Guy Fawkes: Feminism and the Putative Fourth Wave

From a comment I wrote on WHTM, lightly edited for clarity absent its original context:

So many people have announced the beginning of 4th wave feminism. It’s not here.

The only way to begin a new wave is to make new ethical claims. The “first wave” feminists were actually acting on a relatively diverse mix of ethical philosophies, but the ones who’ve come to define 1W are the Susan B. Anthonys, and those were contractarians. Their claims were primarily about how women are treated by the government and the reforms they demanded were largely designed to make women equal participants in the social contract — which in a democracy is significantly defined by voting and participation in government.

Socialist feminism ran concurrently with contractarian feminism (and a smaller movement of not-well-defined sexually libertarian feminism), but since “wave theory” didn’t exist until relatively recently, it got lumped in with the 1W contractarian feminism in the earlier period and outright ignored during the period after the recognized end of contractarian feminism in the 1920s (leaving the appearance of a gap in feminist activism, though that appearance was deceptive).

2W feminism is largely existentialist in nature, and made claims about how women were treated socially, separate from the treatment of women by the government. This is a substantially different feminism that tries to justify negative ethical judgements of sexist behaviors on entirely different ethical grounds of an essential and universal quality of “womanhood”, and focuses on relationships women have with large institutions that are not the government and with whom we have no direct social contract and which have their own freedoms against which the claims of 2W feminism must compete. The language and form of analysis is completely different from 1W feminism.

3W feminism incorporates critiques of how women themselves are a heterogenous group. Though intersectionality comes to us through honest-to-goodness (not buzzword bullshit) critical race theory written by one of the two women of color who first introduced the term critical race theory (Kimerlé Crenshaw), feminism that acknowledges divides between groups of women and the need for a feminism that creates ethical demands on individual women towards other individual women has its roots so long ago that it actually is contemporaneous with 1W. (Remember Sojourner Truth’s “Aren’t I a woman?”) It further ran concurrently with 2W (Maxine Hong Kingston, the Combahee River Collective, Pat Parker, Shulamit Firestone etc., etc.).

What transitioned between 1980 and 2000 is that the critiques of feminism’s outsiders demanding an approach that acknowledge power differences, power abuses, and systematic privileges between women, falling on racial and other highly contested lines, finally reached the center of feminist activism and gender studies courses. Part of this is that even the relatively privileged white feminists of the 80s went through the so-called “Sex Wars”. In the Sex Wars, the Lavender Purge and other intrafeminist conflicts white feminists treated each other badly. This made them reflect on who was hurting whom, and why some people with bad ideas and harmful behaviors nonetheless maintained a respected and visible place within the movement. White, mainstream feminists suddenly had a number of people who reached to women of color feminisms to make sense of their contested, divided experience.

So now we have intersectional feminisms, which are quite old but are named for the metaphor that was coined right in the middle of this crucial period. And while old in philosophical tradition, it is new to the dominant position in feminist theory. Intersectional feminisms make different ethical claims than 2W feminism, though it does not reject the causes and claims of 2W feminism wholesale (much as 1W feminism was largely accepted by 2W feminists).

But ever since 2000 I keep hearing about people saying we have a 4th wave of feminism and every time I hear this I ask, “What is the new philosophy, not just the same ethical and philosophical approach applied to a new issue (like internet-based social media), but actual new method of analysis and new ethical claim being made by this proposed 4W feminism?”

There’s never a good answer.

I’ve heard 4W feminism is feminism informed by religion for religious women. But previous generations of feminists have been religious, often quite fiercely so. The 1848 Seneca Falls convention was held in a church by church-going women for church-going women.

I’ve heard 4W feminism is feminism that addresses behavior on the internet performed by feminists who use the internet. But that’s facile. We didn’t start a new wave of feminism when the radio was invented. Or the TV. It’s the same feminism addressing a new issue, as far as I can tell.

I’ve heard 4W feminism described as feminism done by people born (or coming of age) after 3W feminism had already been established. However if a mere passage of a couple decades required a new wave designation, then the 1W name for a period spanning 7-8 decades immediately fails. And if the 1W name is taken to be coherent, than the mere passage of 20 or 25 years can’t define a novel “wave” of feminism.

I’d be delighted for a genuinely new feminist methodology to arise that grounds genuinely novel ethical claims. But if we’re simply dealing with dehumanization over twitter instead of face to face or in the newspaper, then sorry. That’s still 2W feminism, focussed on the existentialist feminist priority of the struggle to place transcendent value on the authentic human experience. Dehumanization is a 2W concept. Addressing dehumanization that occurs in 280 characters or less isn’t suddenly no longer 2W.

So what is 4W feminism? What does it claim? On what body of thought does it rest its ethical claims about what is wrong with the world and what does it prescribe we should do about those wrongs? How is the logic by which it persuades fundamentally different from what came before? How is its vision of justice incompatible with that of the 3W?

Someday there will be a 4W feminism. It will be exciting and I’ll learn a ton from it and I can’t wait to read it.

But no one has been able to show me anything yet that’s not just a previously established school of feminism writing about a new issue — which is just as novel as a movie reviewer writing about this years’ movies instead of last. It’s not a whole new wave of movie reviews. It’s just the ongoing work you would expect the same movie reviewers to keep doing, so long as all movie reviewers don’t just up and die. If one movie reviewer retires and is replaced by a younger movie reviewer with different tastes, we still do not have a whole new “wave” of film studies.

Please educate me if I’m wrong and there really is a novel form of feminism out there that I should read. Until you do though, count me skeptical. Too many have announced a 4W before now for me to trust such claims without investigation.



Philosophy’s Sufficient Causes

Philosophy is the inevitable result of a houseful of books, alcohol, and vibrators. If you don’t have something interesting to say after drunk-masturbating while reading Judge Sirica’s Watergate memoir because you really wanted to finish it before dinner but it was getting a little dry, and speaking of dry your hitachi is right next to you so why not? then you won’t ever have anything interesting to say.

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The ONLY Radical Idea

Republicans are, predictably, screaming that impeaching Trump is a Bad Idea™ because excuses go here. Pence literally left Pelosi on hold for 25 minutes before having an aide say that he wouldn’t talk to her. He knew she wanted to talk about the 25th. Not only had he decided he did not want to invoke the 25th, but he didn’t want to talk to anyone about invoking the 25th. Commentators, of course, are complaining that the country doesn’t need the divisiveness of removing Trump from office before his term expires.

But here’s the thing: there’s nothing Trump (or any President that aspires to dictatorship) could do that would be worse, or more desperately requiring impeachment or punishment, that could ever result in impeachment or punishment.

Think it through: Trump has engaged in a failed, violent coup. The only thing “worse” is a successful, violent coup – and that’s not worse because of presidential behavior. It’s only worse in terms of its impact on us. But in a successful coup, impeachment or arrest would (by definition) be unavailable as remedies.

So this is it: Trump conspires with a mob to kill a cop and nullify democracy itself so that he can hold executive power for (at least) four more years. Why would the Republicans & commentators be against using impeachment or the 25th for literally the worst presidential conduct that could possibly be available as a basis for impeachment or removal?

It comes down to what I have said many times. I honestly can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that this isn’t a well known aphorism invented 200 years ago, but it seems to still be something that only I say. So at the risk of self-aggrandizement I’m gonna scream it out loud yet again:

The ONLY radical idea is accountability for people with power. All else is mere reform. 

Impunity is a core value of rulers and people who think of themselves as the ruling class. But we must reject this. If we must wait until a president launches a successful coup before impeachment becomes available as a remedy, then we have, with invisible but indelible ink, rewritten the constitution to erase all possibility of presidential  impeachment, now and in the future. If we do that, the doctrine of impunity has won. The details of dictatorship may change in the following years or decades, but having relinquished the possibility of accountability for those with power, we relegate all future efforts to nothing more than reform.

We must, in this moment, demand accountability, or we have lost ourselves and the republic of the United States of America.


First Amendment Fuck Off!

Section 2 also, too!

Wait, what?

This post exists because there’s yet another FREEZE PEACH! discussion ongoing over at Pharyngula and I realize I’m tired of making the same points over and over again. So I’m going to write up a few thoughts and then leave myself the option of either linking back to this or quoting it in the future so I don’t have to keep saying the same damn things over and over.

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Logic and trolling and blogs, oh my!

Someone is attempting to play logic games in the comments. Set up to require approval for the 1st comment by any account or e-mail address, my comment filter asked me for permission to post this bit of text from a new commenter named “Path”:

This is a lie.

The comment was intended for my post I’m a Nazi, Says Nazi. World Topples in Not-Shock. There’s always the possibility that they actually had a coherent comment in mind, but as they did not quote what they thought was actually a lie or make any argument at all in support of their assertion, all I could think of was the reliability problems of Harcourt Fenton Mudd:

Try again, Path. If you have a thoughtful comment, it’s almost certainly welcome, but this was so vague I honestly couldn’t tell if you were attempting to add to the conversation, attempting to troll me or one of my commenters, or just babbling. Make an effort and so long as you’re not trolling, twisting others words dishonestly, pushing hatred, or issuing threats you can probably comment here indefinitely.


The Atheists For Liberty and Enlightenment Values

PZ has a new post up about a group Atheists for Liberty which proudly announces its embrace of Enlightenment values. Turns out it is a creature of Peter Boghossian, someone whose work I’ve criticized harshly in the past right here on this blog and whose ethics, clearly, are lacking.

Let’s be clear. “Enlightenment values” suck. Sure, Enlightenment philosophers actually move epistemology forward quite a bit. They also provided hugely important arguments for more widespread literacy and education on diverse topics. They developed a contractarianism sufficiently complete to found a country from Hobbes’ proto-contractarianism where “consent of the governed” had more Machiavellian meanings almost entirely limiting it to the practical advice to rulers not to encourage the masses to take up torches and pitchforks because those torches and pitchforks, in addition to being official notice of revocation of consent, were also a bit dangerous to the ruling class.

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Riffing on Reprobate Spreadsheet: Womanhood Edition

So, you should read RS for the new post up on the incoherence of TERF philosophy and/or ideology, it’s well done. But I want to single out and emphasize one particular bit. HJ Hornbeck excerpts a Medium article credited to a number of folks1 and proceeds to challenge it on a number of points. While I don’t have more than a few quibbles with what HJ wrote, HJ acknowledges that there is much more that could be challenged than was covered in the Reprobate Spreadsheet analysis. This is a place where a bit more of that challenging will happen.

Here, I want to emphasize a point that HJ made briefly that I believe could use more attention, add a couple of points original to me, and then allow you to get more from HJ’s original analysis. Here is the section I wish to reanalyze, a smaller portion of HJ’s first excerpt2:

the view that the category of ‘woman’ is correctly defined as ‘adult human female’. Biological essentialism is a position about whether certain traits of women are biologically produced by sex category membership. Womanhood itself is not a genetic ‘trait’ and no-one on either side of the dispute thinks it is conceivably biologically produced in the way that, arguably, emotional intelligence or maternal instinct is supposed to be.

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What Constitutes A Tool? Orca Are Freuding Amazing Edition

So, apparently some folks have known about this for a long time, but I just came across a reference to orca gathering together several members of a pod who then swim, dive, and surge synchronously to produce a wave displacing several tons of water.

Why would they do that? Well, it turns out it’s a good way for orca to wash prey animals who rest on ice floes – mainly seals – off the safety of their floating islands and into the open water where the orca can eat them.

Here’s one video which culminates in three orca using the strategy:


However, there are others. I came across a 45 minute TV program that would be inconvenient to use in demonstrating the tactic. Still if you’re willing to scan through and find it, you can see five orca swimming, diving, & surging synchronously to form a massive wave. While synchronized action isn’t unusual in the animal kingdom (think of birds migrating in V formations or schools of fish turning in near-unison among other things), this involves not only planning, but very possibly also either communicating a plan to one’s companions or, even more spectacularly, a theory of mind where the means to communicate a plan are absent, but other orca recognize what one orca is attempting to achieve in the future, then thinking about how to enhance the success of that other animal’s plan. Thinking from that other animal’s perspective, if that’s what’s happening, is a stupendous intellectual feat.

It would not be the only time one can see theory of mind operating in non-human animals, but the operation of theory of mind is rare.

And yet, the thing that completely disarms me intellectually is the thought that in this instance, the very water in which they swim has probably been rendered into a tool, which would challenge the very definition of the word. Wikipedia’s discussion of tool use by animals has a brief discussion of the difficulties inherent in defining “tool”. The first example they present, though, is sufficient to the point:

The external employment of an unattached or manipulable attached environmental object to alter more efficiently the form, position, or condition of another object, another organism, or the user itself, when the user holds and directly manipulates the tool during or prior to use and is responsible for the proper and effective orientation of the tool.

Is the seawater an “environmental object” or the orca’s environment itself? I’m not sure, but this is an incredible bit of cooperative hunting a raises a great many questions about orca, their intelligence, and even the nature of tool use itself.