These atheists don’t see how they’re doing more harm than good. They are, in effect, forsaking their humanistic bents and reciprocating the wrongs done by religious people.

Aside from that, there’s the common misconception that we all hate religion. We all believe, like Hitchens, that religion poisons everything. None of us have or will take pains to seek the origin of the most benign religious thought, e.g., one should abstain from inordinate desires. None of us recognize the clear differences within and between religions. In fact, all we care about is the most elementary, most literal, and from the insider perspective, the most foolish version of a religion. Based on this, we are free to mock it ad infinitum. If the blogosphere is any indication, given Tumblr, Reddit, and the comment sections on YouTube, people who think this will appear to be right. Atheists have failed miserably at gathering their fugitives and as stated earlier, it’s difficult to recover from bad PR. Christians have to go through a painstaking process to demonstrate that they’re not all creationists or that they don’t all subscribe to Westboro Baptist ideas. There’s a sense in which bad PR exists within every group imaginable, but the groups that don’t care about that are stifling their own causes. Movements rely on people and people are the representatives of that movement. A movement should aspire to be like the Portuguese Man O’ War, an organism of organisms. Instead, most are like wheels with pegs coming loose as they please, fugitives who aren’t in line and whose thoughts are a toxin within its veins. Because I’ve made it my responsibility to respond to and correct the misinformed within my own camp, I think feminists should do the same.

IV. Gathering the Fugitives

Given the aforementioned intersectionality of the Fourth Wave of Feminism, it seems feminism is taking care of feminists in isolation. In other words, they are addressing that the focuses of each respective school matter and that they’re better served together. They have come to realize that one focus can’t be ignored or set aside. There is, however, the problem of the uninformed. There are people who are too uneducated to see that Beyonce’s portrayal of feminism is itself uninformed. Fame does not grant one authority over this or that matter. That has to be earned and as Carrier suggested up top, there are contemporary feminists well worth your attention. In any movement, I don’t see why someone would identify with the movement as if in jest. One would think that people would assume the responsibility they inherit when choosing to identify with the movement.

Unfortunately, some are content with doing the minimum. I endeavored to better my writing, to fortify my cases, to care for my philosophical assumptions, and so on. This is something that I can’t expect all atheists to want—let alone pursue. This is a climb I can’t expect other atheists to make—a plateau I can’t expect them to reach and certainly not shortly after renouncing whatever faith they believed in. This takes diligence and time. It takes a willingness to go through the painstaking process of doing all that I’ve done to be where I am now. A feminist who has gone through the trouble of doing the same may find him/herself saying something similar. Again, however, I no longer see why a member of a movement is satisfied with the minimum. At least if one is to decide on doing the least, then be careful not to misrepresent or mischaracterize or perpetuate a misunderstanding of your own cause. This strikes me as commonsensical.

It is therefore incumbent on the learned and educated members of a group to gather its fugitives. Lies, as we’ve seen above, are too often accepted without question and spread much faster than the truth. What feminism actually stands for is worth our attention. There is a patriarchal structure in societies ranging across cultures and nations. There is a devaluation of feminine attributes. There is a sense in which people believe that women are dependent on men or inferior to men or serve as a means for men’s pleasure. People do believe that women can’t hold their own. People, for example, tend to pity a single mother. This same pity is often not extended to a single father because apparently, a man is better suited for such hardship.

The Fourth Wave is here and I see no reason why society shouldn’t allow itself to bathe in it. Speaking for the United States alone, issues surrounding rights have resurfaced. Unarmed African Americans are being gunned down by police. Bans on gay marriage still exist in various states. Women and men suffer due to unquestioned assumptions, but women have taken the brunt of it. Women, not non-minority men, had to fight to vote in this country. Women are still generally viewed as a minority themselves. Feminism is simply looking to be a game changer once again.

I want to close with a remark, which is actually the main reason why I endeavored to write this. I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among atheists: atheists identifying as anti-feminists. Given what I outlined above, you’re missing something crucial. There is no intellectually honest way to be an anti-feminist. In fact, if you’re intellectually honest, you will side with feminism. Richard Carrier makes a much stronger case in arguing that atheism actually needs feminism. When considering that women are turned off by atheism because of things said by the likes of Sam Harris and Michael Shermer, you can see why. Any movement that doesn’t include women is dead on arrival. If after reading the above and Carrier’s post you’re still inclined to identifying as an anti-feminist, my advice to you is to read more about feminism. Know what you’re against and you might find that what you’re against isn’t whatever you thought you were against. Unless you point at certain people–who are themselves misinformed–you have no good reason to take the anti stance. There are places where our movements should intersect and if we’re both opposed to one another, we can’t get off the ground. Let us move together, not like a mechanical wheel, but like an organic Portuguese Man O’ War. Let us move, as one, in an informed and proper fashion. Let us gather our fugitives and be careful not to take in the dirty laundry of prevailing societal attitudes or the very oppressors we’re standing against. There is a right way and a wrong way to accomplish something. What we’re striving for often doesn’t match the effort itself. We should also strive to ensure that the effort matches our strategy, that what we build matches the blueprint.

Works Cited

1 Peay, Pythia. “Feminism’s Fourth Wave”Utne Reader. March/April 2005. Web. 8 Apr 2015.

2 Baumgardner, Jennifer. “Is There a Fourth Wave? Does It Matter?”CUNY. 2011. Web. 8 Apr 2015.

3 Carrier, Richard. “A Primer on Fourth Wave Feminism”Freethought Blogs. 5 Apr 2015. Web. 8 Apr 2015.

4 Mackay, Finn. “Radical Feminism: Feminist Activism in Movement”Times Higher Education. 19 Feb 2015. Web. 8 Apr 2015.

5 Ibid. [4]

6 Mackay, Finn. “The biggest threat to feminism? It’s not just the patriarchy”. 23 Mar 2015. Web. 8 Apr 2015.

7 Goldberg, Michelle. “What is a Woman?”The New Yorker. 4 Aug 2014. Web. 8 Apr 2015.

8 Jones, Kelsie B. “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism: What Exactly Is It, And Why Does It Hurt?”Huffington Post. 2 Aug 2014. Web. 8 Apr 2015.

“Kinds of Feminism”The University of Alabama. ND. Web. 8 Apr 2015.

10 Pinkett-Smith, Jada. “The War on Men Through the Degradation of Women”. Rebloggy. ND. Web. 8 Apr 2015.

11 Baehr, Amy R. “Liberal Feminism”Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 18 Oct 2007. Web. 8 Apr 2015.

12 Cochrane, Kira. “The fourth wave of feminism: meet the rebel women”The Guardian. 10 Dec 2013. Web. 8 Apr 2015.

13 “Rape Myths and Facts”.  West Virginia University. 2015. Web. 8 Apr 2015.

14 Ibid. [6]

Photo Credit: Top photo, Ibid. [3]; other photos, Women Against Feminism

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4 comments

  1. Kendall

    I identify as anti-feminist simply because I disagree with many of the theories and policies I see pushed by mainstream “4th wave” feminism.

    Like quite a few atheists I hold individualistic and social libertarian views, which clash with the collectivism and authoritarianism of modern mainstream feminism. For example, I disagree with Finn Mackay on “pornography and prostitution as examples of male violence”, and oppose 4th wave feminism’s campaigns for censorship and criminalisation.

    It’s a comment I made in more detail on Carrier’s “A Primer on Fourth Wave Feminism”: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/7093/comment-page-1#comment-1056193

    In my view identifying with a movement provides tacit support for the campaigns run in its name. To me it would be intellectually dishonest to use the label while disagreeing with so much of what the movement says and does.

    I also find it inaccurate to present women’s rejection of feminism as a one way street – the idea that it’s a misconception that feminists want to exclude them. In reality, many of the women posting on “Women Against Feminism”, and the women I know who’ve rejected the feminist label, make it clear that their rejection of feminism is a reaction to the way feminists have treated them.

    I’ve certainly seen some of the feminists Carrier identifies as representatives of the 4th wave judge and shame other women for their “non-feminist” choices, mocking and stereotyping women who do identify as feminist, and labelling them things like “faux-feminist” and “gender traitor” over differences of opinion. I see rejecting the label of people who’ve treated them like that as a reasonable response – one based on their own lived experiences, not lies told about feminism.

    Like

    • R.N. Carmona

      Hi Kendall:

      You are my first commenter. Welcome! While I don’t agree with most of what you said, I’ll always do my absolute best to be respectful. Your opinion is, after all, based on your experiences. I’ve done just a little bit digging and I’ll be honest, you haven’t fully understand what’s meant by the Fourth Wave. I can only hope to lead you in the right direction.

      For starters, your opinion is myopic, i.e., based on a limited point of view. Please don’t take offense to that. We all have the tendency to let our personal experiences get the better of us at times. In the comment section under Richard Carrier’s “Why I Am a Feminist,” you write: “As I’ve pointed out before, I disagree with campaigns that all the significant feminist organisations in the UK support. There’s a consensus amongst those major feminist groups that various authoritarian policies are necessary, and I’ll always oppose that.” This is what I mean by myopic. You’ve focused on feminism in the UK. To disagree with feminist campaigns in the UK and then extrapolate from these limited cases in assuming that campaigns in other countries are more or less the same is a mistake.

      Here in the U.S., for example, feminists are generally sex positive. This means that they are actually (in part) in favor of pornography and prostitution. The most obvious differences between feminists in the U.S. and, at least, some in the UK, like Mackay, when concerning the sex industry is that feminists in the states are not opposed to the sex industry whole cloth. They are selective in their opposition or defense of it. They would defend, for instance, Stoya’s work, but they would oppose the old trope played out in one porn scene after another: woman refuses to have sex, guy forces himself into her, she pretends not to like it, and then two minutes in, she ends up liking it. It’s curious that some misinformed individuals actually think a woman can end up liking the experience of getting raped. Perhaps there’s some connection here, but I’ll digress.

      Like you, I disagree with Mackay, but only in part. Porn and prostitution can be examples of male violence against women. Porn is a more accessible example, so when people say that it’s not an example of male violence against women, I usually ask them: have you watched any!? BDSM, if consensual, can be something a woman enjoys. However, beating a woman till she’s bruised and in tears is not a realistic depiction of BDSM nor consensual sex. It’s abuse. Though I’m aware that the women in such scenes are well aware of what they’re in for, the porn industry seems far less aware of the product its putting out, i.e., the impression it’s giving its audience–many of whom are teens and young adults. As you can see, it’s possible to disagree with feminist campaigns and still identify as a feminist.

      One thing I find troubling about what you said is that you’re an individualist and yet you don’t seem to grasp what’s entailed by that. As discussed in my essay, that’s at the heart of any feminist movement, e.g., a woman’s right to choose; bodily autonomy. A consistent Libertarian should be all in favor of that. The collectivism that I also mentioned is a necessity arising from intersectionality–not just the intersection of different schools of feminism, but also the intersection of what women around the world are fighting for. As I state near the open, the Fourth Wave has mostly dispensed with the individualism that characterized the third wave and instead takes a more collectivist approach. The concerns of women in a highly polarized political climate here in the United States don’t matter more than the concerns of women in the Muslim world.

      Now, this is where I start to disagree much more strongly. You said that identifying with a movement provides tacit support for the campaigns run in its name. You then add that’s it’s intellectually dishonest to use the label whilst disagreeing with so much of what the movement says and does. Now, if this were actually true, I would not be an atheist. It’s arguable whether you would be an atheist. Unless you’ve neglected to question the words and actions of modern atheists, given what you said, I see no way of identifying with atheism. To be clear, I do not have Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, etc. in mind. That’s apologetic poisoning of the well. What I do have in mind are the so called new atheists. I have, in particular, Richard Dawkins in mind. Most recently he has gone after Ahmed Mohamed. He has suggested that the kid is pretty much a Machiavellian. He manipulated his way into the national headlines. Perhaps Dawkins simply has a strong disdain for Muslims? Michael Shermer has been accused of sexual harassment and assault. The likes of Dawkins, Harris, and Shermer have also been chiefly responsible for the exclusion of women in the atheist movement. Harris, for example, said: “There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree instrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women.” He continued: “The atheist variable just has this— it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.” In the interest of brevity, I hope these few examples suffice.

      Here’s where I get philosophical for a second: unless the words and actions of a group necessarily follow from the principles of their view, the group cannot be dismissed due to the words and actions of some of its adherents. This is why some are dismissive of Islam. Some argue that Jihad necessarily follows from the Qur’an. This is no doubt arguable as best exemplified by moderate, non-extremist Muslims, but if true, that’s sound reason to dismiss Islam. The words and actions of some feminists do not necessarily follow from the various schools of feminism nor the Fourth Wave. Likewise, Richard Dawkins’ tweets do not necessarily follow from the principles of atheism. Neither do Michael Shermer’s sexual assaults (assuming he committed any). Neither do Harris’ misogynistic views.

      In that same vein, that some feminists call other feminists “gender traitors” and “faux-feminists” is not grounds to reject feminism. I strongly disagree that one is within reason when rejecting a view based on the fact that s/he was mistreated by proponents of said view. There’s a sense in which No True Scotsman exists in every group. “Fake Christian” or the more pretentious “nominal Christian” comes to mind. Would you say that rejecting Christianity because of how Christians treated you is good reason? This is, after all, a common accusation: you’re an atheist because you were treated badly by church folk. It’s a common accusation because it’s an attempt to dismiss one’s atheism. Such Christians implicitly recognize the error in rejecting any view on such grounds. I do not care about how some feminists have behaved; likewise, I don’t care for what some have said. People in all groups can be irrational and say demeaning things to other people. Again, unless such behavior necessarily follows from the principles of said movement, such behavior is irrelevant.

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  2. Kendall

    Apologies for the belated comment. It’s been a busy week or so, but I did find your response interesting and wanted to clarify a few things.

    If I was judging global feminism by the British or European movement then that would be myopic, but I think you’ve misunderstood my point. As someone who lives on this side of the pond, it’s the British, and to a lesser extent the European, feminist movement that’s most relevant to me. Those are the feminists who have an influence in the media and culture of my country. They’re the ones pushing for particular laws and restrictions (either in my own country, or through the EU parliament), which, in some cases, could impact people I care about.

    In my view, if I was to identify as a feminist in the UK, it’s the British feminist movement that I’d be tacitly supporting. I’d effectively be doing my part to back them up when they claim to represent a majority opinion. Making it clear that I’m not a feminist removes any automatic assumption that I’m a supporter of mainstream UK feminist campaigns to censor and criminalise. That’s why I focus myopically on local feminism when explaining why I don’t call myself a feminist.

    I’ve heard the claim that organised US feminism is more liberal and “sex positive” than the European variety, but other people, including some sex workers I’ve followed, consider this to be a myth. Carrier’s primer on 4th wave feminism was rather light on references to specific feminist organisations. The one article he linked to that did profile a number of 4th wave groups was in the Guardian, which itself focused on British feminism. One of the few US feminist activist organisations he mentioned was Equality Now, who share the authoritarian anti-sex work ethos of their European cousins. In fact, they joined other American feminists, including Eve Ensler, Gloria Steinem, various women’s/gender studies professors, and a number of NOW chapters, in signing a letter opposing Amnesty International’s call for decriminalisation of sex work.

    I’m curious if there are any specific feminist organisations — American or otherwise — that you’d point out as compatible with my stated social-libertarian and anti-censorship views? Beyond the idea that I should identify with feminism as a concept, are there any real world activist groups you think I should be supporting?

    When it comes to the question of pornography, I’ve yet to see any convincing evidence of the direct harms that many feminists claim it causes (e.g. an increase in rape and violence against women). That goes for more extreme content too; even if I personally find it disturbing, I wouldn’t support it being censored. People’s sexual fantasies aren’t necessarily “politically correct”, for example sex positive feminist FTB blogger Greta Christina has written rape/non-consent themed fetish stories, and received some criticism for it from other feminists.

    I don’t really understand how you can claim that individualism is “at the heart of any feminist movement” while acknowledging the 4th wave’s collectivist rejection of 3rd wave liberalism. British 4th wave feminists often dismissively mock the “I-choose-my-choice” “fun feminism” of feminists who do take a libertarian view of “a woman’s right to choose”. Look at the writings of some of the feminists highlighted as “4th wave” in Carrier’s Guardian article and you’ll find them attacking the “neo-liberal ideology of choice” as something that’s fundamentally opposed to feminism. When following sex work debates (e.g. feminist campaigns to ban strip clubs) I’ve sometimes seen sex workers make a “my body, my choice” argument, only for it to be laughed at and rejected as an anti-feminist position by their feminist opposition. To me the collectivism and authoritarianism of radical and 4th wave feminism is as incompatible with libertarianism as theocracy is with secularism.

    Of course rejecting the feminist movement doesn’t mean that I’m obliged to oppose everything they fight for. I can support reproductive rights on social libertarian grounds without calling myself a feminist, just like I can support specific goals of a religious charity without giving up my atheism.

    In my opinion there are significant differences between feminism and atheism as movements. Even if I disagree with some other atheists, they operate as individuals, and aren’t part of an organised lobby that’s pushing specific legislation in atheism’s name. There’s no atheist equivalent of something like the European Women’s Lobby – an NGO comprising over 2500 organisations, working in coalition to influence the EU. If there was an organised atheist lobby pushing authoritarian policies, I’d probably avoid giving them my tacit support by rejecting the atheist label too.

    Personally I do care how people behave. I certainly care more about how people act than I do about their professed ideology. To me it seems perfectly reasonable to judge people based on what they do, rather than what they claim to be. In the case of radical and 4th wave feminists though — with their authoritarianism, collectivism, and rejection of individual choice — the judgemental and intolerant way some non-conforming women are treated does seem to follow from their stated principles.

    I’ve seen one ex-feminist compared the modern feminist movement to an abusive boyfriend: someone who treats them like dirt, but still claims to love them, and expects them to submissively come grovelling back no matter what. Obviously you strongly disagree, but to me it seems reasonable to reject something if your personal experiences with it are toxic; no matter how it defines itself and what it claims to be trying to achieve.

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    • R.N. Carmona

      Your focus on UK feminism and European feminism is justified. It is, after all, most accessible to you. However, you’re still getting trapped in binary thinking. Again, I can use an analogy to atheism. It is no doubt the case that Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Dennett, Krauss, etc. sort of atheism is the most accessible to people. It is definitely more accessible or more “mainstream” and certainly more acknowledged than the views offered by Nielsen, Mackie, Oppy, Martin, etc. Some people label this “New Atheism.” One thing all of them have in common is a rampant anti-theism, a heavy focus on extremism (which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing), and a tendency to throw religious moderates under the bus, i.e., religious moderates are not practicing Islam or Christianity correctly because the views of the extremists are a truer representation of these religions. Given your logic, if I was to identify as an atheist here in the US (and I most certainly do), it’s New Atheism that I’d be tacitly supporting. Of course, this simply doesn’t follow.

      
As mentioned before, feminism is a general term for a group of people having very diverse views. You can be sex positive, sex negative, or sex neutral. You can be liberal, radical, socialist or some combination of them. You can be individualistic, collectivistic, or some combination of the two. You can be for Mackay or against her or you can agree and disagree with her given the (de)merits of her views. Nothing about identifying as a feminist implies a tacit support for the feminism most accessible to you. On the contrary, you can choose whether to agree or disagree with the views held by fellow feminists, but as stated, this should be based on the (de)merits of the views in question. The same applies to atheism and this is why, I can agree with Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, etc. on some things and disagree, sometimes strongly, on others. I, for one, am not an anti-theist. I do not believe religion requires a “cure” nor do I think “religion poisons everything.” Nothing about identifying as an atheist implies a tacit support for the so called New Atheists. To think this way is to ignore the diversity of views atheists have. The same, to my mind, applies to feminism.

      As for the sex workers you follow, I believe I addressed this, albeit indirectly, in my previous reply. Given the nuances of the views feminists have, it is not surprising that some feminists support porn but not prostitution. It isn’t surprising that they’ll support both, but with a caveat, i.e., certain feminists support brothel prostitution, but they do not support the proverbial short skirt, hooker boot prostitution along with the stereotypical tall, slender woman leaning over an old, rusted car to greet a customer. Put another way, they’ll support organized prostitution, but they’ll warn women against choosing a corner to prostitute from. The same goes for pornography. As you’ve seen, I identify as a feminist, but I’ve made clear that I don’t support BDSM sort of pornography, especially as it concerns its depiction of non-consensual sex. I support sex work, but not fully. I support porn so long as the woman isn’t drugged during the scene and so long as it doesn’t represent non-consensual sex as desirable. I support prostitution, so long as a woman doesn’t put herself in danger. I strongly believe she must use protection and preferably, know who her customers are. Thus, I’m for the brothel but against the corner.

      I know of no feminist organizations here in the US that I see as compatible with your social-libertarian and anti-censorship views. Yet feminism is nuanced enough that I’m sure you can square your political views with your would-be feminist views. You can, as I’ve suggested, agree and disagree given the (de)merits of given views. You can, as I’ve done with my atheist views, formulate your own view based on your free thought. In fact, you can formulate a view that others will find worth adopting and one that demonstrates the flaws in current consensus or commonly accepted views.

      Greta Christina is a sex positivist and given my disagreements with her, I’m well aware of some of the stuff she has written. I’m for censorship when it involves younger viewers and no matter how much we try, parental controls and other measures have not prevented young people from finding and viewing porn. I think the notion of liking the experience of getting raped is directly tied to the kind of porn scenes I mentioned before. I can’t think of another way such an idea has become so accepted, especially among people between the ages of 14 and 25. It’s rather disturbing. The answer must be found in something they’re watching. Books, TV shows, movies, and other forms of media don’t seem to be responsible for that. Sexual fantasies aren’t “politically correct,” but when you fantasize about something that can harm others, it’s a problem and it’s one that must be addressed. The verdict is still out on whether viewing porn increases violent behavior in men and increases the likelihood that they’ll rape someone, but the verdict is not out on the fact that viewing pornography can be harmful.

      Again, you return to the issue of UK feminists’ sex negativism as representing the general feminist population. In taking your word for it, I can accept a fourth wave movement that’s collectivist and authoritarian. What I don’t accept is that they’re representative of the population. They’re clearly not. The right to choose is, in fact, at the heart of the autonomy argument in favor of abortion rights. That is to say that women in the US often cite the right to choose as reason for allowing abortion. Therefore, some feminist views here in the US are not incompatible with your libertarian views. Collectivism in the fourth waves involves intersectionality. It is the recognition that the plights of women here in the US do not matter more nor less than the plights of women in the Muslim world or them in the UK. All of the concerns women have are worth addressing. However, with some exception, individuals matter as well. A woman does have the right to choose. This is one of the primary reasons we fight for abortion rights and ensure that the right wing here in the US doesn’t place restrictions on those rights. This is why we’re sex positive if, at the very least, to some extent. As a neo-Kantian, autonomy is always the beginning of my moral prescriptions. Some brands of feminism are compatible with my ethical and political views. Given this, there are definitely views that accommodate the positions you currently support.

      If there were an organized atheist movement pushing authoritarian policies, giving up your atheism wouldn’t be tantamount to avoiding giving tacit support for this group. As mentioned, the so called New Atheists are far more accessible, so accessible in fact that Dawkins was once called the “high priest” of atheism. Clearly, the Four Horsemen and other atheists following in their footsteps, e.g., Krauss, Shermer, Coyne, Myers, etc., operate more like a group than they do as individuals. You have no idea how many times I’ve had to fend off the accusation of “new atheist” simply because I agree with a certain view the New Atheists hold. Given what you said, to disabuse myself of this, it is required of me to renounce atheism. In any case, you’re certainly right that you don’t need to be a feminist to support reproductive rights. You can be an atheist and support religious charity.

      I must add though, feminism is miles ahead of atheism as a movement. Feminism has been around for centuries. So has atheism. Feminism, however, is the common cry of oppressed women. Given a restrictive government or religion, feminism always emerges. In fact, the first fruits of feminism emerged from Christianity. Women in Europe, for instance, countered unfavorable views of women in the Bible, e.g., Eve, Delilah, Jezebel, etc., by passing out tracts to one another. Their descendants would then fight for their property, since governments in the 19 Century allowed a woman’s identity and her property to be subsumed by her husband. They took the “husband and wife are one” to an extreme and saw the husband as representative of their symbiosis. The wife was, in other words, absorbed into the husband and the husband was the only person recognized as an individual who owns property. Thankfully, these woman weren’t murdered for their protests.

      Atheists, on the other hand, were fewer; atheism in the past wasn’t a necessary consequence of an oppressive or powerful religion. On the contrary, a religion like Christianity garnered quite the consensus and there were few that would voice an open disagreement with that—and sometimes that was due to the punishment handed down to so called infidels, e.g., Galileo, Bruno, etc. Historically, there was no need for atheists to organize against religion. This has only begun to happen in the last few decades, so whilst there aren’t any atheist organizations that are at the moment lobbying for policies you find unfavorable, such atheist organizations will eventually arise. For instance, do you agree with atheists marching to remove the Ten Commandment pillars from government grounds? Perhaps or perhaps not, but I’m pretty sure there are atheists who find that to be a waste of time. Sure, we have separation of church and state and sure, we fear allowing the influence of religion in our legislatures, but the removal of the Ten Commandment pillars on government grounds doesn’t further our goals at all. Our efforts are served better elsewhere. Atheist organizations have already started to do things other atheists will disagree with, but it doesn’t follow that one must renounce atheism in order to prevent oneself from tacitly supporting what they do.

      Judging people based on their behavior rather than the principles of their views is only valid to me given that their behavior is a necessary consequence of said views. If we want to take the simplistic view that Stalin was an atheist who murdered millions of people, I would indict atheism iff his actions necessarily follow from the principles atheists generally accept. The history of Stalin’s regime is nuanced and far from the simplistic picture religious apologists like to depict, but it should be clear to anyone that his actions didn’t necessarily follow from principles you and I, for instance, hold in common. Both of us put a strong emphasis on individual autonomy and as such, we would agree that no one has the right to take someone else’s life. Yet Stalin is directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions. I’m sure that if his actions somehow followed from atheism, we wouldn’t identify as atheists. Likewise, some feminists and some feminist organizations do questionable things, but unless said actions necessarily follow from principles feminists generally hold, there’s no need to renounce feminism.

      Take, for instance, the view that women are to seek superiority to men; some feminists actually call for such changing of the guard, i.e., replacing the patriarchy with a matriarchy. This doesn’t necessarily follow from feminist principles, most especially the most common: women are equal to men. If women are, in fact, equal to men, then women cannot establish themselves as superior to men. Some feminists are definitely like an abusive boyfriend, but this is not a necessary consequence of feminism.

      In fact, people like you can serve to better the movement and to point out its flaws. That’s precisely what this post aimed to do. We feminists often harm our own case and we are at times responsible for the fact that people misunderstand what we stand for. There is by no means a monolithic sort of agreement among us, but the same can be said of any group—including atheists. One person, I forget who, compared organizing atheists to rounding up a bunch of cats. That’s obviously an impossible task, but it speaks to the immense differences that can sometimes exist between atheists. I see no reason why feminists should be different. In fact, no group, not even Christians, is easily led along like a flock of sheep. It is extremely difficult to shepherd any group and that’s because it is difficult, in the main, to shepherd human beings. But that’s a conversation for another time.

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