I was pretty much frozen trying to pick an image for this post. When you Google “fourth-wave feminism,” you get a whole bunch of pictures of white women, a lot of them heroes of second-wave feminism. It seemed like an eerie mirror of exactly what I’m afraid of: that fourth-wave feminism will carry forth the uninterrupted traditions of second-wave feminism. It was really like, “O hai there, the problem! Jus’ chilllin’? Cool.”
Golly gosh, you’d think if there’s one thing I’ve learned by now, it’s not to say when I’m going to publish a blog post. Sorry it took so long to write this, the literally ones of ones of you who were waiting. In the meantime I’ve started up a new Tumblr, “Is It Homophobic?” (please submit and refer!), but mostly Ive been thinking: who the fuck am I?
I am an able-bodied dyslexic gender-playful faggot with a beard and a passion for shoes. I am white, Jewish and Native American. I am young (but not that young). I am from a working-class background and, though college-educated, all of my miniature shekels from writing jobs go to paying my student loans.
Is feminism even mine?
Feminism gave me the framework I use to look at the world now. I think it even equipped me with the tools I need to see all the stuff that’s wrong with contemporary feminism. Feminist cliches taught me that “feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” I took the next step and inferred that people are people.
I need feminism like I need water. There isn’t even an -ism for queerness. Queerness is like an extra head women’s studies grew a couple of decades ago, but that’s left queerness with its share of issues, too. Namely, racism, classism and an ivory tower mentality.
Most, but not all of what I’m going to be talking about in this series of posts about the (hopefully) approaching fourth-wave applies specifically to queer feminism. It is easiest for me to critique queer feminist because I am a queer feminist. And the gnawing discomfort I have about expressing my views about the messed-upedness of third-wave feminism I suppose for now will have to be allayed by saying: I am doing this out of a sincere anti-oppression motivation. I don’t want to talk over other people. I want more people to start talking- and really be heard!
This isn’t about my views being right, because I want to learn. Otherwise, what’s the point? What follows is just fourth-wave feminism as I would be uncomfortable or unhappy seeing it. I don’t want to join up with a clone of third-wave feminism. I want us to make something with our own hands and hearts that works for everyone. Crazy? Maybe. But isn’t it crazier not to try?
Fourth-Wave Feminisms Up With Which I Shall Not Sign
[Trigger warning for discussion of feminist racism, classism and transphobia]
Racist, classist feminism – Nope. Not gonna do it. Feminism cannot shout down poor people and people of color and tell them to hold off on their concerns.
How does feminism become racist & classist? By becoming entrenched in institutions that are racist and classist.
This was accomplished in short order with a privilege feedback loop. Rich white feminists set second-wave agendas, forcefully edging out other voices. Access to racist, classist institutions was gained, and then it was decided that this access determined the value of your feminist thought and action. This put poor people and people of color at an institutional disadvantage. Then rich white feminists write trend pieces about why poor people and people of color aren’t more engaged with feminism. *Deep breath.*
This tradition lives on in the refusal of white feminists to engage with the concerns of people of color with issues surrounding Slut Walks, and radical queers with publishers who refuse to acknowledge their ideology wants poor people to stay poor. We can’t shove all of the blame off on our second-wave forebears.
Transphobic feminism – Gender essentialism is a trademark of second-wave feminism that lives on too often unchallenged in third-wave feminism. Transmen were vilified for allegedly seeking out male privilege and transwomen were vilified for allegedly using male privilege to take over women’s spaces. Second-wave feminism decided it would tell people what gender they were and purposely invisibilize transsexuals and other gender warriors. I can’t sign up with fourth-wave feminism that continues to collude with transphobic forces and worse – those who propagate and bankroll transphobia.
Feminism that says duh – It should be possible and, better yet, encouraged for reasonable people to disagree about things, especially the important ones. Your (or my) “duh” is someone else’ “fuck no!”
Similarly: Isn’t it better to say, “wow, what an engaging question/issue, we should take some time to really think about that” than “knee-jerk response based on circular reasoning and foregone conclusions!”? We cannot make something new this way. We can’t.
Idle feminism – It’s not that thinking isn’t doing something. But it’s also not that action isn’t an expression of thought. Can’t we work for bringing thought and practice together?
Feminism that overemphasizes universals – Here, I’ll use an example from my own (Jewish) culture.
My ancient coreligionists had only one word for “world” and “universe” (olam). They were light-years (no pun intended) away from anything we might recognize as science, and they had no reason to suspect that the universe is as vast as it is. Their world was their universe – and our world is only not our universe because of some amazing technology and math, the vast majority of which was accomplished just in the last 100 years.
So, too, we should be ever mindful of our definition of “world.” We cannot assume that feminism can be copied and pasted as is into all cultures, especially when rich white Western feminists are the so-called arbiters of feminism. If we are to assist in the liberation of humanity, I would feel better listening than talking.
Sex-negative feminism – It feels like the sex wars are back, y’all. I can’t sign up for feminism that sounds just like the religious right. Either we believe our bodies are our own or we don’t. (Hint: I do.) Choice isn’t a buzzword. It’s a principle.
Been there, wrote that feminism – It is never anyone’s job to do the teaspoon work of explaining feminism 101 concepts to anyone else, ever. But theory has so far outstripped praxis that sometimes I feel like I’m among the youngest people who will really be able to make that transition from Feminism 101 to Feminism 694 and feel at least somewhat supported along the way.
“I don’t do Feminism 101.” If you’ve said that and you know it, clap your hands. I will clap loud and long. Not every space, time or situation is right for Feminism 101. But I want to stop treating Feminism 101 like a dirty word. No one is born taking or teaching graduate seminars in special feminist issues. No one. And we should at least be able to support those people who chose to do the incredibly difficult work of explaining incredibly complex concepts in understandable language. Feminism 101 isn’t just for educating misogynists. It’s for giving future feminists a leg up, too.
Plus, if we’re remaking feminism, we’re probably going to need a new Feminism 101.
Unchanging feminism – One of the things I hope most strongly for the next wave of feminism is that it will be elastic. That it will be more responsive to times and people. Buildings, bridges and -isms should be made to bend in the wind – “to withstand the world that’s what it takes.” (Yes I just quoted Ani DiFranco.) We should try to leave those who come after us with a strong and positive anti-oppression framework that they can make their own, too.
Okay, that’s it for now. It’s not a complete list of my concerns, but it’s a good starting place, for me, at least.
Big Mama Schlomo loves you!