“Imagine if you have a team and you don’t let half of the team play. That’s stupid.” ~President Barack Obama~
Feminists have historically made inroads in the fight for equality between men and women by getting the public thinking about the issues plaguing women and what could be done to address them. First Wave feminists were concerned with getting women the right to vote. Second Wave feminists were concerned with addressing systemic sexism in the public and private sphere and giving women the ability to “exercise their creative and intellectual faculties” in everyday life. Political and social change made it possible for women to progress within the world, but women are still, by and large, held back by barriers ingrained into society relating to ageism, classism, homophobia, racism, settler colonialism, and sexism.
Consequently, Third Wave feminists have responded to these barriers within society by creating forums to allow women from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to voice their experiences in the hopes that material changes can arise from their experience. Indeed, the first two waves of feminism were important in the sense that it got the public thinking about important issues relating to political opportunity, sexism, and the continued the subjugation of women, but Third Wave feminists wished to illustrate the multifacetednature of the issues plaguing women.
Civil rights activities and critical race theorist, Kimberlé Crenshaw illustrated this with the introduction of intersectional theory, which argues that “multiple levels of social injustice” shape one’s own experience in the world. Third Wave Feminism, therefore, gives feminists and the public at large a deeper understanding of the world and how inequalities are experienced.
With this, it is imperative that people, both men and women, listen to the stories of marginalized groups and take their stories seriously when understanding how public policy or social phenomenon affects them. Indeed, following the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, the testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford got people thinking about the prevalence of sexual assault and how it affects women. Now as a man, I cannot say that I know what it’s like to be a woman. This fact, however, does not absolve me, or others, from listening to others and understanding how their experience in the world differs from my own and how their world is affected by practiced taken for granted.
Intersectionality, therefore, fits well within this conversation because it gives us a frame to understand issues and what keeps women and other groups marginalized. By carefully listening to their stories and understanding their point of view, political and social change can be possible.
As Crenshaw argued, “Where there’s no name for a problem, you can’t solve it.” Consequently, if people don’t listen to women, we, as a society, cannot progress and address the issues that effects women and other marginalized groups.
As for the question of who decides what proper feminism is and how it should be practiced, Nilika Mehrotra argued that feminism “often acquires specific character in a variety of contexts. It has been both viewed as an ideology of women’s movement itself aiming to create a world for women beyond simple women’s liberation or equality.” What this means is that while feminists look to eliminate inequities between men and women, feminists around the world would argue that certain steps need to be taken in order for full equality to be reached.
For example, in places where it is difficult for girls to go to school, measures need to be taken to educate women and protect women to allow for progress. Aid can help local feminists achieve goals such as educating women and ensuring their safety and wellbeing, but it is important for feminists in developed nations to listen to the needs of a community and get men on board with the goals of local feminists. Paraphrasing Obama, we can see that giving women the opportunity to play can give the team a chance to succeed. Indeed, ideas and practices might be challenged, but feminism arises in response to a refusal to accept the status quo.
Accordingly, by listening to women’s stories and taking their plights seriously, feminist practices can heighten people’s awareness surrounding the issue and empower women to take charge and produce political and social change that addresses issues deemed salient within a community.
As for contemporary movements like #MeToo, #TimesUp and the Women’s March, these campaigns have been shown to be successful in getting the public thinking about issues from a feminist point of view. These movements aim to dismantle barriers which keep women out of politics, including getting people thinking about the continual issue of sexual assault and harassment. In the spirit of punk rock, each campaign is “in your face” and these movements aim to affect how men treat women in everyday life and also how policies need to change if women are to be included as members of the movement towards a better future. Indeed, there is still much work to be done and the ideals of feminism still provide us with goals to achieve: both politically and socially.
Katherine Revello Rebutting “DIY Spirit of the Third Wave”
Katherine Revello (Classical Liberalism)
Evan Klim (Democratic Socialism)
Third Wave Feminism moves from the realm of the political to the cultural. As the Mr. Klim states, Third Wave Feminism responds to “barriers within society by creating forums to allow women from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to voice their experiences in the hopes that material changes can arise from their stories.”
But this shift from the political to the social has rooted the ideology in paradox. Feminism itself suffers from a debilitating contradiction: the movement folds the interests of all women under its banner, which it does by advancing a prototypical slate of “women’s issues” that are equally representative of the perspectives of all women. Such a practice admits no individuated distinctions, even when intersectionality—a practice that attempts to bring diverse voices into the conversation—is promoted. Identity politics make too often lumps grafts the grievance of the individual onto the grievance of a group: the struggles of one inner-city resident of minority racial status become the struggles of all. That singular perspective becomes representative of an entire community. This is not a practice that empowers the marginalized; it removes their agency and hollows out identity by presuming that certain experiences and positions are inherent to members of a particular race, class, gender, etc.
The collectivist bend of feminism was less problematic when the movement held as its goal fundamental political issues. The suffragettes fought not primarily for a political outcome, but for the consistent application of a principle. Their contention that women ought to have the right to vote was rooted not in ideas about gender, but in the idea that individuals, by virtue of their being, are equal and possess rights in equal measure. They asked simply that this principle, already engrained in the political ethos, be put into practice.
But shifting feminism’s focus from the problems of the political world to the problems of the social world only intensifies the issues of collectivism.
Political matters are public matters: the questions politics seeks to answers are those that touch upon the welfare of more than one individual. Social issues are often a function of private dysfunction: of the failures of interpersonal interactions. But social issues are largely private issues; they are the stories of individuals interacting, albeit imperfectly, with one another. Individual experience is exactly that: it cannot be extrapolated and taken as representative for broader societal trends. If third-wave feminism demands men and women “listen to the stories of marginalized groups and take their stories seriously when understanding how a public policy or social phenomenon affects someone,” it sets a standard that risks holding individuals responsible for issues they have no role in creating. This projected guilt can do nothing but inflame already existing grievances. Not only does such an approach make it less likely social issues will be advantageously settled, but it alienates those best placed to make change in future. Turning social problems into political problems removes them from the communities from which they arose. Life is contextual; any satisfactory solution to a problem will originate in the locality in which it arose, where members of the community interact and, by doing so, hold each other responsible.
Making one person’s problems emblematic of an entire identity group—and holding an entirely other identity group responsible for the wrongs done—is a surefire way to inflame grievance politics.
Yet, this is precisely what feminism, by collectivizing individuals, does.