Sunday, November 23, 2008

The state of modern feminism: Brianna's view

(This started out as a comment on Aviva's post, but it got so long that I decided to make a whole new post!)

I've never really been completely satisfied with the current feminist movement. I suppose some of this might be the fault of my family (They think that feminism has done enough already), but whatever the cause, I've just never been quite happy. In fact, when I first started learning about and agreeing with feminist ideas, I was calling myself a 'post-feminist'. Real post-feminism, of course, is really anti-feminism, but what I meant by the term was, that I wanted to move past simple equality, to work for a basic cultural changes, and to include all sorts of ideas, not just the narrow set espoused by the second-wave feminists that I was reading and listening to at the time. And so, when given the opportunity to write for this blog, I was very excited - It's something that has always concerned me!

Third wave feminism has been mildly successful at rectifying the problems I mentioned, especially the problem of inclusiveness. Modern feminists spend as much time working on racial, GLBT, class, and environmental issues as they do women's and gender issues. While this is a good thing, there are many problems, too. Worst of all, I feel like third-wave feminism has stagnated, has stopped growing, even as it is still hampered by a lack of definition (most people still haven't heard of it!)

More specifically, I have three problems with modern, third-wave feminism:

1. Lack of coherence and a resulting lack of involvement.

The infighting needs to stop. The 'what does it mean to be a feminist' argument must stop. (See any thread on any major feminist website for examples!) Now, I don't mean that we can't disagree - I mean that we need to overcome our disagreements enough to become unified.

An example from the other side of the cultural spectrum: I come from a very conservative christian background. Now, conservatives fight all of the time. Baptists, who really make up the core of the christian right, fight constantly. But they don't fall apart - as an example, the minute Glorious Leader James Dobson pulls out all the stops on his radio show, they all drop the arguments and write a million letters, place a million calls, or go protest en masse. They donate money by the ton. And the people who do these things aren't activists - they're ordinary people who are only mildly involved in the conservative movement!

Can we get that kind of response from the average 'I'm not really a feminist - I don't hate men or anything - but I support the ideas.' sort of person? I doubt it. And while third-wave feminism has done a good job of attracting young people who formally thought that feminists were just angry women who couldn't have any fun, I think that in doing this, we have lost our ability to work together on anything. There's too much 'girl power' and not enough real work being done.

2. Lack of a real goal:

As I said earlier, when I was first discovering feminism, I called myself a post-feminist. I had been reading the major second-wave works, and it seemed to me that feminism had succeeded in the goals that they had set for themselves - women do have basic political equality, don't we?

I now know that even this is not true, of course. (and that the post-feminism concept was already taken.) But to hear many third-wave feminists talk, you would think the only thing wrong are with a few misogynists in the media, a few lingering cultural problems, and a bunch of international problems. They complain endlessly about sexist ads, about Rush Limbaugh, and about health care problems. You get the impression that if we could just stop the rape problem, stop the evil corporations, equalize pay, and find a solution to the sex industry, everything would be fine, and we could get down to turning everything into a communal utopia.

But those problems are a symptom, not a cause. The real problems are things like the cultural obsession with the gender binary, the glorification of 'masculine' qualities, the normalization of rape and violence (rather than individual acts), etc., etc. These problems are occasionally talked about - but often, feminists act as if the solution is simply to pass a few laws and insist that the media do a better job!

Now, that's not to say that nothing is being done - many wonderful things are being accomplished. Most feminists, though, casual feminists in particular, aren't doing very much. It often seems, too, that it is the remaining second-wave feminists who are getting things done, not the third-wave!

3. Lack of rigorous thinking:

Okay, I admit it - I'm a bit of a academic elitist. I've spent hours and hours reading dry academic works. And I think that academic feminism is absolutely vital for the health of the feminism as a whole.

Now, I do understand that many don't like all those books and theories - they seem disconnected from the real world - but I believe that we need a foundation of rigorous theory in order to function. The second-wave movement had this to an incredible degree - but the third-wave movement seems to be moving farther and farther away from the academic, which is still tied to the ideals of the second-wave movement.

Thus, the modern feminist movement depends on theories developed twenty or thirty years ago. It's not that new ideas aren't being published, but the big, well known ones seem to be of the Full-Frontal-Feminism variety - fairly popular works for a general audience, not academic works that can really develop new theories.


So what about the future? What should we try to make feminism into? Following the above points:

1. Stop the fighting. Just do it. And, we need to insist that it does matter for feminism to be a movement, not just a girl power club.
2. We need to work toward another fundamental cultural change. We did it once, and we can do it again.
3. More interaction between the theoretical and the practical, between the academics and the bloggers, the women's organizations, the activists. I think that this should help with the first problem, too - theory can help us find real answers, rather than engage in name-calling style faux-academic arguments. ("Classism!" "Ableism!" "Capitalist Pigism!" - sound familiar?)

In summary: We need the intelligence, strength, and coherence of the Second-Wave movement combined with the inclusiveness and individualism of the Third-Wave movement.

I really mean combined, too - not merely coexistent like the they are currently.


Anonymous said...

We need the intelligence, strength, and coherence of the Second-Wave movement combined with the inclusiveness and individualism of the Third-Wave movement

YUP. The backbone and principles of the Second Wave and the intersectionality of the Third Wave. I've been saying the same thing on my blog.

Oh Crap said...

This is a fantastic article. I'm not sure how Google Blogs picked you up in the "Sarah Palin" blog search, but that's how I landed here. Serendipitously, because just today, I made a somewhat tongue-in-cheek reference to "second wave 2.0" and "Wave #4".

I've been working on something similar: what to do with the word "feminism" when someone as prominent as Sarah Palin self-identifies, then she doesn't, then she does....then the feminists say, well, she's not a real feminist, even as the conservative pundits try to force her down people's throats as the new, authentic "feminist" (and even as Hustler makes spoof movies about her ambivalent, Puritanical MILF image).

Seems like the word's been rendered kind of useless, though I think we've been on this track since at least the emergence of "third wave feminism" and "post-feminism".

We gotta figure out what to do with this word.