Given the paucity of written material on the topic of 3rd (or perhaps 4th) wave feminism’s gargantuan departure from the ideals of 2nd wave and the regression of freedoms which they are seemingly calling for, it is with a heavy heart that I try to make a tiny dent in that vast empty reading list.
The 2nd wave of feminism was about empowering women, giving women’s choices primacy over societal norms and roles. Women were encouraged to venture into the work force and win in that arena because women are just as capable as men. This period brought about many changes in the legal status of women via multiple legislative enactments. The failure of the Equal Rights Amendment to pass in the US was one of only 2 legislative or judicial defeats suffered by the 2nd wave. The ERA failure was in part due to conservative women such as Phylis Schlafly arguing (correctly IMO) that if passed would lead to women being drafted alongside the young men.
The 2nd wave’s view of culture was that popular culture was thoroughly sexist, and encouraged women to create their own pop culture to combat the perceived sexism in the mainstream pop culture¹. Feminists formed major institutions with political and societal clout such as NOW. These institutions behave as most institutions do…with self interest. In other words, they seek to retain what power they have and to acquire more power. They are not inclined to look around, decide that the job is finished, give each other a pat on the back, throw a celebratory champagne dinner, and dissolve or downsize themselves. Institutions simply don’t do this voluntarily. They just “discover” more problems that need their continued existence to combat.
All the while the mainstream 2nd wave was making sweeping political and legal progress for women, the more radical elements were quietly gaining strength out of the spotlight. These radical views came to the fore in the 1980’s with the Feminist Sex Wars. These debates bifurcated feminism into the sex positive and radical (or anti-porn) brigades. Unsurprisingly, the National Organization for Women pitched it’s tent decidedly on the anti-porn side. This battle is ongoing even today, but it is important to note that this battle is mostly internal. Very few feminists will challenge or criticize their own openly. Some who have done so end up being declared “anti-feminist”.
Modernity has brought about various new media which both divisions of feminism took to with gusto. Social networks, blogs, video upload sites, and a wide proliferation of on-line magazines have allowed far more voices than ever to be heard. It is a great irony that the very freedom allowed by this new media, is too often used in opposition to free expression. Among those who enjoy the freedom to have their message received globally are some who would limit what you or anyone else should be allowed to see, read, listen to, or play. One such group is Muslim extremists.
Using the freedom of the internet and the great sanctity that most western nations place on freedom of expression, these extremists promulgate their message to the free world. That message, in part, is that certain ideas should be prohibited, certain images should be banned, certain actions should be blasphemy. So offended and outraged are they by certain criticisms and depictions of their prophet that they are willing to kill those who create the depictions or speak out against their ideology. Some examples: Kurt Westergaard the Danish cartoonist, Salman Rushdie British Indian author, Ayaan Hirsi Ali a Somali activist and author, and of course the recent Charlie Hebdo murders.
Sadly there are other groups who use their freedom of expression to try to limit yours. The anti-porn, sex negative feminists. The difference here between the radical Muslims and the radical feminists is only one of tactics. Tactics and the images and ideas they don’t want you to be exposed to. Muslim extremists object to depictions of their prophet. Sex-negative feminists object to depictions of women. There is the UK newspaper, The Sun, who have a campaign by these feminists to get rid of the paper’s notorious page 3 photos. There was the famous #Shirtstorm incident where cartoon depictions of women on a scientist’s shirt were decried by these sex-negative feminists.
Hmmm, cartoons? Yes, cartoons feature prominently in both the radical Muslim outrage and the anti-sex feminist outrage. I’ll leave it for you, dear reader, to decide if that is a telling feature or just an irrelevant bug.
The last example of sex negative feminism’s assault on free expression is one Anita Sarkeesian. Anita, with her helpmate Jonathan (don’t call me Josh) McIntosh, are waging their own campaign against the animated depictions of women. ( There must be some great power in cartoonish depictions of forbidden ideas.) These two are leading a fight to restrict the ways in which artists and game developers can depict women. Rather than fight the much less lucrative battle against actual harms done to women, often by the extremist Muslim groups (which they actually defend), they fight for the suppression of pixelated sexuality and violence and not the actual real world injustices. Rather than create their own popular culture¹ or ideal depictions, they simply criticize.
Sex and violence have been subjects of artistic expressions and depictions since the dawn of mankind. Art imitates life is the adage, and it is true. Artists depicting real life situations is one of the ways humans have of examining the concepts involved in these situation safely (where no real humans are harmed). Throughout all of history there have been groups and ideologies that sought to restrict this freedom of thought and expression. One such group’s stranglehold on thought and expression helped cost humanity almost 500 years of progress.
The Social Justice Warriors have often used a phrase in their discourse, “Don’t be on the wrong side of history”. I agree with that sentiment and in the case of freedom of expression vs offense…I’m not on the wrong side. History has already vindicated my stance. So to you sex-negative feminists, Social Justice Warriors, and extremist Muslims I say, “Don’t YOU be on the wrong side of history”.
¹ One difference between 2nd wave and new anti-sex feminists.