The Futility of Labels
By R.N. Carmona
Isms abound and nuance is sorely needed. I think my readers ought to follow my lead and shed their isms. In place of these various isms, they should offer clear definitions of what they mean by these isms. I think definitions are more robust and are more capable of giving, especially detractors, an idea of what a label means in practice. I will now outline a few of my various isms and unpack them, so that people can start to see the absurdity of opposing some of them. In place of these labels, I will offer explanations for why I identity with these views.
Atheism is not merely an epistemic stance concerning belief in god, but a robust philosophical position that contains an analytic component. Analytic atheism is concerned with what is meant by theism and what is meant by God. Atheists, however, will not always agree with the answers provided by theists. A theist may respond to the first question and say that God is existence. An atheist might object by saying that such a definition is inconsistent with what theists commonly profess and that what they usually profess is much more elementary. God, for example, is man-like. He is pleased or displeased; given the latter, he is prone to anger. Furthermore, he purportedly has properties that cannot be attributed to mere existence: he is omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, timeless. The atheist could also respond by stating that defining God as existence is much too vague. The aim of a definition is description; this definition, however, fails to describe what is meant by God.
Analytic atheism also attempts to answer the question: what is atheism? To accomplish this, however, the normative component has to be consulted. The analytic component will provide theories of atheism or more simply, accounts of what atheism should be, therefore providing possible answers to the question of normative atheism. The analytic component is therefore, responsible for determining which account best captures what atheism is or alternatively, what an atheist is.
What an atheist is, is perhaps best defined by the approach s/he chooses. The approach chosen or a combination of these approaches might help us to arrive at a better definition of atheism. There’s fallibilism, deductive atheology, and inductive atheology. The latter two are encompassed by evidentialism. This position is arguably most familiar to modern atheists:
[A]theists have taken the view that whether or not a person is justified in having an attitude of belief towards the proposition, “God exists,” is a function of that person’s evidence. “Evidence” here is understood broadly to include a priori arguments, arguments to the best explanation, inductive and empirical reasons, as well as deductive and conceptual premises. An asymmetry exists between theism and atheism in that atheists have not offered faith as a justification for non-belief. That is, atheists have not presented non-evidentialist defenses for believing that there is no God.
McCormick, Matt. “Atheism”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ND. Web. 21 Dec 2014
A priori arguments fall in the purview of deductive atheology. Such atheists would argue that the traditional view of God is incoherent. Such a God is not possible on this view. The characteristics God purportedly has are contradictory either in and of themselves or when one attempts to reconcile them. Take for example J.L Mackie’s explication of the Omnipotence Paradox: “can an omnipotent being make things which he cannot subsequently control? Or, what is practically equivalent to this, can an omnipotent being make rules which then bind himself?” (Mackie, J. L. 1955. Evil and omnipotence. Mind 64 (254): 200-212. Available on web.). This is a more generalized version of the Omnipotence Paradox, which usually asks: can God create a stone he cannot lift? Therefore, the paradox can be viewed as an argument attempting to show that omnipotence is incoherent in and of itself. The argument attempts to accomplish this by dividing omnipotence into two components, which I call functional and physical. Functional omnipotence is the capacity to will anything whilst physical omnipotence is the capacity to do anything. Therefore, the argument attempts to show that it is possible that God could will something he cannot do, in Mackie’s case, will something that he cannot control or in the general case, will the existence of a stone so heavy that he cannot complete the particular task of lifting it.
Another route such an atheist takes is the attempt to show that any given attributes of God are irreconcilable.
The combination of omnipotence and omniscience have received a great deal of attention. To possess all knowledge, for instance, would include knowing all of the particular ways in which one will exercise one’s power, or all of the decisions that one will make, or all of the decisions that one has made in the past. But knowing any of those entails that the known proposition is true. So does God have the power to act in some fashion that he has not foreseen, or differently than he already has without compromising his omniscience? It has also been argued that God cannot be both unsurpassably good and free.McCormick, Ibid.
Another route available to such an atheist is to argue that we have not been offered an adequate concept of god (see Smart, J.J.C. “Atheism and Agnosticism”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 9 Mar 2004. Web. 21 Dec 2014.). Concepts of god are often relative to this or that religion or subjective to this or that individual. Such concepts often do not agree with one another.
Perhaps the final route such an atheist can take is to argue that the failure of theistic arguments entails atheism. In other words, since arguments for God fail, it is reasonable to hold that god does not exist. Such an atheist, for example, will argue that since the Kalam Cosmological Argument fails to prove that God created the universe, we should believe that such an agent did not create the universe. Alternatively, she will argue that since the Ontological Argument fails to show the existence of a necessary being, this being is instead impossible. Whether or not these arguments hold are of no interest at the time. This is, however, how such an atheist will proceed.
An atheist operating under inductive atheology has several possible approaches. Whether or not one can prove a negative is too tangential a topic to cover here, but assuming it’s possible, one could offer Michael Martin’s argument:
P1 [A]ll the available evidence used to support the view that X exists is shown to be inadequate; and
P2 X is the sort of entity that, if X exists, then there is a presumption that would be evidence adequate to support the view that X exists; and
P3 this presumption has not been defeated although serious efforts have been made to do so; and
P4 the area where evidence would appear, if there were any, has been comprehensively examined; and
P5 there are no acceptable beneficial reasons to believe that X exists.Martin, Michael, 1990. Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.
What makes this argument inductive is P3 and P4. P3 and P4 hold hitherto and thus, there is the tacit assumption that they will hold going forward. In other words, that the future will resemble the past.
Naturalism is another argument available to an atheist operating under inductive atheology. This is, in fact, the prevalent approach among modern day atheists. Atheists may disagree on the details and therefore, espouse different sorts of naturalism. However, the more prominent forms are metaphysical and methodological. Methodological naturalism has two primary forms: constructive and deflationary. Deflationary is based on–not exclusively–the Natural Ontological Attitude (NOA). Arthur Fine describes it as follows:
I certainly trust the evidence of my senses, on the whole with regard to the existence and features of everyday objects. And I have similar confidence in the “cheek, double-check, check, tripe-check” of scientific investigation…So if scientists tell me that there really are molecules and atoms, and…who knows maybe even quarks, then so be it. I trust them and, thus, must accept that there really are such things with their attendant properties and relations.Arthur Fine as quoted in Ritchie, Jack. Understanding Naturalism. Stocksfield, England: Acumen, 2008. 97. Print.
NOA is an alternative to scientific realism and anti-realism. “Both realism and anti-realism add an unwanted philosophical gloss to science” (Ibid.). Therefore, the position neither agrees with scientific realism nor anti-realism. At first glance, NOA may sound exactly like scientific realism, but there are key differences that should be considered (e.g. the correspondence theory of truth doesn’t factor into Fine’s NOA). Constructive naturalism differs from NOA because it “involves commitment to a definite method for resolving ontological matters” (Ibid.).Such a naturalist may make use of, for example, Quine’s Naturalized Epistemology.
Metaphysical naturalism absorbs methodological naturalism. The view could be defined as follows:
Metaphysical naturalism seeks to explain every feature of our reality through only natural entities and causes, without the need of god(s) or the supernatural in any part of one’s worldview and life philosophy. In other words, a “big picture” explanation of reality can be reached without any appeal to religion, making religions such as Christianity unnecessary and extraneous to answering the big questions in life.Ferguson, Matthew. “Thinking about the ‘Metaphysics’ in Metaphysical Naturalism”. Civitas Humana. 26 Apr 2014. Web. 21 Dec 2014.
Metaphysical naturalism is a robust worldview that often requires lengthy elucidation. This has been done by, for example, Richard Carrier who states:
[I]f you want to know what we believe on almost any subject, you need merely read authoritative works on science and history–which means, first, college-level textbooks of good quality and, second, all the other literature on which their contents are based. The vast bulk of what you find there we believe in. The evidence and reason for those beliefs is presented in such works and need not be repeated…Carrier, Richard. Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. Bloomington, Ind.: Authorhouse, 2005. 67. Print.
Where such authorities are silent, metaphysical naturalism is capable of providing possible answers. Take, for instance, consciousness. Metaphysical naturalism can offer cogent explanations within the physicalist framework. For instance, with respect to consciousness, some naturalists have offered some version of supervenience. On fallibilism, an atheist can argue that a theist has come to a given conclusion because he hasn’t considered all the relevant evidence (McCormick, Ibid.). In fact, part of this attitude plays a role in discussions between theists and atheists. Theists, generally speaking, make it quite obvious that they are not aware of all of the relevant evidence. William Lane Craig, for example, employs a perfunctory or selective grasp of cosmology in order to support his KCA. It is reasonable to conclude that if he were aware of all of the evidence or if he did not omit counter-evidence, his conclusion would be different. Unfortunately, this might be too generous. Craig has been made aware of the evidence and regardless of the fact, he still chooses to endorse the KCA. So in some cases, it is not just that a theist’s knowledge is fallible, but it is that they disregard the fact and do not care to correct it. Even worse, apologists are in the habit of omitting evidence to the contrary.
Lastly, the definition “lack of belief in gods” is inadequate because it alludes to everyday beliefs. It is correct to say I lack or do not have the belief that Jesus died for my sins and resurrected three days later, and then ascended to the right hand of the Father where he now intercedes on my behalf. Religious beliefs of this sort are not properly epistemic beliefs, which are “the attitude[s] we have, roughly, whenever we take something to be the case or regard it as true” (Schwitzgebel, Eric. “Belief”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2019. Web.). Atheists, therefore, have the epistemic belief that the available evidence makes it much more probable than not that there are no gods or spiritual entities whatsoever. Naturalism, whether some of us like it or not, is a framework that has imposed itself on us. Even in cases where we assume supernatural or paranormal explanations, thorough investigation renders a much more mundane explanation. For some people, it is difficult to accept that the world is not fantastical. Severed limbs do not regenerate in the name of Jesus, people do not rise from the dead when a spell is invoked, and our ancestors do not protect us from physical harm. Thorough investigations only yield naturalistic, reproducible explanations. So when someone proclaims a belief that does not speak to knowledge or truth, but rather, faith, I can definitely say I do not share or that I lack that belief. Now when speaking of properly epistemic beliefs, I have the attitude that atheism is the case; atheism is true in that the various claims of religion do not hold up to scrutiny and that moreover, gods are entirely absent in the scope of all of our explanations. In other words, star formation, planet formation, the arrangement of the earliest, simplest metabolisms, the evolution of species, and ultimately, every model of the universe’s origin do not require a god in order to make sense.
When atheism is spelled out in this much detail, detractors are given no room to disingenuously offer a definition they prefer, one that allows them to malign atheists and misrepresent what they stand for. The label of atheism is futile. The definition or perhaps better said, the practice clearly spells out what it is that I stand for. The same applies to naturalism. The label no longer applies. Instead, I prefer to make explicit what I mean by it. Kai Nielsen explains the intimate connection between atheism and naturalism best:
Religions, whether theisms or not, are belief-systems (though this is not all they are) which involve belief in spiritual realities. Even Buddhism, which has neither God nor worship, has a belief in what Buddhists take to be spiritual realities and this is incompatible with naturalism as is theism as well, which, at least as usually understood, is a form of supernaturalism. Naturalism, where consistent, is an atheism.Nielsen, Kai. Naturalism and Religion. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2001. 30. Print.
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 do not have religious reasons for opposing feminism. Their reasons are based on the misunderstandings of self-proclaimed feminists.
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” (Carrier, Richard. “A Primer on Fourth Wave Feminism”. Freethought Blogs. 5 Apr 2015. Web. 8 Apr 2015.). 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, should not 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 is a readily accessible form of media. It is 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, one must gather the fugitives, and to accomplish this, they have to be shown where they have gone wrong. They need to be corrected. Often what is needed is a return to the basics.
Fugitives are the people anti-feminists get these ideas from, young girls who are themselves anti-feminists or who identify a feminists and confess to things that are not at all in keeping with the movement: 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 are not 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.Mackay, Finn. “Radical Feminism: Feminist Activism in Movement”. Times Higher Education. 19 Feb 2015. Web. 8 Apr 2015.
What kind of change is the label of feminism about? Feminism concerns securing equality for women. Women should have the same opportunities men have. Women should have the same rights men have. Women should be respected in their careers the way men are; they should be paid equally. There should be no sex-based differences in academia, the workplace, at home, or anywhere else. When this is spelled out, it is an uncontroversial perspective. There should be no reason for anyone to oppose the affirmation that women should be equal to men.
IV. Black Lives Matter
Likewise, there should be no opposition at all when I say that Black people and minorities, more generally, should be equal to Whites. There is nothing wrong with saying that if a Black man commits a crime or fails to comply with police, he should not be gunned down. White men have committed crimes on a much larger scale and were escorted away in handcuffs. White men do not have to worry about police officers kneeling on their necks or shooting 41 rounds at them. Timothy McVeigh murdered 168 people, including 19 children, in an act of domestic terrorism, and he walked away with his life (Gumbel, Andrew. “Oklahoma City bombing: 20 years later, key questions remain unanswered”. Guardian. 13 Apr 2015. Web.). That is because he was given the right to a fair trail. In this country, a Black man selling loose cigarettes on a corner can be the victim of extrajudicial execution. There is nothing controversial about saying that even the life of an accused Black criminal matters. Innocent until proven guilty applies to Black people or at least, it should apply to Black people.
The same applies to Asian Americans, who have recently become the target of hate crimes across the country. Implicit here is that I am opposed to anyone who endorses stereotypes about ethnic groups. So when the former President joked about the “Kung Flu” and blamed China repeatedly for the COVID-19 outbreak, that was one of the many reasons I opposed him, his administration, and his supporters. It is absurd to me that right-wingers in America are roundly opposed to racial equality. They are also opposed to women securing equality. There is a sense in which my political opponents are wholly aware of what these labels mean and yet, they routinely choose to ignore the definitions, no matter how clearly they are explained. It is not any lack of clarity or sense on my part, but rather an obstinate decision to oppose progress of this sort at every turn. Political affiliation should not keep anyone from accepting my definitions or identifying with them. If your political party prohibits you from even seeing the need for racial equality, abandon the party or admit to having abandoned your moral integrity. There are no two ways about it.
In the past, I have used this term and I have done so to differentiate myself from Democrats. I am not a Centrist, a sycophant who condones incompetence and corruption on both sides while pretending that they are both exemplary. Neither political party in the United States is morally admirable. While it is the case that Democrats are marginally better, there is still a lot that they get wrong, hence my anti-Democratic, anti-Capitalist stances. I do not support the American idea of Democracy because, like Mbembe, I recognize that it has a nocturnal body: colonialism and every human rights violation that has followed from it from slavery to the Jim Crow era to mass incarceration of Blacks after a fabricated crack-cocaine epidemic. The United States is a hegemony, a pseudo-Empire precisely because it destabilizes entire regions by rightfully overthrowing despots and making the critical mistake of leaving a power vacuum in their place. Terrorist factions are just a small part of this country reaping what it sowed, but I digress.
Proponents of Capitalism are enamored with the idea of Capitalism. They, however, ignore the reality of it. Inequality the world over is perpetuated by Western ideas and interference. In the year that COVID-19 has wreaked havoc in the United States, workers have lost over $3.7 trillion to date while the wealth of top billionaires has increased by $3.9 trillion. This can be seen as one of the largest redistributions of wealth in history (see here and here). A lot more can be said about Capitalism, perhaps in a separate post for another day. The point I am making now is that the labels of Black Lives Matter, feminist, anti-Capitalist, and the like do not necessarily pertain to Far Left politics. Once these labels are made explicit, in that one makes clear what they mean in practice, it should strike anyone as absurd to be diametrically opposed to these positions.
That leaves open the question as to why people on the right see these positions as fundamentally opposed to their brand of politics. Again, if your political party imposes these discriminatory and even racist views on you, it is good sign that you should renounce it. There are ways to be fiscally conservative, a proponent of small government, and so on without subscribing to views that promote racial, gender, and wealth inequality. I fail to see how what I have had outlined is unclear or nonsensical. The isms, once unpacked, should not be as controversial. This is why I prefer stating my positions clearly, so that there is no room for misconstruing, misrepresenting, straw manning, and so on. There is, in my book, a difference between an opponent and an enemy. The enmity I reserve for my enemies has everything to do with the fact that they think their ignorance is better than my knowledge, their apathy superior to my empathy, their desire to oppress groups they dislike equal to my desire for equality. Opponents, by contrast, can have their minds changed. The omission of relevant facts is not the same as ignorance. My enemies intend to ignore that which disagrees with or defeats their views and more importantly, they intend to cause harm to people like myself, so they do so by weaponizing their right to vote to further marginalized groups they want to harm. Then they pretend to be innocent because they are not drawing a firearm. They might as well. Voting for a candidate that does not care about the plights of minorities, women, non-Christians, etc. is a deliberate attempt to harm these groups. You are not innocent.
Ultimately, labels in and of themselves are futile. We should do away with labels and instead flesh out what we stand for. This leaves little room for error and leaves our enemies fully exposed. This is not to say that people cannot disagree with atheism and naturalism, for instance. They are more than welcome to. What this does mean is that they cannot make the vacuous claim that I suppress God in my unrighteousness or that I hate God or that I choose to not believe because I prefer to indulge sinful concupiscence. These are comfortable things Christians say to avoid the fact that people have good reasons for not believing in God. My robust descriptions of atheism and naturalism leave no room for speculation of the sort. It gives them no space at all to go with a definition that allows them to slander people like myself. Labels do not accomplish this. Fuller descriptions of what is meant by a label go much further. Let us abandon our labels and instead, describe in greater detail what we stand for.
“Ending The Abortion Debate: On The Issues That Truly Matter” Now Available on Kindle
I am proud to announce that my second book is now available on Kindle. “Ending The Abortion Debate: On The Issues That Truly Matter” discusses the circumstances that often surround the decision to have an abortion. Rather than talking passed each other and arguing back and forth, I encourage my readers to abandon their positions whether pro-life or pro-choice, while maintaining their convictions, so that they can work together towards real, effective, impactful solutions. I call for everyone to adopt the position of pro-action, so that we can alleviate poverty, domestic violence, and other issues related to the decision to terminate pregnancy. It’s a short, insightful, and hopefully persuasive read. It’s heavy on sociology and philosophy, less so on psychology; but as always I try to make the language and sources cited accessible to the average reader. It’s available now for $7.99! Print should be available soon. Happy reading and thanks in advance to anyone who purchases a copy!
A Short Excerpt From My Upcoming Book
In this, Erdogen can learn a valuable lesson that will vastly reduce the negative impacts women in Turkey are currently facing. The return of restrictive policies also marks the return of illegal contraceptive and abortion methods, which, in turn, are a prelude to higher maternal deaths. Turkey, like Albania before it, must not go back to the days when abortion was criminalized. There is precedence in the Muslim World and in the world at large that should discourage Erdogen from continuing his de facto ban on abortion and eventually passing legislation that would officially ban abortion. If nothing else, the history of reproductive rights in the Muslim World not only serves as exemplary for majority-Muslim countries, but also countries around the world — especially countries currently enforcing prohibitive abortion policies.
Restrictive policies do not end abortion. Such policies end the lives of many women. In country after country, women literally bleed to death after experiencing complications related to unsafe, illegal procedures. Legalizing and decriminalizing abortion not only saves their lives, but also slows the cycle of poverty. For women in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Chile, Brazil, Northern Ireland, and other countries not surveyed here, the battle is ongoing. We are morally obligated to see what measures need to be taken in order to provide these women with safe, legal access to reproductive healthcare. Also, once this access is provided, we must ensure that there are no barriers keeping some women, be it for economic, educational, or other reasons, from getting and being able to meet the costs related to reproductive healthcare.
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.
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.
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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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. 
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.
9 “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. 
Photo Credit: Top photo, Ibid. ; other photos, Women Against Feminism