Feminist Dogma

Hello there! Are you growing tired of the ongoing criticisms of sexism in the skeptical community? Do you feel like one of the essential values of freethought and skepticism is lost when we set up “sacred cows” like feminism? Do you believe that feminism, like anything, needs to be held up to critique, and that the way that any questioning of feminism or dissent from the growing feminist consensus is met with the “thought police” coming to gag you? Do you feel this crushing of dissent is creating an echo chamber that is preventing us from being able to have a free, open discourse? Do you feel all this petty infighting over such trivial issues is destroying our movement? That people seem wholly incapable of discussing sexism in a rational way? That it’s distracting us from more important issues? Do you believe that we need to be more skeptical of feminist dogma?

If so, knock it off. You’re being silly. There is no such thing as feminist dogma.

Why? Because feminism is not a unified, monolithic ideology. Feminism is primarily a field of inquiry, interrogating the socio-cultural dynamics of gender, and a movement, towards political, legal, social and cultural equality of the sexes. In so far as it can occasionally be described as an ideology, it has one and only one unifying tenet: that women are no less valid and deserving than men. That’s all.

To insist on being skeptical of feminism is to insist on being skeptical of the concept that women are not inferior human beings, and therefore to posit that men are indeed the superior sex. Or that we should not be thinking or talking about social and cultural treatment of gender, and that it is all fine as is. If that’s the position you really want to take… well, I certainly can’t stop you. But don’t be surprised if people aren’t exactly sympathetic to your viewpoint.

This is, however, not what most people mean when they say they would like us to be more “skeptical of feminism”, or oppose “feminist dogma”. Instead they mean we should question specific beliefs, concepts, practices or rhetoric within feminism, but they make the mistake of believing that feminism does in fact have a unified position on these specific issues. When conflating specific concepts they find problematic with the entirety of feminism, they set themselves up to go after the wrong targets, and fundamentally misunderstand what feminism really is. They also position themselves to be dismissed by feminism who could, under the right circumstances, actually agree with them about the specific issue in question.

Just like skepticism and atheism, feminism is a HUGE tent, united by a very simple tenet and assumed value. Everything else is up for discussion.

Debate of the specifics that follow from the original assumed value (equality of the sexes) is not only tolerated by feminism, but is an extremely valuable, indispensable aspect of it, and something that has long been central to feminism. I’ve met many men with an anti-feminist tilt who seem to believe that all feminists agree with one another, and that feminists who dare break the party-line are driven out of the movement with pitchforks and torches. But… although the internal debates of feminism have at times certainly gotten nasty, it’s been one of the definitive features of the movement all along. There are countless branches of feminism, diverting from one another over specific concepts and ideas, and feminism has undergone countless evolutions and permutations as these debates and conversations go on. That is part of the process. While the image of Straw Feminism is that feminists sign up for The Party, burn their bra, trade in their heels for a nice pair of birkenstocks and immediately subscribe to the package of feminist positions, the reality is that finding any two feminists who agree on everything is virtually impossible. Sort of like trying to find two skeptics who agree on everything.

Take for instance the ongoing problem of transphobia within the feminist movement. This is an issue of no small personal significance for me. To what degree do you imagine I unquestioningly accept feminist positions on it?

Transphobia has long been an issue within feminism. Trans women are often regarded as appropriating women’s body, committing an act of rape through claiming the female body for themselves, have been described as infiltrating women’s spaces and compromising their safety, have been described as “artificial” women designed to devalue “real” women further, have been described as “colonizing” womanhood, of reinforcing the gender binary by supporting claims of a fundamental femaleness, of furthering the concept that culturally gendered personality characteristics are necessarily tied to gendered biology, of being a construct of patriarchy designed to assert a bio-essentialist image over the social construct of gender, of being the supreme embodiment of men’s domination of women, and so on and so forth. Trans men, conversely, are regarded as traitors and quislings, women who have internalized misogyny so deeply that they’ve come to loathe their own bodies and chosen to become men, women who have turned their backs on their sisters in order to join up with the oppressor, and similarly ridiculous concepts. These views are especially common amongst contemporary branches of radical feminism and current variations of second-wave feminist philosophy, but they also show up in the mainstream.

Germaine Greer in particular, despite being a very mainstream, widely recognized figurehead of the feminist movement has repeatedly said some incredibly hateful things about trans women, rather recently making a public remark in the wake of the Caster Semenya controversy (an Oympic athlete who was discovered to be intersex), that trans women are merely “delusional” men:

“Nowadays we are all likely to meet people who think they are women, have women’s names, and feminine clothes and lots of eyeshadow, who seem to us to be some kind of ghastly parody, though it isn’t polite to say so. We pretend that all the people passing for female really are. Other delusions may be challenged, but not a man’s delusion that he is female.”

I’m particularly disturbed by her use of “us” in the first sentence there. Who is this “us”? Cis people? Women? Feminists? Transphobes? It’s frightening that she simply presumes to include the reader in her bigotry, treating as a matter of course that people will have the same hateful, prejudicial attitude as her own. And further hints at the usual “political correctness gone mad!” trope as the only possible reason anyone would disagree with her position. Not unlike the attitude towards dismissing people’s criticism of anti-feminist positions, describing feminism as nothing more than a hive mind group-think.

Greer’s history of transphobia is certainly shameful, but nowhere near as appalling as the personal crusade against us taken up by Janice Raymond, author of “The Transsexual Empire: The Making Of The She-Male”. She in particular adopted the rhetoric and attitude that we are “colonizing” womanhood, “raping” women’s bodies by “reducing them to artifact” and “making women according to man’s image”. She also holds up many of the usual tropes and myths, such as the ironically misogynist myth that SRS is defined by cutting off the penis (a de-sexing of the body rather than re-sexing… the misogynist aspect being that it lends credence to the concept that women are incomplete men -men minus a few pieces- and that female genitals are merely the absence of male genitals).

You win the internets if you can find a trans woman who has heard of Raymond and doesn’t bristle with rage and disgust at the mention of her name.

These views are espoused, in varying degrees, by many other feminist leaders and writers, such as Sheila Jeffreys and Mary Daly. There have also been many incidents of trans women being forcibly expelled from feminist spaces… some of the notable ones have been Sandy Stone, a sound engineer pushed out of Olivia Records, the trans exclusionist “Womyn-Born-Womyn” policy of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Fesitval, and the expulsion of rape crisis counselor Kimberly Nixon from Vancouver Rape Relief after her gender status became known (the argument in that case was that Nixon couldn’t possibly understand the experiences of her clients, despite the fact that she herself had indeed been a victim of abuse, the transphobia in this case being used as a weapon to erase the legitimacy of her own victimhood).

In most contemporary third wave feminism, the issue of transphobia within the movement has begun to be recognized, and the value of trans-feminism and trans feminists has accordingly begun to be acknowledged and embraced. However it’s still an ongoing problem, and whenever entering any kind of feminist or women’s space I always have to be on guard, and always experience a level of anxiety, knowing that technically all it will take in a given situation is one or two women with a negative view of transsexuality to result in my being forced out of such a space.

Beyond that, there is also the issue of micro-aggressions, dismissal of the validity of my experiences and gender, a sort of sense often that my being allowed a presence within a feminist space or group is purely conditional and nonetheless I’m expected to meet certain standards in order to prove that my experiences as a woman are valid and legitimate. There is also often resentment of my tilting discussions in such a way that they become “unbalanced” in the direction of LGBT issues (it typically takes very little for cis or straight people to begin feeling there’s “a whole lot” of LGBT discussion going on, sort of like the cognitive distortion wherein white people will perceive themselves as being in the minority despite that not being the case in cities where there is any significant level of racial diversity), resentment that the inclusion of trans perspectives in some way comes at the expense of other perspectives (???), that gender theory and trans theory is pointless, navel-gazing or unimportant relative to other feminist concerns, that my voice somehow detracts from the voices of “real” women, etc. Things are certainly getting better, but definitely it is a dangerous and anxious thing to be both an openly trans woman and a committed, active feminist.

Though despite the personal difficulty and risk, I absolutely reserve the right to question transphobia and cissexism when I do encounter them, even within feminist spaces. Because I am a real woman, and I have just as much a right to fight for respect, equality, my basic human rights, and a presence and voice as any woman.

But do you see what I’ve done here? I’ve voiced criticism of a specific problem within feminism rather than stating that feminism itself is the problem. Watch how quickly the feminazis come to squash my dissent and tear me to shreds for committing the thought crime of questioning their dogma. Though I don’t recommend holding your breath.

If, on the other hand, what I said here was “feminism has done some things I don’t like, therefore feminism is EVIL!”, someone would likely be along pretty swiftly to call me an idiot. And rightly so.

There are three primary “waves” of feminism. Each wave had certain particular priorities, responsive to the political climate of the time in which they first emerged, each had certain failures and problems which were addressed in subsequent iterations, each had certain strong controversies and points of internal debate or contention that led to alternate branches or paths, and each wave has in some way attempted to become broader, more inclusive, and more refined, with the goal being to improve on the shortcomings of previous iterations of feminism. Alternate branches and pathways did, of course, occur, and at this point, although things can be loosely grouped into the three main waves, we also have more a pluralism of feminisms rather any particular distinct “contemporary mainstream feminism”, and this is likely to become even more the case as time goes on. Kind of like an evolutionary tree, with biodiversity increasing as time and life progresses from a particular common ancestor.

First wave feminism was the initial struggle for voting rights and property rights, the basic assertion that women were not themselves property, but were citizens and human beings, capable of offering input into a collective society. First wave principles are largely taken as a given  in contemporary North American society, even amongst people who are not only non-feminist, but emphatically anti-feminist (except for the absolute most extreme sexists).

Second wave feminism was the variation that lasted from the 60s to the 90s. It was concerned with things like reproductive rights, the role of women in the home, socio-cultural parity of the sexes, access to certain professions, the wage gap, etc. It is considered to have begun with the publication of The Feminine Mystique. Most basic second wave principles are also taken for granted amongst the North American left-wing, but not necessarily amongst more conservative factions of society.

Second wave was criticized for certain failures of inclusivity, such as how it seemed primarily focused on the concerns, problems and experiences of middle-class, straight, white women (The Feminine Mystique in particular primarily concerns the anxiety and sense of unfulfillment amongst middle-class housewives). This led to new branches emerging, which held varying positions on issues such as race, sexual orientation, the relative role of men in a feminist movement and society, etc. Some branches became highly radical and adopted strongly misandrist viewpoints, and these became the sort of protean material from which much of today’s Straw Feminism is constructed.

Straw Feminism, if it isn’t sufficiently self-explanatory, is the ridiculous caricature of man-hating, hairy-legged, bra-burning, crew-cutted “feminazis” that are used as a strawman arguement to discredit feminism and avoid addressing the actual points and actual arguments being raised by actual feminists, which are typically quite substantive and do indeed demand an answer. Example “why should a 15 year old girl on reddit be subjected to a slew of rape jokes at her expense?”, answer: “God you feminazis are so shrill and can’t handle any disagreement! Not ALL men are like that! Stop with your misandrist generalizations.  If you were really interested in equality you wouldn’t be a feminist, since feminism just wants female supremacy. You dislike the rape jokes because you despise sexuality. You probably think all guys are rapists. Well we’re not going to let you castrate and emasculate us. You’re just unattractive and angry at men for not giving you more attention.”

From the second wave also emerged certain highly gender-essentialist branches, such as Cultural Feminism, which held the idea that there was a sort of universal sisterhood or universal female experience and female mind and female ability. This form of feminism sort of leaned into essentialist concepts of “what women are like” and instead of allowing them to be means of denigration instead reclaimed them as virtues, and believed that the problem in our society was not prescriptive, institutionalized concepts of gender but instead that the feminine (intuition, emotion, passivity, etc.) was not suitably valued and that society was being run on distinctly masculine impulses. This is the feminism we associate with dated concepts like “if the world were run by women, there would be no war”. It is also the form of feminism that laid the groundwork for the pattern of transphobia within the movement.

While it’s certainly something that can be debated, I hold that there is no universal female experience, there are only individual women, and that although certain qualities or concepts that are culturally gendered feminine may be very much unfairly devalued in our culture, there is nothing inherently female to the feminine, and that it is the prescriptive and binary models of gender and the inability to accept variance as a natural element of sex and gender that are the greater problem. That and how women are still positioned as the secondary Other within the binary while men are still positioned as the default, neutral, primary category. And how we still cling to a basic model of sexual dynamics and feel threatened by any deviations from the script: male as active, aggressive sexual agent whose desire is to dominate and possess the female, female as passive, submissive sexual object whose desire is to be dominated and possessed by the male. And a whole bunch of other stuff too, which if I don’t stop this paragraph now I’m bound to remember and begin listing off into infinity.

Third wave feminism started emerging in the 80s and came to prominence in the 90s, largely emerging from the debates within feminism over issues of sex-positivity, pornography and the like. Third wave is the variation you’re most likely to encounter today. It includes a more nuanced, pluralistic and inclusive concept of feminism. Within third wave, a few key features are important that distinguish it both from second wave and more importantly from the straw-feminism caricatures. Third wave is generally sex-positive and does not regard things like sex work and pornography as inherently oppressive of women. It regards men as potential allies (and potential feminists), and both patriarchy and sexism as emergent systems for which no one is necessarily individually accountable. Instead we collectively, as a culture, bear accountability for the systems of sexual, gender-based discrimination and prescriptive binaries and there is no definitive “bad guy” we need to seek out and stop. It is not solely focused on the issues and needs of women and instead recognizes how all genders (women and men, trans, intersex and cis, binary-identified and genderqueer, etc.) are all harmed by the current socio-cultural dynamics of gender. It works towards bearing in mind issues of intersectionality and acknowledge the unique situations and challenges of women of colour, queer women, transgender people, women with disabilities, working-class or under-class women and so on.

Most importantly, given the intense diversity of issues incorporated into third wave, it is defined by a vast number of individual sub-branches (such as trans-feminism, the sub-movement into which I can most easily be grouped), and particular positions taken on particular issues, as well as various systems of prioritization of the many concerns of the movement. Much more than a singular, consistent ideology, it is a group of individuals with many different unique perspectives and evaluations of the situation working through the discourse, engaging in numerous individual actions, and cooperating collectively towards the singular shared value of gender-equality. But it is a discussion. A grouping of individual voices, perspectives and concerns. A field of inquiry. It is not a unified, consistent ideology, and is not a dogma.

One single agreed upon tenet: women are human beings too.

Yes, that belief is held as a sacred cow, and it is a value assumption taken on a leap of faith. But you know what? Such assumptions of value are necessary. Reason, logic and skepticism are incredibly valuable and important, but they are utterly pointless without some kind of value or goal to set those processes in motion. We all take leaps of faith in terms of our values, and without them we’d be paralyzed in nihilism. We have to make some assumptions: murder is wrong, life is worth living, ethics are worth having, human beings deserve basic rights and liberties, etc. We all do it on a consistent basis. Skepticism is all well and good, but one inevitably arrives at a point where you have to say “just because”, and sometimes that is perfectly okay as an answer. Such as in response to “why should we treat women as equal human beings?”

Even skepticism itself has a “sacred cow” value assumption underlying it, a unifying principle for a field of inquiry (just like feminism): truth is preferable to falsehood, even when the falsehood is more comfortable.

When someone approaches me saying we ought to be skeptical of feminism, without specifying any particular issue or concern, and merely saying we ought to be skeptical of it simply because a lot of us happen to be feminists and happen to agree with one another, it sounds completely meaningless to me. Sort of like:

“We should be more skeptical of atheist dogma. Everyone here just treats atheism as a sacred cow, and always criticize the views of people who aren’t atheists. You atheists can’t seem to handle any disagreement. Some ‘free thinkers’ you are! Stop silencing dissent.”


  1. says

    Oh yeah? Well I’m skeptical of skepticism!
    But seriously, this is an amazing post, especially as it digs into the nuances of different feminist viewpoints that are generally unknown to the outside circles. Brava!

  2. Forbidden Snowflake says

    Awesome article, thank you.


    She in particular adopted the rhetoric and attitude that we are “colonizing” womanhood, “raping” women’s bodies by “reducing them to artifact” and “making women according to man’s image”.

    This seems really similar to that “gays are ruining traditional marriage” thing, in that it makes “womanhood” (or “marriage”) from an abstract term descriptive of a state of being into a place (which can be invaded) or a thing (which can be expropriated), thereby attributing to the *scary invaders* the magical ability to destroy others’ way of life simply by living theirs.

  3. thaismcrc says

    There’s a quote by Cheris Kramarae and Paula Treichler that I’ve repeated more times than I can count: “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” I thought of it reading this post, for obvious reasons.

    Cultural Feminism is a *huge* problem. This “universal womanhood” is nothing more than the experience of cisgendered, heterossexual, middle class, white women from developed countries. It is completely othering and dismissive of the real experiences of anyone who doesn’t fit that description. But it is also anti-rationality and anti-science. In claiming that women are more “spiritual” or “intuitive”, that we have “other forms of knowing” that need to be valued alongside rationality (which, in their view, is the way men approach the world), they ignore the real sexism of science and simply turn their backs on scientific knowledge altogether. Women have been drawn to all kinds of woo based on this ridiculous idea. (http://isisthescientist.com/2011/08/23/your-home-birth-is-not-a-feminist-statement/ has a great discussion on home birth, and Amy Tuteur’s comments on that post are worth checking out, too).

    And, of course, the fact that we have this discussion at all and still view ourselves as feminists and defend feminism shows your argument is right. There is no one, established, monolithic Feminism. There are different views that share this basic idea that “women are people”.

  4. michaeld says

    Things I learned from this post:

    Feminists are not drawn together through the practice of ninjitsu.
    Everybody does not in fact love Raymond.
    Natalie Reed is on a roll!

    Keep on rolling! 🙂

  5. danielrudolph says

    Thank you for this. There are certainly elements ready to tell anyone who disagrees with them they are not a real feminist. They generally don’t have the numbers to actually do so. There’s also the question about what to do about the handful of real peopel who do match the star feminist construction. (Example: Allecto, a lesbian separatist who openly says she hates men and seems determined to interpret everything in the least charitable light possible. A Rapist’s View of the World: Joss Whedon and Firefly) I’m all for calling such people(while making sure to be fair to the people being criticized, of course) out and debunking and disowning their claims, so as to preserve the credibility of the sane branches of feminism , but have been told I am just perpetuating the straw view of feminists by doing so. I don’t think that’s the case so long as this isn’t the only time we talk about feminism. To be fair on my earlier example, Allecto is hardly a notable feminist scholar, but your average Joe or Jane Clueless on the Internet is probably more likely to encounter her writings than Germaine Greer’s, at least if he or she likes Firefly.

    Thaismere, thanks for the link. The “empiricism is a tool of the patriarchy” branch did manage to get a chapter in my Intro to Women’s Studies textbook, which led to a heated discussion among the three or so people in the class who actually cared about feminism, while the other twenty or so fidgeted until they could go get back to memorizing what they were supposed to regurgitate on the test. That was far from my only complaint with that text book, but I’ll get my own blog for that.

  6. sambarge says

    Natalie – You are a great addition to the FTB. I’m loving your posts.

    …the ridiculous caricature of man-hating, hairy-legged, bra-burning, crew-cutted “feminazis”

    I have actually cross-stitched a sampler with the words “just another bra-burning, hairy-legged, man-hating feminist” on it. I gazed up at it lovingly after I read that line.

    It is also the form of feminism (2nd wave) that laid the groundwork for the pattern of transphobia within the movement.

    Absolutely. I am a 2nd wave feminist and find myself struggling with full acceptance of transwomen in the movement. Rationally, I am completely on board and welcome trans-sisters and brothers. However, I struggle with the concept of cis-privilege and centrism because, as a feminist, I reject the notion that ‘feminity’ = female. Also, I see my oppression not as being female but as being treated as female from birth – the expectations, assumptions, etc. placed on me by others. When someone who was born and raised male tells me that they are actually a woman, my 2nd wave inner-child screams: “Ha! You don’t know what it means to be a woman. Poseur!”

    Of course, I recognize this attitude for what it is; a short-coming on my part, not on the part of my trans-sisters or brothers. I am a work in progress though, so I hope to continue to improve as a human being – and a feminist.

    Also, this whole post is fantastic. I hope the people who need to read it take the time to read it.

    • says

      Well… one of the main things is to remember that trans women do NOT believe that feminine = female. We believe female = female.

      Please bear in mind that not all trans women are feminine. Many of us are butch, androgynous or tomboys.

      I address this misunderstanding a bit in my 13 Myths and Misconceptions article on Skepchick / Queereka, linked in my “Hello, Hello Again!” post here.

      I’ll be addressing the issue of socialization and being raised female in my post for tomorrow morning, actually.

      • sambarge says

        I thought that was your post at Skepchick. I really benefited from reading that and am looking forward to more from you. Not that it’s your job to educate me but your writing on the topic is very accessible to a dinosaur like me. I’ve done some reading but I found your post on Skepchick some of the best stuff I’ve read.

        Thanks! I’m looking forward to more.

  7. Finbarr says

    Hi, I read your articles on Skepchick (though never commented-more of a lurker) and was sad when you left, so I think it’s great you now have your own space. I think your unique voice adds a lot to any discussion and I wanted to say thanks for all the heartfelt and thoughtful articles here too. As a straight-ish white cis male, you have made me way more aware of my social privilege and the importance of standing up for LGBTQ rights, which is most definitely a good thing! It’s great to hear more of that in the skeptic/atheist world as well as the usual hobby-horses of theism, alt-med etc.

    So, yeah, basically, you’re awesome, and thanks!

    Oh, and I had no idea that Germaine Greer was so transphobic. According to Wikipedia she tried to stop a trans-woman from joining her all-female College, because she was ‘born a man’. Shocking for someone who supposedly champions equality. I guess we all have a long way to go, but it’s good to have people like you raising our consciousness.

  8. justinmoore says

    Excellent article. Just a few observations.

    1) Near the beginning and end you point out that the one, essential tenet of feminism is that “Women are people too.” You also point out that almost nobody would challenge this assertion or the ones that immediately follow it (the main thrust of first-wave feminism) save for the most irredeemable misogynists. I would wager their numbers are not substantially more than that the number of committed misandrists.

    There is disparity between the sexes in a lot of ways, and that disparity goes both ways. In pursuance of the spirit of third-wave feminism, maybe it is time to drop the label of “feminism” all together, since the goal at this point is to work toward sexual and gender parity for everyone, as opposed to the specific advancement of women’s rights.

    2) What follows is the motivational “why” (not the rational or causal “why”) for doing the above. You say that third-wave feminism is what is usually encountered today and I have no doubt that is true. However, because this third-wave is measured, thoughtful and not a “scream-it-from-the-rooftops” sort of movement, members thereof do not feel the need to identify outwardly and unambiguously (let alone primarily) as feminists. It is part of a rational word-view in the same way that most of us see skepticism and its principles are taken as a given by the feminist. Thus, the fact that such a person is a self-identified feminist will usually go unnoticed. If people realized this was the actual face of feminism, I doubt they would feel so threatened by it.

    And yet, the image of feminism that dominates public consciousness, mostly because those who typify it are the ones foisted upon us by the media, is second-wave feminism with all of it’s sex-negative, anti-parity baggage on full display. It seems they “own” that word, for all intents and purposes and the enemies of equality, inclusiveness and unity love it that way. It may be possible to take the word back, but it seems to me more prudent to let it go in favor something else.

    3) I bring this point up in response to the first sentence of the article. I’m sure it was mostly throw-away, since you don’t revisit it, but here goes.

    Ever since “Elevatorgate,” it’s been taken as a given that there is some special level of sexism within the skeptical/atheist community that needs to be addressed. But I don’t think Elevatorgate was an example of sexism in the traditional sense so much as a simple failure of all the parties involved to see things from one another’s perspectives. I don’t want to reopen that ridiculous, embarrassing and mostly pointless chapter, so instead let’s consider something quantifiable: the disparity in numbers of people who actively participate in the skeptical community.

    At the highest levels of organization, there really isn’t a disparity. Some of the largest and most influential atheist, secularist and skeptical organizations were founded primarily or in large part by women (Secular Student Alliance, American Atheist, among others), women are well-represented in atheist, secularist and skeptical media (aside from books, I’m afraid) and most of our organizations are staffed with roughly equal numbers of men and women. The problem seems to be that around 90% of the people who attend our conventions are men. This is, interestingly, the opposite phenomenon that Churches see (where men represent only about 20% of attendees).

    Are women made to feel unwelcome? Well, any predominately-male gathering is going to be intimidating to women, but that isn’t sexism, at least not on the part of the males in the gathering. Just look at ComiCon and other sci-fi/fantasy conventions. Actually, they’re far worse, as it seems women are only considered to have any business there if they’re dressed as a “sexy” elf. Otherwise they’re seen as a novelty.

    A converse example: Some of the most successful MaryKay consultants have been men, and yet when I’ve gone to their meetings with my wife, I’m the only man in the room and I’ll admit I feel very, very out of place. But that’s to do with me, not them.

    So is it that women are made to feel out of place by an atmosphere of sexism? Or is there simply an enthusiasm gap? Or (gasp!) a numbers gap? My money is on the last for much the same reasons we have a numbers gap when it comes to racial representation. One may say there is a problem of sexism in the skeptical community in the same way there is a problem of sexism in society. I’m not being dismissive because there IS such a problem in society, but unless the severity of the former vastly outstrips the latter, it is inappropriate to suggest that the problem originates within or as a result of the community.

    • says

      Well… in my own experiences, I’ve come across far more sexism within the skeptic aspect of my life than in any other. I can’t necessarily speak about skepticism relative to “society as a whole”, but there is sexism is definitely more engrained and far more tenaciously defended within skepticism and atheism than within any other community or movement to which I’ve committed myself. And certainly SOME of the manners in which sexism occurs within our movement are indeed unique to our movement. Also: do you really think it would be easier trying getting our entire culture to become less sexist and hope that skepticism follows suit than addressing the problem on a manageable scale within our own community? Because the latter seems like the much more pragmatic approach to me…

      • says

        It seems, in fact, that sexism in the atheist community is similar in many ways to transphobia in the feminist community.

        It’s not that people in the atheist and feminist communities are more sexist or more transphobic (respectively) than the average. In fact they’re probably less sexist/transphobic, on average, than society at large. But within these communities, there’s a strong tendency to rationalize discriminatory behaviors and beliefs, to defend them when challenged, to reflexively and aggressively silence women’s/transpersons’ voices, and to trivialize their concerns.

        • says


          It’s also an issue because we ought to be better than that. When people talk about how they’re just being skeptical of feminism or being “race realists”, I always wonder how they don’t consider being skeptical of their own society, of how gender or race and other things are treated.

          I think this is a pretty big split in the atheist/skeptics “community”, probably somewhat related to the left/right split I see a lot. Not sure it’ll ever be resolved, and I’m fairly sure it’s a major reason why social-justice-oriented atheists tend to focus less on atheism/skepticism, and more on other causes.

          I could be wrong, though.

          • says

            Personally, I don’t see any meaningful distinction between social issues and skepticism, and the idea that skepticism ought to be limited to addressing alt-med, religion and the paranormal seems really arbitrary to me. *shrug*

          • says

            Could have worded that better. I meant I feel as though I’ve met a fair number of privilege-aware people who are atheists or skeptics, but choose not to engage with the “community”, either online or in person, because they don’t care to have to deal with the privilege issues and prefer to primarily engage with other communities, often dedicated to explicitly social-justice ends, in which they may encounter more religious belief and “woo” beliefs, but won’t be having to do “invisible knapsacks 101” all the time.

          • says

            Yeah, I definitely understand that. I myself often feel like walking away from this community for precisely those reasons, but then I start having my “well SOMEBODY has to do it” thoughts again.

  9. Besomyka says

    Thank you for that concise summary of first, second and third wave feminism. I’d seen those terms before, and generally knew what they meant from context, but never really saw them defined before.

    As with some of your other posts, you’ve given me the vocabulary needed to talk about these issues coherently and also the intellectual hook I needed to make sense of my own reading and research.

    On an unrelated topic, I discovered yesterday that I have a uterus. Well a tiny little thing that’s hanging off my prostate and not connected to anything. Its small, but it’s got mucous membrane and everything.

    I am unable to sufficiently express how happy that made me yesterday.

    • Anders says

      It’s good that you have a uterus, even if it is is fairly vestigial, because that means doctors have somewhere to take stem cells if they want to build you a more functional one. There are great things happening in the organ reconstruction field – currently the problems are with blood supply and innervation. I wouldn’t be surprised if a uterus wasn’t an option in SRS within our lifetime.

  10. Besomyka says

    Oh! I just realized that I got to this article via my RSS feed for the very first time! Whatever issue there was appears to have been sorted out, and for that I am quite thankful.

  11. says

    I have not followed trans politics to any great extent, and had not really heard of the feminist/trans issues until now. I learn somethjing new every day.

    One of the best/cutest comments I ever heard about a transsexual was from a 5 year old girl who said “My grandfather is a girl” the she shrugged her shoulders with her hands up as only children can and continued “But what are you gonna do”.

    She loved her grandparents and out of 4 this one had an interesting story.

  12. leftwingfox says

    Excellent post. It sheds a little light on some of my own earlier misconceptions and concepts regarding feminism, since the two most explicitly feminist folks I knew were both second wave feminists, and to a certain extent, bought into the essentialist ideas. It was later writings by third-wave feminists which helped me realize the privilege structures and how that essentialism fed into it.

    Some of my earlier reluctance towards feminism was likely in response to one of those two; my drama teacher, who was a Cultural Feminist in the way you describe. Came damn close to the new-age strawfeminist caricatures, unfortunately.

  13. Cel says

    I have a few issues with some of your points.

    “In so far as [feminism] can occasionally be described as an ideology, it has one and only one unifying tenet: that women are no less valid and deserving than men. That’s all.”

    That is not exactly correct.

    All and any feminists must believe two premises. These are necessary, though not sufficient, premises. Anyone who does not believe both premises is not a feminist.

    P1. Men and women should be treated equally.

    P2. Women are, at present, not treated equally; they currently suffer from many negative inequalities.

    (logical conclusion following from said premises)

    C: We must address and solve said inequalities.

    No one can possibly argue against this – if a person does not believe both of those premises, they are not feminists.

    The problem that anti-feminists, such as myself, have is that they do not believe Premise 2. Instead of women being treated worse than men, the opposite is true.

    I have a great deal of evidence to prove that assertion, but it is rather long, so I shall paste a link and anyone who wishes to follow it does not have to scroll through a wall of text here: http://www.reddit.com/r/TwoXChromosomes/comments/isb7f/mens_rights_and_womens_rights_are_not_mutually/c26ar1d

    Before anyone jumps in with “derailing, what about the menz” – please stop and think for a second. The assertion I made does involve men – but the assertion was necessary in order to explain the refutation to one of the key points in this post. And of course, if I simply made the assertion but provided no evidence, I would rightly be criticized for making baseless claims.

    Secondly, you claim that it is wrong to criticize feminism as a movement, since “feminism is not a monolith.”

    The problem with this defense, a tired one that we have heard over and over, is that it simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

    What do I mean?

    Feminists and others have attacked Republicans for pushing anti-abortion laws, often calling Republicans as a group anti-woman, misogynist, etc.

    Suppose I were to reply that “Republicans are not anti-woman. There are many Republicans and they are not a monolith. Most Republicans do nothing to harm women and many are pro-choice as well. Therefore your criticism is invalid.”

    Feminists would reject this argument, rightly pointing out that it doesn’t matter what individual Republicans believe. It only matters what influential and powerful Republicans do, which is actively and successfully fight to harm women.

    You might reply “yes, but the Republican Party is an organized official party and feminism isn’t. So it’s different.”

    But is it really?

    Consider the following similarities:

    -One need not officially join a Republican organization, but can simply self-identify as a Republican

    -One need not officially join a feminist organization, but can simply self-identify as a feminist

    -There are many Republican writings / platforms, but not all Republicans agree with said writings

    -There are many feminist writings / theories, but not all feminists agree with said writings.

    -There are many different Republican organizations one can join.

    -There are many different feminist organizations one can join.

    -There are many different factions and political positions within the Republican party.

    -There are many different factions and political positions within feminism.

    • sc_cde70fe0fa23ef54e79d7b3f1672b305 says

      An excellent response! However, I would note that where you say “Instead of women being treated worse than men, the opposite is true,” you are making an assertion that as with the assertion it is intended to counter, is only partially true.

      The fact is that there are areas where men have the advantage, and there are areas where women have the advantage. As I stated in my more general reply to natalie, feminists have fought hard and won significant victories. We can all be proud of most of them, but there *are* areas where there have been overcorrections, and it is disingenuous for feminists to deny this, just as it is disingenuous for anti-feminists to deny that there are still cultural approbations in place which restrict women’s career choices such that the wage gap, and even more importantly, the wealth gap, still exists in the aggregate, even if when looking at finely-grained data, we can see that the wage gap has completed evaporated when comparing individual circumstances, just to point out one particular type of example.

      The question of why women make, in the aggregate, less money than men has already been answered, and that answer is not that women get paid less for doing the same work. We don’t; in fact, for a variety of reasons, we often make more than equivalent men. The real answer is that some of the fundamental assumptions about women’s lives still haven’t changed, despite our changed role in our society. The question of whether or not this is actually a problem that needs to solving, and, if so, what we are going to do about solving it, is a different matter entirely.

      I don’t know why the system is logging me in under some weird userid, but this response was written by Gemma Seymour-Amper.

    • Daniel Schealler says

      @Cel #15

      There’s a difference between the following two concepts:

      A) Women are always under-privileged compared to men, and men are never under-privileged compared to women.

      B) Women and men are both harmed by gender inequalities – on balance women tend to be harmed more, but not exclusively.

      It feels a little bit like you’re arguing against A) when what is being proposed is B).

      Natalie wrote:

      It [third-wave feminism] is not solely focused on the issues and needs of women and instead recognizes how all genders (women and men, trans, intersex and cis, binary-identified and genderqueer, etc.) are all harmed by the current socio-cultural dynamics of gender.

      You may very well disagree with B) as well… But that doesn’t feel like where your previous comment argument was aimed.

    • danielrudolph says

      There’s a problem with the analogy: the straw view of feminism isn’t based on its powerful members or major accomplishments, but mostly about a few fringe nuts. Criticisms of Republicans are mostly based around the actions and words of powerful politicians and pundits, the actions of the official Republican party (which has no feminist analogue) or philosophical issues with the core beliefs.

      • Cel says

        Danielrudolph, your refutation of the analogy is factually incorrect.

        It’s not the “fringe nuts” that are the main problem – it is, as you described yourself, the powerful members of feminism, the ones that have influence and accomplish things that are the problem. Contrary to your claims, it is the mainstream, organized bulk of feminism that is the problem.

        Some examples as proof of the assertion, by no means an exhaustive list:

        * A group of prominent feminists told the media that domestic violence spiked on Super Bowl Day, because men were more violent / aggressive. And people believed them, such that this “fact” is still widely touted today. Even though the claim is and was completely baseless: http://www.snopes.com/crime/statistics/superbowl.asp).

        * The woman who founded the first women’s domestic violence shelters in England received death threats from other feminists and had to flee the country. Why? Because she stated that in her experience, the victims coming to the shelters were usually just as violent as the supposed abusers they were fleeing from. These feminists didn’t want anyone, even someone who had done more to help women than most feminists themselves, speaking the truth if said truth painted women negatively. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erin_Pizzey)

        * When the recession hit, male-dominated industries got hit hard, causing men to lose millions of jobs. Then, when the government decided to give an economic stimulus to said industries, several powerful feminist groups—literally hundreds of feminist professionals—successfully fought against that. They argued that it was sexist to give money to men (who lost jobs) but not women (who didn’t). So the government caved, diverting money to female-dominated industries that didn’t get hit by the recession. (http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/016/659dkrod.asp?page=3)

        * Men felt it was unfair that alleged rape victims, unlike almost all other victims, were made anonymous in the media, while the names of alleged rapists were freely printed. So they lobbied to make it equal, arguing that the names of rape defendants should also be withheld. But feminists fought against this, causing it to fail. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-10760239

        As you can see, your criticism falls flat.

        Again – as a preemptive strike against “what about teh menz” etc. – it was essential to mention those issues and events in order to refute danielrudolph’s main comment. Yes, said issues happened to involve men, but I can hardly be blamed for that.


        I do agree with B for the most part. But, you seem to have made it an either/or scenario, but it is not. Have you not considered that I and other people could both

        1. Agree with B


        2. Feel that feminism causes more harm than good, and should be criticized as a whole?

        • says

          “2. Feel that feminism causes more harm than good, and should be criticized as a whole?”

          Citation needed.

          And again, to criticize feminism AS A WHOLE, you need to be willing to criticize the concept that women are deserving of equality. Are you willing to do that? To back it up with evidence and reasoned arguments?

          If not, then you’d get a lot more mileage out of your position by asking for specific changes within feminism and how feminism operates.

          Feminism typically contains the additional concept that status quo is currently lacking in how it treats women and other genders. But even this isn’t necessary. Feminism can be about maintaining the rights that women have earned.

          Also noting that feminism has successfully made some mistakes (and it’s certainly arguable that the issues you cited were indeed mistakes) and its mainstream doesn’t have a perfect track record does not itself refute the point that Straw Feminism is based almost entirely on minority wings, not on mainstream feminism, whereas Republicans have CONSIDERABLY more political power and that power is consolidated amongst some of its most wing-nutty members.

          • Cel says

            Natalie, the opinion “feminism causes more harm than good and should be criticized as a whole” is just that – an opinion. An opinion can’t be cited to “prove” it; if you could, it would be a fact and not an opinion.

            Now, if you meant evidence showing that feminism has caused harm, well, I’ve already provided three examples. Is that not enough for an informal comment thread?

            Further, I disagree with your position that criticizing feminism is equivalent to criticizing the idea that women deserve equal treatment.

            Suppose that feminism as a movement didn’t actually commit any acts or deeds – they simply embodied the concept that women deserve equality. Say, like people that subscribed to pacifism and all they did was go about their business believing in the idea and being pacifist.

            Would there still be criticism of feminism? Almost certainly, but said criticism would be easily refuted.

            Now suppose feminism as a movement goes around doing a lot of actions. And suppose many of these actions cause a lot of harm to a specific group of people. Then further suppose that feminism as a movement has never done anything to help said group.

            Let’s call this group “men.”

            Would there be criticism of feminism? Obviously. Except, in this case, the criticism is not so easily refuted. You have claimed that “criticizing feminism as a whole is equivalent to criticizing the concept of women deserving equality”, and appear to think that said statement is a sufficient refutation in itself.

            But I assert that you have failed to prove that claim.

            I further disagree with your claim that feminism can exist without the concept that women currently suffer from negative inequalities.

            If that was true – and women were treated equally, there were no issues of discrimination against women – then feminism would have no longer have a reason to exist.

            As for straw feminism being based on a radical fringe; have you considered the possibility that both

            1. Many people attack feminism on a straw basis, which is easily refuted

            2. Many people attack mainstream feminism on a justified basis, which is not easily refuted.

          • says

            Um… I just told you the reason it would have to still exist, even if status quo were largely equal towards women (which is demonstratably not the case anyway).

            You are welcome to your opinion, but if you want me to respect it and consider it worthy of consideration, you need to be able to back it up.

            You provided three random example of things that may be interpreted as flaws of feminism. So what? I provided examples of flaws within feminism myself.

            In order to state that feminism as a whole causes more harm than good you would need to make the claim that your examples outweigh the various positive contributions feminism has made to society. You’ve gotten nowhere near accomplishing that. And to blame feminism itself for the harm, you would further have to indicate that it’s the underlying principles of feminism that caused the harm, not the manner in which they were carried out, and prove there is no way at all for feminism to be anything other than a harmful force.

            I do not believe you have yet demonstrated your criticism to be either directed towards mainstream feminism (rather than straw feminism) nor have you demonstrated it to be justified.

          • Marshall says

            Now suppose feminism as a movement goes around doing a lot of actions. And suppose many of these actions cause a lot of harm to a specific group of people. Then further suppose that feminism as a movement has never done anything to help said group.

            Emphasis mine, group mentioned is men.

            See now, this makes me think you’re cherry picking your data, and it also seems to indicate that you think that feminists have some responsibility to ‘help men’. So how about we don’t suppose either of those last two things, seeing as how that’s a straw-man at best.

        • Daniel Schealler says

          @Cel #15.3.1

          Everything Natalie just said.

          But also:

          But, you seem to have made it an either/or scenario, but it is not.

          … Wut?

          I was trying to (as politely as I could manage) suggest that you seemed to be making a straw-man argument against position A) when in fact the position being championed in this context is B).

          I wasn’t trying to trap you in some kind of false dichotomy. I don’t understand why you would even have thought that in the first place.

          Anyway – if it turns out that you agree with B) but have some other kind of beef against feminism, then you need to be more specific.

          Yes. Gender inequality hurts men too. So please, continue to cite examples where men are hurt by gender inequality. It’s good. We need those examples. All are issues that deserve to be addressed.

          However: How is any of that an argument against feminism? I don’t see it.

          If you do have a beef with feminism that actually objects to something of which anyone here – Natalie in particular – is actually a proponent, then you’re yet to provide it.

          Be specific. Citation needed.

        • danielrudolph says

          I’d dispute a lot of your examples. The Super Bowl myth is your strongest example, but the link didn’t seem to have much evidence of it being pushed by major feminist organizations. It seems to have originated with an author I’ve otherwise never heard of and was spread by a representative of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (which isn’t really a feminist organization), who should have known better and some reporters who heard it from her and apparently don’t employ fact checkers. NOW didn’t put out a press release. It wasn’t on the cover of Ms and there was no position letter signed by a bunch of women’s study professors.

          As to what happened to Erin Pizzey: she got some anonymous death threats. This is sadly common for controversial people in the news. George Bush got some death threats as well. Does this mean Democrats in general support his assassination? Is there any evidence at all these were coming from any major feminusts or feminist organizations as opposed to those fringe nuts I was talking about?

          On the stimulus: The Weekly Standard story is vague and conspiratorial (big surprise). One major area where it lacks is any solid information of who pushed for the changes. For that matter, it seems to be pure speculation that this was due to outside lobbying at all.

          On rape shield laws: I won’t say the MRAs didn’t have a point. Trial publicity is often unfair to the accused and can make a “not guilty” verdict ring hollow as everyone still thinks you did it. There also seems to have been a fairly broad coalition built against the proposal. However, they also had a point as this would also be a double standard, just a different one. I don’t think this is a clear example of mainstream feminists doing something crazy. Debatable, sure, but very defensible.

          • sambarge says

            All great points, to which I would only add that rape shield laws are actually a left over of the sexist notion that a woman who was raped needed to be protected from the knowledge of the rape getting out. It’s not because a woman’s right to privacy is greater than the alleged attacker’s right but rather because a woman who is raped has cause to be ashamed of her victimization and is therefore shielded.

          • says

            And, even taken at face value, each of those items is rooted in much more dramatic inequities. To suggest that these are examples where feminism does more harm than good is to implicitly suggest that:

            A lie about domestic violence does more damage than actual domestic violence.

            That a serial victim-blamer is more worthy of sympathy than the victims themselves (who are also frequently driven from their homes, not by threats but by actual violence.)

            That giving stimulus dollars to industries where women dominate is worse than having gender-dominated industries in the first place.

            That defendant anonymity in rape cases is a bigger problem than the terrifying rate of rape in our society.

            It takes an astounding amount of privilege to flog complaints like these, while ignoring their much nastier backdrops.

  14. sambarge says

    I have to point out quickly, in defense of actual second wave feminists, we weren’t all anti-sex. If we were, where did all the 3rd wave feminists come from?

    But in all seriousness, I don’t ever recall a feminist ally of mine being anti-sex. We were pro-birth control, pro-bodily control and pro-equality. We wanted to have sex with whomever we chose to have sex with and not have to ‘pay the price’ that our mothers might have had to pay.

    Pornography and prostitution were (and still can be) extremely exploitative of women. But many 2nd wave feminists supported the legalizaiton of prostitution, if for no other reason than to introduce regulation and control (no more drug-addicted 14 yr old prostitutes).

    The media loved the anti-sex crowd because they love a good, old-fashioned straw man to beat as the next person. They did a good job and now even feminists don’t like to call themselves feminists.

    • danielrudolph says

      It’s also worth mentioning that first-wave feminism had their share of meddling prudes. (e.g. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union)

      • sambarge says

        Yes, certainly by our standards, all the 1st wave feminists were sexually prudish.

        Actually, I remember the disillusionment of the first wave feminists among my co-hort when we discovered that they were, largely, supporters of eugenics. This wasn’t an unpopular idea at the time and was supported by many progressives, so it’s understandable that many 1st wave feminists supported it as well.

        I suppose each generation feels the need to reject the generation that came before. It’s how we grow.

        • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden Molly Ivins says

          quote: ‘Yes, certainly by our standards, all the 1st wave feminists were sexually prudish.’

          Actually…no. There was quite a lot of 19th century “free love” going on where people were establishing entire towns where nudity (or “naturalism”) was the norm and monogamy was all but outlawed as an institution oppressive to women. Instead, women were encouraged to own their own bodies and choose sexual partners freely.

          Sure, these were a minority of people, but you can’t say that all 1st wavers were sexually prudish by our standards when a good number were running around naked all summer having outdoor, semi-public sex with each other and with other progressives of the time…while spending the winter romping under blankets with a healthy variety of partners. Fisting was openly talked about as a cure for “hysteria” by causing “uterine contractions” (read: orgasms) at regular intervals, thus discharging potentially harmful energy that was thought to cause problems if allowed to build up. Vibrators and devices giving electric shocks to the erogenous zones were advertised in all kinds of publications.

          On the whole the 19th century was more prudish than the 2nd half of the 20th century. But your statement above goes way too far. You really should look into the wild sexual history of US progressives. It’s entertaining & educational at the same time.

  15. mynx says

    I don’t think it was the point of this article but it only convinced me that feminism is useless as a label and a movement. Feminism hardly has a monopoly on equality so you must define it as something else. If feminist viewpoints are as different as you say, they share nothing in common other than a poorly defined title.

    • says

      …and being a coherent, largely cooperative movement and field of inquiry.

      Not all movements need to focus on equality as a whole. It is entirely reasonable to have individual movements with individual priorities. Racially based social justice movements, gay and lesbian rights, trans rights, collective LGBTQ rights, feminism, gender egalitarianism, humanism, activism for religious freedom and separation of church and state, immigration rights, disability rights, etc. This “feminism ought to be disbanded because if it focuses on particular issues it isn’t really about equality” idea doesn’t really have much substance to it.

      • Nepenthe says

        Ah, but Natalie, anti-racist groups, LBGT groups and the like focus on equality and rights for people. Feminists are preoccupied on equality and rights for women. They should be focusing on real people instead!

        (There’s really nothing more annoying to me than the insistence that feminists either disband or take on every form of oppression before those specific to women. Because if we haven’t solved homophobia, racism, classism and ageism first, focusing on sexism would be wrong. This idea has nothing to do, of course, with the belief that women should nurture and look after everyone but themselves and that a woman taking care of herself or looking after her own needs is particularly selfish.)

  16. says

    This was a wonderful read. I’ve tried to explain to some guys before that even though I identify as a feminist, that I wasn’t anti-porn or anti-sex worker, but I didn’t really feel that I explained it well. This is a good resource that I will be referring to/on next time I need explain my position.

  17. gemmaseymour says

    Words *are* important.

    I know how you feel about this, and you know how I feel about this, but I just have to reiterate that point.

    The words we choose frame the debate, and I am uncomfortable with a word that, divorced from its context, means a particular thing which is at odds with its meaning within that context. I think it best to acknowledge the legacy, reframe the debate, and move on.

    Wherever we stand in relation to each other, Natalie, I want to state explicitly, and for you to know, that I deeply respect your intelligence, your knowledge, your experience, your wisdom, and your point of view, even when I disagree with you.

    On that note, I will point to one semantic difference; what you call a “leap of faith”, I call a “postulate”. A slight, but to my mind significant, difference.

    You know my history enough to know that I didn’t spend my more formative years asserting myself, and this has had a substantial impact on the way that I react when I hear the word “feminism”. Another problem that I have experienced is the hostile reaction I have often seen when someone suggests that perhaps it might make some of us a bit more comfortable if we found a different word.

    The fact is, there is nothing you wrote above about what feminism “really” is with which I disagree, save the use of the F-word itself. I would go beyond that, however, and say that what the word “feminism” means to a lot of people is a belief system that not only operates as you describe, but also concerns itself with a sort of reparational mechanic intended to compensate women in some fashion, and whether or not this is necessarily even an appropriate description, or more importantly, an appropriate response to oppositional sexism is absolutely a matter of debate, whether you wish it or no.

    Having been on the losing side of some of these battles, I know from personal experience of what I speak, and I find it disingenuous for feminists to pass these problems off as being “really” a product of Patriarchy, when what they actually represent is real, hard-won victories won by feminists in the laws and in the courts that have swung the pendulum to the other extreme. For me, these things are no longer about theory, or about a story I heard about some poor schmuck, but about the real suffering it causes in people’s lives, in *my* life, to *me*, and to other women I know, in a misguided attempt to somehow make up for past, present, and future wrongs.

    This is not to say that I disagree entirely with the concept of prevention of harm in the first place, but it is a fine line we walk when we contemplate such things. It is not, however, a line which we can just refuse to walk. It must be done, but it must be done graciously, and with full consideration for everyone’s humanity.

    XOXO, Gemma

  18. says

    I’m doing a poor job of going “loooool” to some of the comments above. Particularly, my eyes start rolling dangerously when people start talking about pendulums. Not even touching the whole “women are more privileged than men” thing.

    It’s nice to see some of the history (herstory? :P) of feminism laid out. I knew a bit about the different waves, and some of their issues, but this is concise and easy. I’ll probably point some people here when they ask me about feminism.

    Also, I can’t help but note that a lot of the complaints about the term “feminism” could be applied equally to “atheism” or “skepticism”, since they both put people on the defensive, and both have multiple meanings, associations, etc. I hardly see how people can complain about one and not the others.

    • says

      Yes! Totally! If people are saying “well if there’s so many internal debates and differences within feminism, why have the term at all?” they might as well be talking about throwing out the terms atheism and skepticism, which are equally big, diverse tents with only singular basic values holding them together.

  19. rascalfemininista says

    In general I realy like this blog but I just wanted to make a couple of (long) comments about the waves issue and associated issues.

    I think it has become part of the criticism of feminist movement to cite how bad it was in the old days – how white, how middle class in the second wave. This does a really good job of further obscuring the pivotal role of Black feminists in particular and making working class feminists invisible. Second wave feminism didn’t exist in isolation and most social movement gets dominated by people already in positions of power. Feminism was no exception but also not exceptionally poor at inclusion – if anything the reverse. I think second wave feminism should be judged within it’s own time and also by the wider record not just by what ‘star’ or ‘leader’ feminists said or did.

    second wave feminism didn’t have leaders – and many of the more left and anarchist influenced radical wings of feminism were deeply critical of hierarchy or named leadership – much of this grassroots feminism has been, or is being carelessly erased.

    on intersectionality: I spend a lot of time at the moment explaining to folk that 1980s radical 2nd wave feminism in Britian was deeply about intersectionality especially race/ racism and also class. Dyke feminists were very influential in many radical spaces and took forward critiques of family, essentialism, monogamy, sex, desire etc. Most feminist events were grassroots collective huddles of rowdy and argumentative non-conformists and spoke with multiple voices about multiple-oppression.

    I find third wave feminism weak and kiss-uppy by comparison – it may be much better on trans* issues but I think this has more to do with the development of complex trans* activism than second wave feminism per se. I find third wave spaces to often be elitist and more middle class than ever. Also I find them full of white girls talking bad about second wave failures to tackle racism whilst continuing to keep hoards of space and power for themselves.

    I think Natalie is right to talk about criticising feminist issues/ acts not feminism itself and I think this need to be applied to the ‘waves’ – many other social movements of the time had branches drawn to [strategic] essentialism and had powerful but ultimately excluding seperatist ideologies i.e. various nationalist movements, Black seperatism, Queer Nation etc. Some ideas are worth saving and some should be binned but setting up a 3rd wave 2nd wave dichotomy is not hirstorically accurate even in the Brit/Euro/US context.

    in sisterhood
    Anywave Willdo

    • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden Molly Ivins says

      There were many people in the era before the term 3rd wave was coined that practiced feminism in ways that prioritized (to one degree or another) fighting racism and/or classism and/or queer/lesbian oppression.

      This does not mean that 2nd wave was **intersectional** in the way that this term is used today. Intersectional theory and Confluence theory (which was created to address weaknesses in Intersectional theory) has very specific meaning. Mary Daly would have considered herself strongly anti-racist, but she did not operate intersectionally. Merely stating opposition to racism or classism is not enough to make one “intersectional” in the way that this word is used in feminist theory. In 2nd wave there was a huge desire to end many oppressions – but there was also a great deal of theorizing that sexism was the “root” oppression (or that racism was, or that classism was…). This prioritizing of oppression, ranking which oppression came first (historically or in priority of opposition), debating which caused which others, or asserting which is most deserving of feminist-hours of work, were all deep and serious discussions of the 2nd wave and are all inherently incompatible with Confluence or Intersectionality as those terms are used in actual feminist theory.

      On the other hand, Audre Lorde and quite a number of others did practice intersectional feminism – but she was also a 3rd wave feminist. She merely operated in a time before the coining of the term 3rd wave. Nearly all of the 3rd-wavers-before-3rd-wave-was-coined were women of color.

      If one defines 2nd wave and 3rd wave merely by time period, then Mary Daly became 3rd wave in 1990 because the clock had advanced.

      I don’t think that view makes much sense. Those of us who try to understand the waves more deeply understand that there are feminisms that rely on entirely different philosophies of ethics. If your ethics come from Locke & Rousseau, you are first wave. From deBeauvoir and the other Existentialists? Second wave. From Situationalism, Derrida, & Post-structuralism? Third wave. These all represent entirely different ways of thinking about **why** things are good/bad, right/wrong. They may have significant overlap in what they consider good/bad, right/wrong, but how they arrive at those answers is very different.

      Intersectionality is a 3rd wave way of thinking. It is situational, contextual, and post-structural. While it is possible for some group to derive part of their ethical concepts from Existentialism & part from Situationalism, it makes no sense to say that 2nd wave included intersectionality.

      Please don’t misunderstand me to be saying that 2nd wavers didn’t care about racism or some other such. I don’t assert that at all. But feminists caring about racism is not the same thing as intersectional feminism: otherwise you could say that first wave abolitionists were intersectionalists and the term intersectionality would be stretched to the point of being unrecognizable.

      • Besomyka says

        Do you happen to have any ‘further reading’ suggestions for me/us that would provide an introduction to feminist theory or add more context and depth to the discussion? I need some homework.

        • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden Molly Ivins says

          I’d be happy to get back to you with more reading suggestions in a bit when I have some time. Unfortunately, it would have to wait a few days, at which point this thread will be stale. Maybe I can convince Natalie to publish such a list and to have a larger discussion of this later. I could even do a guest post. I teach college courses on how the waves of feminism derive from and express certain ethical systems. The truth is that understanding what I’m saying in detail requires many readings and often analysis to put them in context. A college course is a perfect place to do that…a blog post & especially a blog comment really isn’t.

          But let me try to give you some basic concepts that you can use to make sense of these things.

          The first wave has a huge focus on women’s inability to earn money for themselves, their vulnerability to abuse – physical, sexual & otherwise – and poverty, and their suffering under slavery. However, and this point is key, to have a social justice movement, you must first have a system of justice to which one appeals. If the people around you don’t share your ideas of what makes an event or action “just” or “unjust” then you won’t be able to walk them through your evidence: they won’t even agree on what evidence is relevant.

          So when you create a justice movement, you have to rely on the ethical system of the majority of the people around you. In the 18th and 19th centuries, there was an ongoing revolution in the process of overturning theistic Deontological ethics. The main replacement was Contractarian ethics.

          This sounds complicated, but what it comes down to is this: deontological ethics are systems of ethics or groupings of ethical rules that are simply handed down as unquestioned laws. There’s no reasoning behind them. They don’t claim to be supported by evidence or reason or logic. They are just rules, dammit. Being theistic means that the rule systems were sourced back to a god/s.

          The 613 commandments of the Torah, including the famous first Ten and the other 603, are examples of deontological ethics. In these early ethical systems, if you were poor, it was because some god/s wanted it so. If you were abused, some god/s wanted it so. If you were filthy rich, some god/s wanted it so. That’s it. There are no claims to social justice, there is no way you can convince people society should change because the only way to determine whether or not something is just is to simple assume that because it is, it is how it should be. At best, one could try to convince someone that something was caused by the wrong god and that an appeal to a better god would benefit the people.

          The big challenge to this was Contractarian ethics. Contractarianism holds that the only just power of government comes from the consent of the governed. Thus, there must be a contract between the people and the government where the people agree to give up some of their inherent free will to a group that will act with authority in order to provide benefits to all.

          At first, this was just seen as something practical – a principle to avoid civil war. It was more a truism than anything else: if you ignore your peasants, tax them into starvation, or otherwise mistreat them, eventually they will rise up and send you to the guillotine. So you have to have some basic level of consent from the populace, but for the earliest notable contractarian, Hobbes, this consent is implied: if they aren’t rioting, they are obviously consenting.

          But this idea became more and more refined. The idea that free will was vested by a god in each individual meant that a government that limited free will unnecessarily was acting against god. This was a radical shift, because before a person was in charge only because god/s wanted it that way…and so anything done by that VIP is inherently good and what god/s would want.

          So this idea of “consent of the governed” went from implied to explicit: you had to get the people to approve a government before it could operate and there must be an explicit contract the people could examine and to which the government could be held accountable.

          In the US, this was first the Articles of Confederation (which failed) and then its replacement, the Constitution. Consent was to be gained explicitly first through referenda on the Constitution itself, then every few years on the constitutional government. Lack of amendment to the constitution meant implied endorsement of the idea that the original approval of the constitution still stood. If the people wanted a change and the government wouldn’t do it, they could vote out the government and vote in people who would amend the Constitution (or the laws or whatever) until the people had, once again, a government to which they could happily consent.

          This was radical when first proposed…so radical it caused a war with the British King George whose person and government didn’t take so kindly to this idea that it was possible for the king to do anything that wasn’t exactly what the one true god wanted.

          Over time, however, this constitution idea worked pretty well and people started to accept it. Women who wanted a more just world for themselves noted that THEY never consented to this constitution-thing. If a government couldn’t rule justly without getting consent, then women had to have the vote and the chance to approve – or disapprove – of the government and the constitution.

          Since people already accepted the idea that contractarian ethics were valid, the First Wave just had to convince people that contractarianism applies to women as well. The solutions that they had were also all contractarian in nature: No property rights? Get women the vote & vote in legislators who will pass amendments to property laws. Getting abused by a spouse? The thinking of the time was that men wouldn’t really do that to women they loved, so it must be the drink…so amend the constitution to outlaw alcohol.

          There was no First Wave solution to racism, because they had no ethical system that allowed for a struggle against racism itself. The ethical system available provided that once Black folk could be voting citizens of the US, then they would have to accept whatever resulted from the vote.

          Contractarianism guarantees you a vote: it doesn’t guarantee you an outcome. So abolitionism, property reform, a constitutional temperence amendment, and the 19th amendment granting women the franchise – these were the solutions of the “First Wave”.

          Now in the mid-19th century came along Marxism & Materialism. The ethical systems of Hegel & Marx had to do with who owned the means of production and how people made money. To the extent that there were anti-poverty & anti-classism movements among what we call the first wave, it was in a semi-separate movement of Marxist & Materialist Feminisms (MMFs).

          Finally, there was also during the late 19th (post-Galton) to mid 20th century a Eugenics movement. Because the version of Contractarianism that ruled the day back then allowed for the idea that certain people weren’t good enough/smart enough/ whatever enough to be trusted with the vote, women had to argue that they weren’t (as a group) to be classified as ineligible for the franchise. But at the same time, Eugenicists argued that many people *did* still fit into this classification.

          From the 1870s onward – with abolition and some property reforms accomplished, and with the introduction of Galton and Marx to the public sphere of ethical thinking – the First Wave becomes a complex mix of Contractarianism, Eugenics, & MMF.

          Now, post WW2, when people saw the horrors of the atomic bomb and the Holocaust, they wanted to say, “Never again.” The problem is that they didn’t have an ethical system of reasoning that could preclude this. In contractarianism, if the people vote for a Holocaust, you get a Holocaust. If they vote to go to war, you go to war. Worse: only the elected representatives need vote for these things, and they gain power & wealth & importance during times of crisis, so they don’t have much incentive to avoid such decisions.

          But just then, a new ethical system made the rounds: Existentialism. In Existentialism, each person had infinite worth. If each person really does have infinite worth, and if we can convince our society to operate on Existentialist values, then we can truly develop a society that can say, “Never Again!” and mean it.

          So…Ex spreads like wildfire. At the same time, there is already a book by one of the corps philosophers that developed Ex itself that has applied Ex values & ethical decision making to sexual inequality. This is de Beauvoir. Her book, “The Second Sex,” becomes a template for “The Feminine Mystique.” By the time that Ex becomes widespread, it becomes possible to ask: if women and men have equal, infinite value, then something is wrong with our society. We are, after all, not operating as if women have equal, infinite value to men.

          Ex concerns itself with “ultimates” – ultimate answers, ultimate essences, etc. So it looks around at the Civil Rights Movement & sees that obviously there is more than one oppression. But Ex cannot be satisfied with that. In Ex ethics, it is vital to know what is the ULTIMATE oppression. And so for the first time we get people saying things like, If we end sexism, racism will fall away because sexism is the ultimate oppression & racism is just there to divide us to make sure we don’t join together to end sexism. Once sexism is gone, there’s no reason for racism to exist.

          Before existentialism, there was no reason to assume that fixing sexism would automatically fix racism or classism or heterosexism or whatever.

          This Existential feminism is 2nd wave. But from the moment that it comes into being, there are women – almost all women of color – who previously worked on both Civil Rights work and on what was previously called “the woman question” or “the woman problem”. They found that there was already a body of work that said that meaning depended on context and the search for “ultimates” was flawed. Since people like Mitsuye Yamada, Rosa Parks, Maxine Hong Kingston, Barbara Smith, Beverly Smith, & Audre Lorde could clearly see how a feminism that saw sexism as the “ultimate” problem provided an easy rationale to do no work on anti-racism (after all, that problem would take care of itself) they began a critique of 2nd wave that went right to the heart of its existentialist roots.

          They were staking out a position that was anti-existentialist in many important details. While they accepted certain Ex ideas, like that humans are of infinite worth, they rejected the idea of “one true oppression” and many other existentialist ideas.

          Later feminists would make explicit this rejection of certain aspects of existentialism by calling on Post-Structuralism and situational ethics (whether or not something is ethical depends on the situation in which the behavior is enacted or choice is made).

          When comparing Ex ethics to the First Wave, there was no greater or lesser inclination to label activities or objects as masculine or feminine. There was no greater or lesser inclination to insist that biology leads to gender. However, now there was a much greater tendency to insist that one had found the ultimate nature of this or that. This search for existential, Platonic natures led certain conflicts to seem to have more importance than they did under other ethical systems. There were certainly fights over what was “feminine” or “ladylike” etc. under First Wave. But since the real fight was over whether or not women were part of the group of people who got to consent to government (or, alternatively, whether government of women by men was illegitimate and unethical if it did NOT have such consent), exactly which behaviors were “feminine” or “woman identified” vs. which were “masculine” or “man identified” were sideshows: there is nothing in a Contractarian philosophy that compels one to know anything about the essential nature of a human being other than that human beings have free will (if they don’t, then contractarianism is undermined).

          So now we have Contractarianism, which compels the government to allow women to participate in the political process if we believe that just government derives from consent of the governed.

          It’s not dead, but women have access to the political process. The question now is what to do with it. According to Contractarianism, no matter what happens is “just” as long as the people consent. But we have more feminisms now to create new agendas.

          MMF: communism never had much of a foothold in the US. Socialism did. It’s influence on US politics is negligible at this point, but in local elections in certain places it can have an effect, and certain ideas from MMF which focus on work, taxation, wages, the social safety net, and the distribution of wealth have seeped into the political mainstream. Family leave is an idea from MMF that made it through congress.

          Eugenic feminism: Galton, at this point, is thoroughly repudiated, not least because it has been demonstrated scientifically that the complex interplay of genetics makes it impossible to say that the child of someone with low intelligence (or some other quality deemed undesirable) will also have low intelligence. Moreover, socialization, nutrition, and other environmental factors play a much larger role than Galton thought. Thus eugenics is mostly on the outs. One place where it still plays a large role: in certain abortion debates where fetuses that are known to be on a developmental path to become babies with disabilities are considered desirable to abort. This is used as an argument to preserve abortion rights.

          2nd Wave: Ex feminisms are still strong across Canada, the US, the UK, Australia & N.Z. Many feminist institutions were founded on Ex ethical theories and the strong imperative provide by “absolute” thinking makes the loyalists of these organizations quick to provide such institutions a strong defense and a stable funding base. Although they are bad at dealing with complex issues, they are good at mobilizing support on issues that are seen as “fundamental” (one might be tempted to say: “existentially important”).

          3rd Wave: While a person can use Ex ethics to come up with pro-sex positions or anti-racist positions and young people can do work based on Ex just as old hands like Barbara Smith can do work based on Situationalism, third wave has a strong hold in academic spheres.

          Intersectionality is an essential 3rd wave idea. It is not merely the idea that one can be a woman and white at the same time. No, it asserts that knowing how sexism works is dependent on knowing other situationally-relevant details, like what race is a particular person? What socio-economic class? What sexual orientation? In 2nd wave theory, sexism is a fundamental force and it operates universally on women – or at least universally on all women living under Patriarchy. In 3rd wave, Intersectionality is a theory of moments: in this given moment, as we pass through this particular intersection, understanding gender requires understanding sexual orientation because in this moment these two forces/identities come together.

          In Confluence theory, tributaries of identity flow together. From a spring, some racial identity flows into a person while from another creek some socio-economic background is added. A person is the some of all these different tributaries and the flow of race is impacted, mixed with, the flow of dis/ability. In this sense, Confluence theory is like Intersectionality, but Intersectionality deals with moments, snapshots frozen in time. Confluence deals with entire lives, with people and societies as they flow through time.

          The weakness of 3rd wave is that if everything is situational, if everything is dependent on context, it is difficult to craft a policy recommendation or a law.

          Thus 2nd wave is still strongest in public policy & 3rd wave is strongest in universities where the entire point of education is to explore meanings.

          This is not to say that 3rd wave has no effect on activism. There are 3rd wave groups, etc. None of them have the size or stature of the 2nd wave groups, though, because 3rd wave is most useful for building relationships & exploring dynamics. This makes it great as a tool for ultimately forming policy recommendations in truly complex areas that 2nd wave policies oversimplify. But it is also time consuming to convince others that this complex recommendation is the correct one. So the best work of 3rd wave orgs is done on the local level where there is more time for people with political power to sit down with folks and explore ideas…and ultimately to understand them. In the world of national politics in a media age, it is difficult to get the time to really bring a national representative around.

          Of course, parliamentary systems are more amenable to 3rd wave action because of how elections occur, and likewise when there is public financing of elections. Thus the US is going to be a particularly tough place to develop strong, national 3rd wave institutions with political impact.

          But it can be done and many are working towards that.

          This is long as hell, but I hope it gives a better picture of why there are separate waves & why they have different foci & why they were criticized differently (from within – the external criticisms have been remarkably consistent, almost as if the sexists weren’t listening to us!).

          If Natalie & others are interested, I could put together better info on the waves and selected readings on the different ethical philosophies, the scientific structuralism against with post-structuralism was organized, and different feminist readings where you can see how not merely the issue or the conclusions of different waves are different, but the very systems by which they determine which issues are important and which solutions are valid.

          I don’t teach a single class that develops wave theory, so I would be drawing from multiple curricula. Also, since y’all wouldn’t have taken prerequisites, I would have to add in certain other readings. But I could develop something like this if there was enough demand.

          in the meantime, I hope this was useful.

          Natalie, I know that this is not exactly a direct challenge to many things you say about the waves, but there is some implicit disagreement about what constitutes a wave & why, etc. If you have anything you want to add or correct, I’d welcome it. My goal isn’t to make this my blog, y’know 😉

          right then, wishing everyone well…

      • rascalfemininista says

        point a, don’t try and teach your granny to suck eggs if you want a reasonable conversation.

        point b, grassroots feminism [which is in my certainly not humble oppinion is the majority of feminism] is not so very interested in high theory – but more in praxis.

        point c, don’t try and appropriate Audre Lorde into ANYTHING

        • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden Molly Ivins says

          Point a) Huh?

          Have I insulted anyone? How? Have I advocated teaching anyone to suck eggs? When? Can you give me a quote? (not a quote in which I say “eggs” I know you mean it as a metaphor, but I have no idea what in what I’ve said is specifically what you believe is ‘teaching someone to suck eggs’)

          Point b) you can prioritize grassroots feminism if you like. I haven’t said anything for or against any one of the waves or approaches in an advocacy sense. I’ve simply spelled out that no one uses “waves” to mean merely that a new decade started. Otherwise, as I said, Mary Daly would be 3rd wave since she did feminism after 1990. The waves are names for different ways of doing feminism. Not for different goals – the goals of first wave, second wave, and third wave have been remarkably consistent. Instead, they use entirely different reasoning to reach the conclusion that X is a social wrong or Y is a good fix for X. 2nd wave and 3rd wave have often agreed on wrongs and even on fixes. But it is not at all insignificant that they use entirely different thought processes to get there.

          As for grassroots not caring about theory – that’s ridiculous. Theory is the reasoning we use to decide on what’s wrong and how to fix it. Institutional feminism does less theorizing on the whole than grassroots feminism because something can’t become institutionalized until there is agreement on what wrong it is addressing and that that particular institution is a good way to combat it.

          Now theorizing takes place in schools, colleges, universities, but actually less than you would think. The people that invent new theory are almost all doing activist work in concrete contexts, often local. In classrooms, it is often teaching theory that already exists rather than inventing new theory that happens.

          Why are you dissing theory?

          And, finally, as a separate point, I didn’t bring up whether 80s radical feminism was “intersectional”. You did. It was arguably multi-issue. It was certainly anti-racist. Why do you need to take a word that means, “Grounded in the argument that all understanding is contextual and applying that argument to situations in which the effects of one oppression is modified by the effects of another and vice-versa,” and turn that into something with another meaning altogether?

          If you’re familiar with British, 80s radical feminism, then you are familiar with Wages for Housework, and possibly even with Dalla Costa. WfH had opinions about lots of different laws, lots of different activist initiatives, and lots of other things besides. WfH was explicitly anti-racist, anti-classist, and anti-sexist. But WfH was anything but intersectional. The results of WfH derived from applying a static theory (or “ideas” if you believe that theory isn’t something that people talk about when they get together in living rooms and parks) and way of understanding or arguing to different statements & issues. But there was no effort to modify the originating ideas based on different contexts.

          Applying one theory to the whole world is not intersectional at all.

          It seems likely from your original comment that you believe yourself to be defending 2nd wave from an accusation that it wasn’t good enough or wasn’t anti-racist enough and that being “intersectional” is the name for good, anti-racist feminism these days. You seem to think that by saying 2nd wave isn’t intersectional I’m judging it retroactively (and harshly).

          That is wrong. I’ve never said that 2nd wave feminism was bad & I defy you to try to find that in what I’ve written.

          I specifically said that to have a social justice movement you have to have a system of ethics useful for determining what is and isn’t just. 2nd wave feminism is feminism that took advantage of existentialism. 3rd wave feminism takes advantage of situational ethics and post-structuralist thinking. They are different. I never said was one better or one was worse. I gave specific reasons for why 2nd wave still predominates in institutions and those reasons were not: the powerful are keeping the powerless down! 2nd wave has seriously advantages in specific contexts. It has weaknesses in other contexts. 3rd wave is no different.

          Finally, it seems like you think that I am not and never have been a 2nd wave feminist. If so, where do you get that? I’ve provided history. I’ve said that Natalie’s use of dogma is wrong, or at least depends on a definition of dogma that doesn’t jibe with either my understanding or the dictionary definitions. I’ve said that your use of “intersectional” is wrong. And if by that you mean that 80s radical feminism was doing thinking in a manner that we today call intersectional, you’re wrong. To be right, your use of “intersectional” would have to have a different meaning than it currently does.

          Now it’s entirely possible among people you know that there’s a colloquial use of intersectional that means “anti-racist” or “willing to reject one’s own privilege” or some other desirable quality that you want to attribute to 80s radical feminism. If so, we’re talking about fundamentally different ideas and using the same word. That would be confusing. But it wouldn’t mean that my argument is wrong. It would mean that my argument is dependent on you knowing what intersectional means to the people that write about it and you using intersectional to mean the same thing.

          You could have said – “Whoops. This seems a misunderstanding. I merely meant 80s feminism wasn’t racist because it actually cared about ending racism and engaged in action toward that end.”

          Instead you’ve chosen to say that I’m teaching people to suck eggs and that grassroots is awesome and theory isn’t worthwhile when it counts.

          Which last, may I say, is bizarre. Every “intro to feminism” class by teachers I know stresses that “theory” is merely an attempt to understand or explain something that it can exist as part of a framework leading to a specific recommendation of remedy or without recommending any action, but that these attempts to understand and explain a rife in every sphere of feminism and that any conversation between 2 or more feminists might be theorizing (it might also be planning dinner, but the point is that the informal nature of a conversation or writing doesn’t render it non-theory).

          Are you not aware that this is the commonly used understanding of theory in feminism?

          And, last point, why is disagreeing with you about the meaning of a word a cause for you to say that grassroots feminism is real feminism and theory isn’t useful (or very useful) and that I’m somehow criticizing you as a person or 2nd wave feminism as a movement? Do you realize how far disagreeing over the use of a word is from what the tone of your note seems to imply?

          Point c – What? I can’t use Audre Lorde in any argument? Seriously? Argument is public thinking. So now I can’t use some of the best thinking feminism has produced? I can’t point out that when Lorde wrote her “Open Letter to Mary Daly” her entire way of arriving at what is wright and wrong was so different from Daly’s that Daly literally didn’t understand what Lorde was trying to say? I can’t point out that the reasoning of Lorde is the reasoning that was later named 3rd wave?

          When you have a new art movement, it takes time for people to realize that this is a movement before it gets a name. Then the pioneers, the most important people in the movement, get IDed as part of the movement after the fact. This doesn’t mean that because Lorde might not have IDed as 3rd wave that pointing out her thought process is 3rd wave is wrong. It means the opposite: 3rd wave is a label we put on certain types of thinking. Lorde not only did that type of thinking, she was one of the pioneers of applying that thinking to feminist contexts.

          Putting Lorde’s work and thinking off-limits is a funny thing to do for someone who considers feminism important, which you plainly do. Even worse, you talk about how intersectionality and some other nebulous forces/arguments conceal Black accomplishment, but you disapprove of me saying that Lorde’s work was intersectional before “intersectionality” was coined?

          You’re giving credit for intersectionality to some nebulous 2nd wave which, being nebulous and raceless, will inevitably lead to many giving white women a larger role in developing intersectionality than they in fact played. White feminists did a hell of a lot. Why do they have to be the originators of intersectionality as well?

          You could even have said an over-focus on Lorde’s early intersectionality (though she was hardly the only woman I mentioned) deprives Kimberle Crenshaw of appropriate credit for actually making the process explicit and giving it a name. Then you could have argued that I’m not giving other black feminists credit because the credit that should be theirs devolves to Lorde and makes it seem like there’s only one Black feminist of note. I could have said, fair enough, let’s mention Crenshaw by name.

          But no, you don’t want Lorde dragged into this at all even though the iconic example of 2nd wave/3rd wave misunderstanding is the famous Open Letter to Mary Daly and Daly’s attempt to deny the need to respond to the substance of the Letter while implying that Lorde was siding with Patriarchy and racism (both!) by creating divisions within feminism.

          Yeah, look. I’m all for celebrating each wave’s successes but it’s not anti-first wave to point out that they focussed on democratic, governmental systems of change in the context of contractarianism. Nor is it anti-second wave to say that it operated from a default position of existentialism and that intersectionality is not an existentialist position or idea. Nor would it be anti-third wave to say that it operates from a default position of situational ethics.

          It would be lovely if you could get on board with talking about our leaders and their ideas, valuing them, learning what we can from them, and then carrying the knowledge gained from carefully considering them forward into new thinking and action. If you can’t get behind that & insist that Lorde is some hallowed figure that cannot be used in feminist discussion, I’m sorry: I think it will make your thinking less rich, so I’m not going to agree to follow you there.

  20. says

    As a pretty strong second-waver (socialist/liberal variety), I personally HATE it that cultural “feminism” ever happened. Early in the 2nd wave I was a hero for being a girl and studying physics and maths… and then I became a gender traitor. “Male identified.” Buh, whaa? You took those oppressive patriarchal gender stereotypes that I was fighting, and claimed them as defining parts of womanhood? Fuck you, ladies and wombyn.

  21. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden Molly Ivins says

    I generally like what you write, Natalie, but I find quite a bit wrong with this post.

    The writing above presents a very superficial and erroneous view of the so-called “waves” of feminism. Also, it badly misunderstands dogma. Given these things, even though there is lots of great info in here, it is simply not very good on the points that appear to be fundamental to and/or foci of this post.

    Let’s start with dogma: you say you don’t wanna go to the no-true-scotsman place, but ultimately you do. What is the reason that there is no feminist dogma?

    quoting you between the bars:
    “There is no such thing as feminist dogma.

    Why? Because feminism is not a unified, monolithic ideology. Feminism is primarily a field of inquiry, interrogating the socio-cultural dynamics of gender, and a movement, towards political, legal, social and cultural equality of the sexes. In so far as it can occasionally be described as an ideology, it has one and only one unifying tenet: that women are no less valid and deserving than men. That’s all.”

    “the reality is that finding any two feminists who agree on everything is virtually impossible. Sort of like trying to find two skeptics who agree on everything.”


    So, if I were to really believe this, there would be no such thing as Christian dogma, because

    ” finding any two Christians who agree on everything is virtually impossible.”

    Really? You really wanna say that? If so, then your idea of dogma is not at all what most people think of as dogma. Here’s everything that mirriam-webster has to say about dogma other than definition 2, which is explicitly and only about religion:

    1; a : something held as an established opinion; especially : a definite authoritative tenet

    b : a code of such tenets

    c : a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds

    Do you really think that we have no authorities in feminism? Or that no opinions are considered authoritative? Do you think that no one ever puts forth a “point of view or tenet without adequate grounds”?

    No one ever had proof that trans women were socialized “as men”. They simply assumed that trans women and cis men have the same socialization experience. Obviously this was put forward without adequate grounds. Likewise it has been considered authoritative by many and over decades.

    There are many Christianities, and thus there are many Christian dogmas – not none!

    Likewise, there are many feminisms and thus many feminist dogmas – not none.

    I am forced here let someone deliberately misconstrue me to say: what I am not saying is what I am not saying.

    In other words, if you try to say that because I believe – and have provided evidence – that feminist dogma exists that I am agreeing with jerks who pretend to apply skepticism to feminism when they are really just being jerks who promote sexism. Read what I said & don’t attribute to me more than what I’ve written. Here I am merely asserting that it is ridiculous and mangles the word “dogma” to say that there is no feminist dogma and/or that for a movement to have any dogma at all, that one must be able to find people within that movement

    ” …who agree on everything”.

    Second major focus of your essay: the waves. Second wave was not less white-based or more essentialist than first wave. The percentage of white feminists who were also doing work as abolitionists (yes, in Canada as well – the abolitionist movement throve in Canada) between Seneca Falls and the Emancipation Proclamation (or even SF and the passing of the 13th Amendment) was likely to be significantly greater than the percentage of white feminists actively supporting states’ civil rights bills, the US’s federal Voting Rights Act, or the US federal housing rights act of 1968 from the publication of the Feminine Mystique to 1970.

    Nor, as was pointed out above, are there fewer enclaves of white-dominated feminism today than 10 years ago in Canada or the States.

    There are reasons that 2nd wave activism/philosophy catches heck for its essentialism, and its not because it was more essentialist than 1st wave activism/philosophy.

    Finally, what makes 3rd wave 3rd wave is its post-structuralism (which is not at all the same thing as post-modernism, though post-modernism is a form of post-structualism, just as it is not at all fair to say that a parallelogram is the same thing as a square even though a square is one kind of parallelogram), NOT its pro-sex views or any other single stance. What makes it 3rd wave is the emphasis on the multiplicity of factors that shape people and that people can be affected by two of these or even many of these at the same time, which in turn it gets from a rejection of structuralism and existentialism. In 2nd wave it is possible to claim that racism is caused by sexism and that if we just cure sexism, racism will fall away. This is so because 2nd wave is an explicitly existential constellation of feminisms.

    This means that, regardless of what white women might like to claim, the feminism done by anti-racist feminists such as Maxine Hong Kingston or Audre Lorde or Mitsuye Yamada is actually 3rd wave work because it claims space for women to be people of color and women at the same time, affected by racism and sexism at the same time. The truth is that work resembling 3rd wave work has been going on since shortly after post-structuralism came out of the Academe and into activists’ hands, just as work resembling 2nd wave feminism has been going on since shortly after existentialism came out of the Academe and into activists’ hands.

    These waves are based on fundamentally differing philosophies and these fundamental differences have everything to do with why the waves find such differing expressions.

    It’s also another example of feminist dogma: in 2nd wave, existentialism is taken as dogma. If it wasn’t, “devaluing” and “dehumanizing” wouldn’t be such concerns of feminism. These are existentialist concepts.

    Anyway, I won’t go on much longer, but I do want to – though I don’t feel I should have to – go on record as saying that it is quite clear that “feminist dogma” is used as a dodge. It’s quite clear that people being “skeptical of feminism” often aren’t. I don’t disagree with the point you say you will pursue in the first few paragraphs. Disagreeing on the non-/existence of feminist dogma, the date of 3rd wave’s first emergence, or the time line of anti-racism’s growth in feminist circles in no way invalidates my agreement with you on those earlier points.

    Although I am arguing for a particular point of view – and, obviously, think I’m right – I am happy to hear you engage with any of the assertions above. I am particularly interested to know if the fact that individual Christians never agree on “everything” has ever made you assert that there is no such thing as Christian dogma, or the fact that no sect agrees on everything or no religion agrees with another religion on everything has ever led you to assert that there is no such thing as religious dogma. After all, religion is said to address “the big questions,” correct? Why would they be called questions if no one engages in any questioning? In fact, the entire point of the Talmud is to question the Torah and debate possible answers, with different commentators – each considered equally authoritative – settling on different ones. Does this mean that there is no Jewish dogma?

    I really am flabbergasted by this assertion on your part. I’ve heard literally thousands of pieces of feminist dogma be asserted. The personal is political. Women are more/uniquely vulnerable to rape. Women are more/uniquely vulnerable to domestic violence. Women can be equally successful as heads of state. If women were the heads of the world’s governments, there would be less/no war.

    None of these are routinely asserted with a body of data and a rigorous, operational definition of terms. What does “uniquely vulnerable” mean? Are women actually hit inside their own homes more often or less often than men? Does domestic violence include or exclude child abuse? These kinds of clarifying statements are not typically made nor are sources typically cited. They are asserted as “authoritative opinion” and, generally, accepted as such by the majority of feminists. One doesn’t even need to disagree with them to admit that they actually are asserted as dogma and fall under the dictionary definition of dogma when so asserted.

    I’ll leave things here. In the meantime, I thank you for the good you do in your posts and for the opportunity to clarify things that are in error, ambiguous, or debatable. But I would like to remind us all that the fact that you (and we, generally, here on this site) question dogma doesn’t mean dogma doesn’t exist.

    • says

      Well, there’s a lot to respond to there… a bit tired to go into everything now. But just to respond to your Christian analogy:

      – Christians agree on considerably more than just one thing. They have considerable cornerstones of ideology and mythology that are common amongst all branches and denominations.

      – Christianity’s precepts are also based on considerably more than a single value assumption, from which various positions are reasoned. Instead it actually does have a presupposed dogma, a whole set of principles that are accepted without question, rather than being a singular value an individual chooses to accept as given.

      – Debate and change are not accepted as a positive force within Christianity. Debates and schisms are instead very, very big deals.

      – When you investigate given denominations, such as Catholicism or Anglicanism, there IS a definitive, monolothic dogma / ideology from which individual deviation is NOT exactly considered acceptable, and certainly not encouraged. The process of coming to individual conclusions, even within specific branches of feminism is, conversely, valued and accepted (although the conclusions themselves may be strongly disagreed with).


      Sort of… to be more concise…um… it’s like Christians disagree with one another only despite the best efforts of Christianity to get everyone to think alike. Whereas in feminism we disagree because we generally accept that as a natural part of the process.

      I’ll try to write more later.

      • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden Molly Ivins says

        I’m not saying that what you’re saying about Xianity is wrong. But you’re forgetting that what I’m critiquing is you statement that feminism cannot be said to have dogma, and that **one reason** that feminism can be said to have no dogma at all is that, and I hate to have to requote, but I will,

        “finding any two feminists who agree on everything is virtually impossible.”

        Either that is an argument that supports you or it isn’t – regardless of the details of Xian dogma.

        See what I’m getting at?

    • says

      Oh, and leaving responses aside for a second, I just want to say I do find your rebuttal interesting and valuable, so thanks for the contribution to the conversation. I feel we might have somewhat different operational definitions of dogma, though. Will need to think about it a bit.

      • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden Molly Ivins says

        Yes, absolutely I think we have different operational definitions of Dogma. Also, because I believe that there is more than one feminism, I believe that you can have a feminist dogma that is dogma within only one branch of feminism.

        For instance, do you know the difference – in the technical sense used in feminist theories – between exploitation & oppression?

        It is dogma in Marxist/materialist feminisms that exploitation is more important than, and even the cause of, oppression. It is dogma in radical feminism that sexist oppression is the root of other forms of oppression, including exploitation. While many feminists don’t agree with one or both of these assertions, if they don’t agree, then they don’t belong in the category of MMFs or RFs or both.

        Since a part of my critique is definitely based on how I don’t think you have made your case that there is no dogma in feminisms, having your (operational or otherwise) definition of dogma would be really helpful. Once you have it, then we can talk more about what it would mean to have “no dogma”.

        Until then, think about a couple of other things that might be dogma:

        1. The world is changeable.
        2. Morals and ethics are knowable.
        3. Morals and ethics should guide short term choices.
        4. Believing women and men have equal innate worth is an ethical principle, and should be held, but holding it as a principle is not enough to make one moral without behavior that matches what would be expected if that principle were guiding your behavior.
        5. It is the oppressor that has the moral responsibility for ending oppression.
        6. Ending sexism cannot be accomplished without listening to the experiences of women.

        These are all assertions of feminism, and indeed they are all assertions of nearly all feminisms. #6, in some feminisms, is paired with a #6a: nor can it be ended without listening to the experiences of men. But just because an additional dogma exists in some feminisms doesn’t mean that 6 isn’t dogma – at least according to merriam-webster and/or according to my operational definition, which largely coincides with MW.

        Anyway, I look forward to reading your fuller response and especially to your definition of dogma so that I can understand better what you really mean by “there is no dogma”.

        Hope you had a good night. I spent a bunch of time on the phone with my long-distance partner who lives up in your neck of the woods. Sigh. Love is a wonderful thing…

    • danielrudolph says

      I don’t know if Natalie agrees, but I’ve argued exactly this on Ed’s blog: You can’t criticize Christianity or Islam or Judaism per se because they don’t really exist. They’re just convenient labels for a very diverse set of beliefs. You might come up with one or two definitional beliefs they share, but these don’t really tell you much about them in a general sense. How many moral or doctrinal points do John Spong and Fred Phelps both believe that wouldn’t also apply to the vast majority on non-believers? You can criticize people and ideas, but broad belief system are just convenient fictions. The division between having many dogmas and none sounds like a distinction without a difference and basically semantic.

      • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden Molly Ivins says

        Are you saying that Phelps teaches no dogma, holds no dogma?

        it seems you’re saying that the dogma of Phelps is in conflict with large portions of the dogma of other Xian leaders… and therefore there is no dogma.

        No. Not true. Fred Phelps holds and teaches dogma. Everyone who agrees that he has dogma agrees that his dogma derives from his Xianity. To say that there is no Xian dogma means that nothing is Xian dogma even if that dogma specifically derived through study and exegesis of the words attributed to Jesus the Smeared-with-grease and/or words that are published within the Xian bible.

        I gotta say your position only makes sense if there is no such thing as Xianity. Yes, Xian is a label we put on a broad group of religions that often conflict with each other about important matters. But if they have enough in common to be called Xian, then why isn’t the dogma of such religions Xian dogma?

        If you wanna say there is not Xianity, I get where you’re coming from. If you argue that Xianity exists, but Xian dogma doesn’t, that’s weird. Are you saying there’s no such thing as Xian art? Some Xian art doesn’t even have a visual component: works by Bach, say. It’s impossible to say that Xian art has anything in common but its development by Xians and its desire to portray what the developer sees as Xianity in a positive or neutral light.

        But isn’t that enough? Plenty of terms have longer, more complicated definitions than that, yet are still used & useful.

        So where are you going with this?

        Is there no blogging because there are blogs that have almost nothing in common besides being presented online?

        The difference between many dogmas and none is very much important. The difference between an infinite number of dogmas and none might be non-existent because of the nature of dogma, but even that is not certain. What if 12 religions had more than 10% of all sentient beings as members and each had very specific dogma ascribed to by billions. Further suppose that outside of those 12, control of dogma is non-existent, and every sentient being puts out statements intended to be official pronouncements of that being’s beliefs. Then assume the universe will last for eternity (i know, but bear with me). There will be an infinite number of religious statements of dogma. It would be reasonable to say that dogma believed and promulgated by only one person isn’t dogma. But religious dogma would clearly still exist, and would have dramatic effects on the lives of 10% of the beings in the universe.

        It’s true that every single Xian church and every single Xian denomination has things it teaches as dogma. Even if the dogma of every single church was entirely contradicted by the dogma of at least one other church, that doesn’t mean that there is no dogma. Dogma is clearly held and promulgated. Plus there is very much a difference between the opinions of some random person and the expressed opinion of a person given authority in a context where that expression of opinion is expected to be considered not merely associated with a person who is an authority, but actually authoritative itself on the topic discussed.

        Why wouldn’t those statements of dogma be considered Xian if the people making them are Xian and the statements are intended to further an Xian church, an Xian worldview, or an Xian goal?

        The argument your making doesn’t really lead anywhere productive. Dogma by Xians exists. We have to call it something. Calling it Xian dogma is perfectly in line with the dictionary definition of Xian, and we have previously limited ourselves to only those statements which are dogmatic, thus Xian dogma is a perfectly relevant and appropriate term.

        To put it another way: can you propose a different formulation that would express what everyone else means when saying “Xian dogma,” while avoiding whatever problems you see with that term?

        Would that formulation actually *be* better? In other words, would it be better at communicating what you intend, or would people still make assumptions about meaning that render the term imperfect? If it wouldn’t be better in actual practice, why change?

  22. msironen says

    This is probably the best piece of feminist apologia I’ve read to date and indeed, at least the way you present it there’s very little to object to in 3rd wave feminism.

    That said I found your replies to Cel rather weak, much like the proponents of the religion of peace quoting the nicer bits of their holy book. Feminism is as feminism does; not the unobjectionable bits of the theory.

    I could in fact add another fairly nauseating example from Sweden, where the SCUM manifesto was dramatized on stage and then shown to high schoolers (on school time). Quite a feat for the feminist movement, to actually get the school officials behind something like that. Here’s a little promotional treat:


    (How a video like that has stayed up on youtube for months is beyond me, but so is making high school boys watch a play that proudly proclaims them subhuman waste)

    • SallyStrange (Bigger on the Inside), Spawn of Cthulhu says

      msironen’s status as an MRA (read: male supremacist) troll is evidenced by his ongoing obsession with the SCUM manifesto.

      • msironen says

        Well obviously, since the SCUM manifesto is just some extreme fringe example of feminism that is virtually unknown beyond some graduate courses of womens’ studies… o wait, that’s BEFORE they force fed it to high school children in Sweden.

        • SallyStrange (Bigger on the Inside), Spawn of Cthulhu says

          Truly, msironen, you have long since forfeited any right to be taken as anything but idle entertainment. Much like the video you posted. Were you really expecting to be taken seriously after your long history of sexism-denial around these blogs? Come on now. You’re a curiosity, nothing more.

    • SallyStrange (Bigger on the Inside), Spawn of Cthulhu says

      If you’re wondering about the video, people, it’s this: a bunch of giggling teenage or early-20-something women shoot a random guy who’s sitting in a deck chair reading a paper, then do a little dance, then lick his blood (ew) then run away.

      It’s the misandrist conspiracy in action, as the youtube comments will inform you. Watch out, this is a sign of things to come. Soon, jack-booted thugettes will be knocking down msironen’s door to confiscate his testicles. Boo!

    • SallyStrange (Bigger on the Inside), Spawn of Cthulhu says

      Here is how the person who posted the video described it:

      Depicting the murder of a man because he is a man.

      Made in Sweden 2010, by swedish feminists.

      The government in Sweden is basically 100% feministic. Still feminists claim Sweden is male dominated, and that only women can be oppressed.

      I think he thinks it’s real and not pretend blood.

      This is the quality of msironen’s information sources.

      MRA troll, like I said.

        • SallyStrange (Bigger on the Inside), Spawn of Cthulhu says

          Oh, when I point out that someone’s a troll, I don’t necessarily expect they should be banned or anything like that. I’m just warning people so they don’t try to engage and get frustrated. And so that msironen knows that his reputation precedes him.

  23. Lucifire says

    i would love to write a long detailed praise of your article but my baby twins are sleeping and the clock is ticking til they wake up and all my chores must be done.

    articles like this make my small breaks in the day feel rewarding and remind me that there are “real” women out there i want to connect with 😉

    i used to be an international circus performer, now i’m a suburban housewife (and i love my babies very much). however, the women i encounter in my daily life now are very different to the cabaret/circus chicks and i never get the chance to dig deeper than a passing hello or “how old is yours now?”. long gone are the late nights of putting the world to rights in a hotel bar with the cast and crew.

    sometimes i wonder what these other women think about feminism. i’m sure they all have their own take. maybe in time i’ll form some friendships and find out. until then, these snatched moments of reading blogs and listening to podcasts during housework help me “keep the faith”.

    sorry, this was meant to be about your article but my fingers blurted. i really enjoyed your article and look forward to the next one.

  24. says

    Hi, I had heard that you would be blogging here, welcome!

    While I appreciate the lesson in terminology, and it certainly does make this easier to talk about without attacking a massive long running movement in whole I dispute your premise that All feminists hold to the tenet women as equal human beings.

    Though I suppose it depends on your definition of equal (not being snarky).

    There are plenty of new wave fems who define their goal as an equal finish, not equal treatment.
    Because women are inherently (due to biological facts) hindered, group X must actively compensate via self hindrance to give women an equal finish.
    A less controversial example of this would be the recent studies that assert the wage gap may exist still in the numbers because so many women leave the workforce for 1-18 years willingly to have / raise children.
    The result is that a woman who works in a specialized field at (for example) age 40 statically is paid less than her male counterpart.
    One group asserts that this is equal treatment, the wage is based on time with the company and experience in the field.
    Another group will say that this is inequality and must change. The only change that could fix it is either women stop having children, or men on average being compensated not based on prior experience.
    (citation: http://www.consad.com/content/reports/Gender%20Wage%20Gap%20Final%20Report.pdf)

    Many people, and I believe rightfully so, see this as inequality.

    This means that depending on your wave of feminism you will have a grammatically similar goal, but a radically different one in practice.

    • SallyStrange (Bigger on the Inside), Spawn of Cthulhu says

      You’ve obviously been hanging out with libertarians too much. This “equal outcome” nonsense is a purely libertarian straw man invention. It bears no relation to any actual feminism I know of. It’s also been aimed as a straw man criticism at anti-racism and affirmative action. In every case it’s complete bullshit. If you want people to take you seriously then you need to first demonstrate that there is a type of feminism that advocates for this mythical equal outcome.

    • SallyStrange (Bigger on the Inside), Spawn of Cthulhu says


      The only change that could fix it is either women stop having children, or men on average being compensated not based on prior experience.

      Even if your diagnosis of the problem were correct (which Jadehawk has already shown is not the case), this false dichotomy you offer in response is revelatory of your complete lack of imagination, nothing more.

      • says

        I do take the notion from the essay “two concepts of liberty” which is usually views as some what libertarian, despite the fact that it was written long before the LP existed.
        Fair enough.

        However I do not feel it is a dramatic mischaracterization.

        You feel its a strawman, ok if I am misunderstanding your specific position then thats fair so allow me to ask:

        In some hypothetical world where any wage gap is only a reflection of time off for a biological reasons such a childbearing, should we still be working to eliminate said wage gap?
        If so, I did not intend to create a false dichotomy, how would you suggest correcting it?

        • says

          or, you know, we could simply institute the sabbatical as a universal concept; it’s not like we’re having labor shortages, that a society couldn’t compensate for giving every person x-number of opportunities to take a year off work to do something else, be it write a book, travel, or have a kid.

          you have very limited imagination if you think spawning is so limiting that no gender-equal solution exists.

      • says

        Let me add, I do not mean to say that all women are baby factories or anything of the nature. But if we are to continue to reproduce via natural means it is a biological fact. Women have babies, women often take time off because of this.

        • says

          plenty of women I know took only a few weeks off, then handed the baby to other family members. considering that civilized countries offer up to 6 weeks paid vacation, it’s once again not a biological necessity that women will be taking more time off because they’re the ones who get pregnant. it’s nothing more but a cultural tradition exacerbated by true misandry (the kind that says men are inept at being a primary caretaker of children)

        • says

          or to put it differently, your statement that “it is a biological fact. Women have babies, women often take time off because of this.” is conflating two issues: the biological fact that women are the ones who get pregnant; and the cultural fact that they take more time off because of that than men.

          and it should be noted that the artificial womb is something radfems have been clamoring for since there have been radfems. this of course is long-term-planning, but even “biological facts” get circumvented on a regular basis by technology, if the drive to get there exists. no reason to assume a priori that pregnancy is the one area in which such a development is impossible.

          • says

            Hey, I am 100% growing babies in places that make pregnancy less cumbersome. Even with just 6 weeks (2 months) off, thats just one child, and that doesn’t include the hassle of the time leading up to the actual birth, which can be more or less horrible depending on the person in question.

            However the act of working less because there are children involved is largely voluntary. And if our stats are showing (which I feel my PDF shows clearly) that the wage gap exists largely because of this voluntary action, do you still consider that an issue that needs fixing?

            Again I am happy to work in the hypothetical, if you do not believe this is the cause for the continuing disparity in wage, thats ok.
            If it were the reason would you still wish to work toward eliminating it? and if so how would you avoid penalizing one group for the benefit of another?

          • says

            Even with just 6 weeks (2 months) off, thats just one child

            just how many separate pregnancies do you imagine a woman can have, per year?

            However the act of working less because there are children involved is largely voluntary.

            more libertarian crap. as if socialization and acculturation didn’t exist; as if the misandry that says men aren’t as good at parenting and are failures if they don’t spend all their time working didn’t exist.

            If it were the reason would you still wish to work toward eliminating it?

            of course; since it’s cultural, you can change the culture to make it not a woman’s job to stay home. places like Sweden are already working on that, having a parental leave that can be split between parents however they wish (which incidentally also eliminates discrimination against same-sex couples)

            if so how would you avoid penalizing one group for the benefit of another?

            if “penalizing” is codeword for taxing, I’m going to stop taking anything you say seriously. Alternatively though, I wonder why you imagine changing culture and policies to make SAHDs as common as SAHMs, and allow all adults in a family a period of time off to spend with their kids to be “penalizing” anyone?
            As an alternative and more crude policy, countries could just go with the French model of rewarding the primary caretaker for raising little frenchspawn, which might well be tooled to make up for income differences caused by all this spawncaring. After all, all these primary caretakers (commonly known as mothers) ARE creating human capital, so they should probably be paid for it.

            not that any of this matters too much, since despite your claim, eliminating parenting-differences between genders without eliminating sexism as a whole isn’t going to eliminate the wage gap, since it’s a multi-variate problem, with most variables stemming from various forms of cultural and institutional sexism (and a bit of actual bigotry against women).

    • says

      The PDF linked by The Nerd is a heavily edited compilation of quotes from the manifesto; a more complete version (albeit one obviously lacking proof reading) is here. (Sorry that it won’t be any more palatable, but the argument is a little less disconnected than the “edited highlights”.)

      • danielrudolph says

        Actually, if Cel wanted a good example of difficult-to-defend behavior by mainstream feminists, defense of Valerie Solanas after her attempted murder of Andy Warhol, Mario Amaya and Fred Hughes is probably the best example. The latter two had never done anything to her. She had some prominent defenders in Robin Morgan and T-Grace Atkinson. (And this was hardly the only strawesque thing either of them did.)

        Defending the SCUM manifesto is one thing, but Solanas herself seems pretty indefensible. She certainly didn’t let on that it was satire. If Jonathan Swift had tried to roast some Irish babies, I doubt many lit professors would be defending him as a brilliant satirist.

      • danielrudolph says

        And to be clear, I don’t think Valerie Solanas is some sort of feminist hero, whatever that means. As far as I can tell, she has a few very vocal supporters and a bunch of people who would rather not talk about her, which makes the public conversation kind of skewed with respect to people’s actual views. A lot of MRAs and other anti-feminists try to exploit this to make it look black-block anarcha-feminism is the only kind.

  25. aspidoscelis says

    There is no such thing as feminist dogma.

    Why? Because feminism is not a unified, monolithic ideology.

    So, I’ve heard this particular argument a few times, but I don’t think it works.

    Let’s just replace a couple of words:

    There is no such thing as religious dogma.

    Why? Because religion is not a unified, monolithic ideology.

    Well, obviously it’s true that religion is not monolithic… and obviously it’s true that there is such a thing as religious dogma. Hence, variation in beliefs among members of a group does not indicate that dogmatism is absent within the group…

  26. says

    Awesome post! Definitely saving this.
    I see feminism as a fight for the equality of ‘human beings’ first before going into issues of sex, colour, ability, etc. Inclusion comes automatically when you approach it this way, there’s very little need to try for it.

  27. says

    “In so far as it can occasionally be described as an ideology, it has one and only one unifying tenet: that women are no less valid and deserving than men. That’s all.”

    If only that were true. I’ve experienced many examples of feminists believing that they are, in fact, superior to men. If you’ve not experienced that yet, then I’m sure you’ll notice it before long – and that is when you will see the *dogma* in all its glory…

    If you do live your life purely on the basis of expecting to be treated equally (as we all should), then good luck to you.

  28. says

    I really appreciate this post, I think it pretty much nailed down a lot of misunderstanding the public has about feminism. Nonetheless, I occasionally find myself reluctant to call myself feminists because, to make a confession, I also assume that all feminists have certain uniformly agreed tenants such as “Sex Negativism” which includes the notion of pornography as sexual objectificaiton. Correct me if I am wrong, but do majority of feminists hold this view? I’m a male, I tend to watch pornography, so I don’t find it obvious that pornography is sexual objectification, but I am willing to listen to contrary views on this.

  29. Schala says

    I generally agree with propositions such as “women are humans/people” and “both men and women should have equal rights”.

    I generally disagree with how known activism has made it. For example, the Kimberly Nixon case has made it into a precedent that one can discriminate if (as Edwards J said) “it doesn’t affect your social/economic life that much”. The staff of VRR is championed by 2nd wave Sheila Jeffreys, and is distinctly 2nd wave (and distinctly essentialist “women are pure and oppressed / men are beastly and violent”) feminism.

    A sort of “what are you whining about, you can go without it, man up” response to a discrimination claim.

    My disagreement over calling the system of oppression as patriarchy and over the unidirectionality (and absence of any counterpart mainly) of male privilege has had me excommunicated by most feminist branches, not just cultural feminism.

    So I prefer to self-identify outside feminism, and I welcome people who want to end all inequalities, including those affecting men (ie DV shelters, rape crisis centers for men, for example) to reject any label, tainted with dogma and elitism, and some hatred if we regard the accepted-as-feminist 2nd wavers like Greer, Raymond and Jeffreys. I support rights for women, men, all trans people, intersex people, people who identify outside the binary, as androgynous, as bigender. No hobby horse. I mostly support it on the sex identity axis as I have little experience with the sexual orientation axis, and zero experience with the racial axis. I’m incredibly leftist (socialist even), so you could say I also tackle classism.

    Oh and, I think that transphobia directed at trans women within feminism, has at its root in misandry.

    Second-guessing, mistrusting and hatred of trans women, because they’re suspected to be “really men”, and thus, evil.

    the “and thus, evil” makes clear as day the misandry

    It’s also no doubt the one notion right-wing religious nuts use to justify excluding trans women from female restrooms and locker rooms – the innate beastly nature of men and how they will beat, rape and kill women, given the chance to be with them in any intimate setting.

    Sometimes defended, even by trans women, as a “but I’m not a man, I’m a woman, so no danger”, which only adds to the presumption that (most, all) men are dangerous because they’re men.

    I suggest we simply reject the notion that men are beastly, uncontrollable, and violent because of their inherent nature (or their socialization for the TERFs). I suggest that unisex restrooms and locker rooms would be just as violent as they are sharing showers in Starship Troopers: not at all, if we just got beyond puritanical views about nudity and the sexes.

    Known trans women get beaten by (some) men in male bathrooms and locker rooms, out of homophobia (someone being gay or perceived to be gay) and male gender policing (be a robot/tool/number/conformist or die), not out of hatred of women.

    I’m a trans woman myself, and the only transphobia I experienced was about denying my femaleness as vehemently as possible, both by TERFs, by conservatives, and by stupid people. Wether they “knew by looking”, from name mismatch, or because my company stupidly outed me by keeping me listed on a name I didn’t use. None of it was about “putting me in my place” for being female, none (it can happen, just didn’t to me).

    Funny enough, even on leftist blogs and forums I’ll be called a man, who “has” to be right wing, because my arguments don’t always agree with mainstream feminism. Incidentally, those doing the calling are probably trolls, or Salon and Feministe have weird commentariat.

  30. Schala says

    Oh yeah I forgot, I did experience some transphobia a bit tied to femaleness (but it’s very Ray Blanchard-esque too, so kinda misandrist).

    Some brother or cousin to an uncle of mine (his wife was my father’s sister), whom I only ever met at my uncle’s place (about once a year tops until I was 25), said I transitioned to have more sex (as in, it was my motive).

    I found it so offensive I left the room.

    The reason is either:
    1) I’m more attractive now so it’s physically easier to have sex (the slut theory)
    2) Men are hypersexual and women can have casual sex easier, so its motive enough to transition (the homosexual transsexual Blanchard theory)
    3) Trans people, trans women specially, are especially perverted, so will have lots more sex (the Bailey theory).

  31. Schala says

    And if you question the very concept of misandry, you might as well question the concept of xenophobia, racism, sexism, misanthropy and humans-as-superior-to-animals attitudes’ very existence.

    Misandry is the hatred or dislike of men or boys (or any AMAB person, when it’s assumed they are men by essentialism).

    This hatred can be performed by anyone who has free will, they need not be someone else than men. Misogyny by women, transphobia by trans people, homophobia by gay and lesbian people, have been common enough to say that being in the group doesn’t guarantee non-hatred.

    Ray Blanchard and his cronies might be motivated by other things than misandry, but it certainly includes misandry. His attitude and theories also reflect deep misogyny:

    Misandry: Men are hypersexual and their sexuality motivates everything.
    Misogyny: Women have no sexual desire to the point of having fetishes. Therefore trans women are men. Trans men don’t exist or matter, but they’re really deluded lesbians.

  32. Srivatsan Narayanan says

    I count myself as a feminist+atheist ally, but I feel compelled to debate at least a couple of your points. I am still reading the post (it’s a tad too long to read in one sitting), so it’s likely I misunderstood you.


    1. You say that there’s nothing called feminist dogma since feminism is not a single, monolithic ideology. This alone does not say there is no such thing as feminist dogma. Religion is not a single, monolithic ideology either, but religious dogma seems like a perfectly reasonable term. I would call something religious dogma if it’s a dogma related to religion. Similarly for feminism. For instance, if someone unquestioningly believes that women are better than men, then that would be a feminist dogma. (Of course, I am not accusing anyone of holding this view.)


    2. As for your basic tenet of feminism, that women are no less valid and deserving than men, I cannot accept it as a good one. IMO a better statement would be that, no one should be discriminated based on their sex or gender. The first problem is that your tenet introduces the man/woman dichotomy — what about intersex people? Trans people (as you rightly point out)?


    My second point is less clear and more contentious. A tenet should reflect the ideal that we should work towards, rather than ground realities. For instance, it would be arguably wrong to say, “Black folks should not be discriminated against”, “Hispanics should not be discriminated against”, “Asians should not be discriminated against”, and so on. The important idea is that discrimination on the basis of race is wrong, and one can assert this without actually classifying the population into the races. (Of course, I am not saying that a given individual has no claim towards their race.)


    Third point, related to the second. I expect this one to put me in a soup, but anyway.. 🙂 The tenet is worded (deliberately or otherwise) worded to portray women as victims of discrimination/oppression. Lest someone assumes me to be male chauvinist, let me clarify: I am *not* a revisionist that denies our appalling historical record on sexism. Nevertheless, I feel that the wording is less than neutral.


    How do I get paragraphs to work here? I had to resort to some ugly hacks to make the post readable, sorry.


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