By R.N. Carmona
As a pro-choicer, I am used to hearing the worst arguments pro-lifers have to offer. In some cases, arguments aren’t offered. Their convictions are merely repeated (e.g. life begins at conception; abortion is the killing or murder of an innocent human being). Usually, no effort is made to justify these convictions. Of the arguments that pro-lifers could present, only one of the following arguments is commonly used. Given its common usage and given that I find it to be the weakest argument a pro-lifer can use, I will summarize it first. That will then be followed by arguments that I deem stronger. The arguments themselves are actual arguments put forth by knowledgeable pro-lifers who actually engage with the arguments offered by their opponents. The order in which the arguments will appear are in accordance with their degree of strength. Anyone is welcome to disagree with their order since, though I’ve thought about the arguments carefully, their degrees of strength remains a matter of opinion.
The most common, in fact, the only actual, argument pro-lifers put forth is an argument rooted in Franics Beckwith’s shared-value argument. Beckwith’s thought experiment is as follows:
Suppose your Uncle Jed is in a terrible car accident that results in his being in a coma from which he may or may not wake. Imagine that he remains in this state for roughly two years and then awakens. He seems to be the same Uncle Jed that you knew before he went into the coma, even though he’s lost some weight, hair, and memories. Was he an [intrinsically valuable human being (IVHB)] during the coma? Could the physicians have killed Uncle Jed — the living organism we refer to as ‘Uncle Jed’ — during that time because he did not exhibit certain functions or have certain present capacities? If one holds that IV depends on capacities that are immediately exercisable, it is difficult to see why it would be wrong to kill Uncle Jed while he was in the coma. Yet it would be wrong, precisely because Uncle Jed is identical to himself through all the changes he undergoes and that self, by nature, has certain basic capacities.
Consequently, the [Anti-Equality Advocate] cannot reply by arguing that Uncle Jed’s life was intrinsically valuable during the coma because in the past he functioned as an IVHB and probably will do so in the future. For we can change the story a bit and say that when Uncle Jed awakens from the coma he loses virtually all his memories and knowledge including his ability to speak a language, engage in rational thought, and have self-awareness. He then would be in precisely the same position as the standard fetus. He would still literally be the same human being he was before the coma but he would be more like he was before he had a “past.” He would have the basic capacities to speak a language, engage in rational thought, and have self-awareness, but he would have to develop and learn them all over again for these basic capacities to result, as they did before, in present capacities and actual abilities.1
Beckwith’s “Uncle Jed” example has been used, albeit not always directly. There are also variants to this argument. One pro-lifer brought up similar thought-experiments that replace Uncle Jed with a person that’s asleep or with craniopagus conjoined twins.2 The strength of this argument might be obvious to any pro-lifer; rather than asking pro-lifers to consider the weaknesses of the argument, I want them to think on why the following arguments are stronger.
However, prior to moving on to other arguments against abortion, I want to touch on a common variant of Beckwith’s shared-value argument and that is any argument that attempts to make abortion and infanticide analogous. This argument follows from Paul Ramsey who argued that there isn’t an argument in favor of abortion that doesn’t work in favor of infanticide.3 This argument is a shared-value argument because it assumes that fetuses and infants share properties in common.
It can be argued that the next two arguments have the same degree of strength. I, therefore, do not place them in any particular order. The first of the two I want to summarize is Don Marquis’ “Future-Like-Ours” argument. Marquis states his argument forcefully:
The loss of one’s life deprives one of all the experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments which would otherwise have constituted one’s future. Therefore, killing someone is wrong, primarily because the killing inflicts (one of) the greatest possible losses on the victim. To describe this as the loss of life can be misleading, however. The change in my biological state does not by itself make killing me wrong. The effect of the loss of my biological life is the loss to me of all those activities, projects, experiences, and enjoyments which would otherwise have constituted my future personal life. These activities, projects, experiences, and enjoyments are either valuable for their own sakes or are means to something else that is valuable for its own sake. Some parts of my future are not valued by me now, but will come to be valued by me as I grow older and as my values and capacities change. When I am killed, I am deprived both of what I now value which would have been part of my future personal life, but also what I would come to value. Therefore, when I die, I am deprived of all of the value of my future. Inflicting this loss on me is ultimately what makes killing me wrong. This being the case, it would seem that what makes killing any adult human being prima facie seriously wrong is the loss of his other future.4
Marquis is arguing that all that’s necessary is that we find a shared property between adult persons and fetuses. If this property is found, then we can confer rights on the fetus. That property is that a fetus has a future that resembles ours. This argument can be considered a variant of Beckwith’s shared-value argument since it also rests on values purportedly shared by adults and fetuses.
The next argument I want to focus on is what Earl Connee refers to as the Non-Reductionist conclusion. This view was first expressed by Derek Parfit. The Non-Reductionist conclusion follows from the following argument:
There must be a moment when I started to exist. … . [T]here must be a sharp borderline. It is implausible to claim that this borderline is birth. Nor can any line be plausibly drawn during pregnancy. We may thus be led to the view that I started to exist at the moment of conception. We may claim that this is the moment when my life began. And, on the Non-Reductionist view, it is a deep truth that all the parts of my life are equally parts of my life. I was as much me even when my life had only just started. Killing me at this time is, straightforwardly, killing an innocent person. If this is what we believe, we shall plausibly claim that all induced abortions are morally wrong, except those that save the mother’s life.5
This view is non-reductionist because it doesn’t reduce our personhood or humanity to functions, particularly brain functions. It’s based on the metaphysical proposition that our substance is pivotal to our identity. This conclusion is in keeping with religious belief in the soul.
Since they’re contrasted in Connee’s paper, I’ll go on a relevant tangent to touch on the Reducionist conclusion—which is a pro-choice argument. The Reductionist conclusion stems from the Reductionist argument which could be stated as follows:
On the Reductionist View, we do not believe that at every moment I either do or don’t exist. We can now deny that a fertilized ovum is a person or human being. … [The] transition takes time, and is a matter of degree … . We can then plausibly take a different view about the morality of abortion. We can believe that there is nothing wrong with an early abortion, but that it would be seriously wrong to abort a child near the end of a pregnancy … . The cases in between can be treated as matters of degree. The fertil- ized ovum is not at first, but slowly becomes, a human being and a person. In the same way, the destruction of this organism is not at first but slowly becomes seriously wrong.6
This argument rests on the non-ambiguity of a fetus’ moral status. Since I want this tangent to be brief, I’ll return to how this is established. Furthermore, I’ll attach the argument from the ambiguity of a fetus’ moral status, since it’s germane to the discussion.
The last argument in favor of the pro-life position, which is, in my opinion, the strongest, is the argument from potentiality. This argument is arguably best defended by Reginald William. He states the following:
[I]F all things being equal, the more valuable something is, the more we tend to condemn deliberately preventing its existence, it is also natural to think that when something is of but slight or modest value, we would not condemn just any deliberate act that ends up preventing its existence. It is plausible to think that, in such an instance, we would only condemn a deliberate act that results in there not being something which itself stood to engender the relevant object of value.7
The above is a clear statement of the argument from potential. William gives us several examples (e.g. the seed and food) arguing not only from potential but also from the value of the thing preceding that which we deem valuable. The reason this argument has the highest degree of strength is because it’s compelling and likely the most philosophically sound point that can be made. William tells us the following about people who encounter this argument:
Yet many people who encounter these criticisms, including Grade-A philosophy students and bona fide philosophers, end up endorsing the argument from potential at the end of the day.8
This isn’t surprising since strong arguments are usually convincing and/or difficult to grapple with. In other words, even them who disagree with this argument have to think carefully; their reasoning has to be clearer if they are to refute the argument. This isn’t always obvious, so acceptance can follow; if not, one might opt to remain agnostic on a given matter.
The above serves as a summary of the best pro-life arguments. In fact, these are the arguments we should commonly hear. Unfortunately, what we get is poisoning of the well, false analogies (e.g. abortion is murder), ad hominem, and appeal to emotion. Aside from misrepresenting pro-choicers and the case we’re making, they’re also damaging their own case. If any pro-lifer fails to see the strength the above arguments have over the usual mantras, propaganda, and outright lies put forth by some pro-lifers, it is a failure in reason. The arguments above aren’t only stronger, but they’re more conducive to the discussion. You’ll get further in a discussion on abortion if you choose to present one or more of these arguments rather than marginalizing your opponents and making sweeping generalizations about them.
With that said, let us return to the Reductionist conclusion and the points used to support the argument. McMahon argued that a fetus becomes a person at the onset of brainwaves.9 Given this, it can be said that the Reductionist conclusion is also a progressive conclusion since the argument attempts to show a clear path from non-person to person. McMahon isn’t the only person to argue this. Michael Gazzinga states the following.
Clearly, I believe that a fertilized egg, a clump of cells with no brain, is hardly deserving of the same moral status we confer on the newborn child or the functioning adult. Mere possession of the genetic material for a future human being does not make a human being. The developing embryo that becomes a fetus that becomes a baby is the product of a dynamic interaction with its environment in the womb, its postnatal experiences, and a host of other factors. A purely genetic description of the human species does not describe a human being. A human being represents a whole other level of organization, as distinct from a simple embryo as an embryo is distinct from an egg and sperm. It is the dynamics between genes and environment that make a human being. Indeed, most of us are willing to grant this special status to a developing entity long before it is born, but surely not before the entity even has a brain.10
I placed particular emphasis because that statement, in particular, demonstrates how there’s an underlying progression in the Reductionist Conclusion. Toward the end, he speaks of granting this special status to fetuses before birth; however, he states that we can’t grant them this status before they have brains. Another iteration was offered by Gertler:
GB Gertler proposed 22-24 weeks gestation, on the basis that the neocortex begins producing EEG waves at this time. Underlying this proposal is the view that human cognition is the beginning of cognitive capability and the point at which protection of personhood should begin. In similar fashion, Burgess and Tawia defined functioning brain as one where there is identifiable activity of the kind that normal adult brains (cortices) indulge in. They argue that what is required is a critical minimum level of structural organization, with functional components present and mature enough to perform. On the basis of EEG readings, they conclude that a fetus becomes conscious at 32-36 weeks gestation.11
The Reductionist conclusion is therefore the result of an argument stating that personhood reduces to brain function. This is what is meant by the non-ambiguity of a fetus’ moral status. It’s status isn’t ambiguous since we can demarcate, on the basis of empirical conclusions, between a person and a non-person and therefore, between a fetus and a fully developed human being.
Pro-choicers who are unaware of these empirical conclusions can argue from the presumed ambiguity of the fetus’ moral status. They can argue that since we can’t establish whether or not a fetus is a person, it is best to side with precaution. Using this reasoning, Nathan Nabis offers his Precautionary Principle:
When dealing with a decision between the freedoms of choice and consciousness belonging to an actual woman as opposed to the uncertain moral status of a fetus gestating in her body, the most cautious option is to honor the physical and mental integrity of the woman and her best judgments regarding her own interests. This position requires the least amount of comprehensive assumptions.12
The Precautionary Principe, even in light of the fact that we can establish personhood, is compelling. Even if we agree that a fetus is a person, it is a very peculiar kind of person since its gestating the body of another person. If bodily autonomy is a chief unalienable right, then the right to choose should remain a legal option. This is closely related to what is arguably the strongest argument for the pro-choice position—the argument from bodily autonomy.
The argument from autonomy can, but does not have to, follow from the Precautionary Principle. Torcello argues “that where moral uncertainty is a factor, a society is not justified in enacting oppressive legislation that encroaches on the physical and mental autonomy to which free and equal citizens otherwise have a right in a just liberal society.”13 In other words, if the moral status of the fetus is uncertain, a government cannot infringe on a woman’s right to bodily autonomy.
In where it doesn’t follow from the Precautionary Principle, one could refer to Margaret Olivia Little who stated that “a person’s right to life is circumscribed at the point at which that life involves occupying and using another’s body.”14Or one could also cite Susan Sherwin who “argues that pregnant women can justifiably refuse to view their fetus as having full moral standing because of the ontological dependence of the fetus on the pregnant woman. The fetus would not even exist without this unique and intimate dependency on the pregnant woman.”15 One could also cite Judith J. Thompson’s marquee paper in where bodily autonomy takes center stage.16 It’s curious that pro-choicers make use of their strongest argument(s) whereas pro-lifers do not.
In any case, does this really matter? My response is that it does matter, but not as much as some of us may think. In arguing about the politics and ethics of abortion, some of us have lost track of the most important issue. If we can mitigate or put an end to something by merely focusing on its precursors, then why not focus on those precursors? Sure, pro-lifers and pro-choicers can’t find much common ground as we’ve seen; however, common ground isn’t impossible to find. I’m not alone in seeing that reducing abortion is a reasonable goal. Pro-lifers may add that they want to put an end to abortion. However, in order to reduce or put an end to something, the same steps have to be taken. This is where we find common ground!
I don’t have to agree with your reasons for wanting to put an end to abortion. I only have to agree with you in concluding that targeting the precursors of abortion is a valuable endeavor in and of itself. The decision to have an abortion is often due to multifarious reasons. Among these reasons are the fact that the woman can’t afford to raise a child, having a baby would dramatically change her life, or she doesn’t want to be a single mom or experience relationship issues.17 The first of these reasons is important because it leads us to a problem people, whether pro-lifer or pro-choicer, should be concerned about: poverty. The poverty rate for children was 19.9 in 2013.18 As of 2008, the abortion rate among poor women increased even though the overall rate decreased.19 If so many children are currently in poverty, how can we expect the mothers of those children to continue a new pregnancy in all cases? It’s only reasonable that some of them will choose abortion.
This leads, of course, to another issue we should be addressing. If one can’t afford a child at the moment, one should do everything in one’s power to prevent pregnancy in the first place. As statistics have shown, abortion decreases with age, particularly after the age of 19; that is to say that abortion rates are higher among younger women.20 This may imply an educational or literacy problem. More sex education is necessary. More preventative measures need to be available so that abortion rates continue to decrease. This, to me, is a reasonable goal no matter what your personal motives are.
Then there’s the issue of relationship issues. We cannot expect a woman to want to carry the child of an abusive significant other. Given that this is a problem according to statistics taken year after year, we should be focused on domestic violence. This is, no doubt, more difficult to address than the previous issue. Providing sex education is one thing, but convincing abusive men that abuse is wrong seems to be a more daunting task. Also, abusive men aren’t made overnight. There’s obviously something that needs to be addressed in overall male psychology.21 This implies taking therapeutic measures that aren’t always available. Regardless, this is something we should want to figure out.
This is why I argue that the abortion debate doesn’t matter as much as some of us think it does. The moral status of a fetus, potentiality, shared value, reductionism, and non-reductionism are merely smokescreens. There’s a real issue behind the plumes that deserves our attention. Limiting abortion by focusing on its precursors is a worthwhile goal. Whether one sees it as a worthwhile goal because of its inherent value or because one desires to put an end to abortion doesn’t matter. In other words, one’s religious, political, or personal motives for wanting to motion against the precursors of abortion makes no difference. This is common ground. This is where we can stand together. Reducing abortion is periphery when considering male psychology and domestic abuse, poverty, lack of jobs, and sex education or sex illiteracy. This will make a bigger impact—leave a deeper imprint; families would benefit more, abortion will be reduced, and more importantly, babies will be born into self-sufficient households. The arguments, whether for or against abortion, are entirely secondary when considering these issues. I can only hope that this is salient.
1 Wilcox, Clinton. “Arguments Against Fetal Personhood.” Secular Pro-Life Perspectives. 4 Feb 2013. Web. 21 Nov 2014.
3 Chapman, Stephan. “From Abortion to Infanticide”. Chicago Tribune. 22 Apr 1982. Web. 21 Nov 2014.
4 Marquis, Don. “Why Abortion is Immoral”. Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 86, pp. 183-202. 1989. Print.
5 Connee, Earl. ”Metaphysics and the Morality of Abortion”. Mind 108 (432) (1998): 619-646. Print.
6 Ibid. 
7 William, Reginald. “Abortion, Potential, and Value”. Cambridge University Press. Utilitas Volume 20 Issue 02 June 2008, pp 169-186. Print.
8 Ibid. 
9 Ibid. [7[
10 Gazzinga, Michael. “The Ethical Brain”. The Dana Foundation. 1 Jul 2005. Web. 21 Nov 2014.
11 Jones, D Gareth. “The Problematic Symmetry Between Brain Birth and Brain Death”. Journal of Medical Ethic Issue 24:237-242. 1998. Print. Available on web.
12 Torcello, Lawrence. “A Precautionary Tale: Separating the Infant from the Fetus.” Res Publica Issue 15: 17–31. 2009. Print.
13 Ibid. 
14 Kaposy, Chris. “Proof and Persuasion in the Philosophical Debate about Abortion.” Philosophy and Rhetoric Volume 43, Number 2: pp. 139-162. 2010. Print.
16 Thompson, Judith J. “A Defense of Abortion”. Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 1, no. 1. 1971. Print. Available on web.
17 Finer, Lawrence B., et. al. “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives”. Guttmacher Institute. ND. Web. 21 Nov 2014.
18 “Poverty”. The United States Census Bureau. ND. Web. 21 Nov 2014.
19 Wind, Rebecca. “Abortion Rate Increasing Among Poor Women, Even as it Decreases Among Most Other Groups”. Guttmacher Institute. 23 May 2011. Web. 21 Nov 2014.
20 Ibid. 
21 Arkowitz, Hal. “Are Men the More Belligerent Sex?”. Scientific American. 1 Apr 2010. Web. 21 Nov 2014.
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