Full moon thoughts on feminisms and ontology

I got into an Argument On The Internet last night about what feminism is, and isn't. A Person On Twitter (APOT) proposed that one feminism exists, and that it has core beliefs. I suggested that there are many feminisms, and that, as there is no one feminism, there can be no 'feminist' core beliefs. This upset APOT. They made some accusations at me, making false logic leaps. I got riled up. It wasn't pretty.

This morning, I did my best attempt at Unconditional Positive Regard with them (a skill I learned with Dr. Jenn McCabe). I also decided to post brief outlines of each feminism, to demonstrate how their fundamental, ontological differences meant that they didn't share any core beliefs, even though they are/were all feminisms.

It occurs to me now that our disagreement was actually about what constitutes a core belief. Ontology is belief about / position on what exists -- what could be more core, more fundamental than that? But for many, including many in academia, ontology appears to be an irrelevance, only for those prone to solipsistic navel gazing. 

Read below, and see what you think -- is there a common core belief between all of these feminisms? And if so, what makes it a core belief? Is ontology important or irrelevant?

1st Wave Feminism: 19th and 1st half of 20th centuries 

Votes for women!

Women are citizens in their own right, not just adjuncts to men.

2nd Wave Feminism: 1960s-1990s 

The personal is political!

The big burgeoning of the feminist movement, from bra-burning to Goddess spirituality to equal pay disputes to consciousness-raising groups to radical lesbian separatism. This wave largely fell into three camps:

Liberal feminism: there is nothing fundamentally wrong with society that can't be fixed by changing law and policy, breaking through the glass ceiling, and getting women into positions of power within existing structures.

Marxist feminism: women are structurally oppressed within capitalism, through property and economic relations, as well as through reproductive labour. Ideas such as wages for housework and rights for sex workers come from this strand of feminist thought.

Radical feminism: patriarchy is the foundation of all oppression, and male dominance and patriarchal gender relations must be fought and dismantled at every turn, including through resistance to compulsory heterosexuality: "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." 

Late on in 2nd wave, there was also...

Difference feminism: women and men are fundamentally different. Women need to develop their own, fundamentally feminine ways of being and means of expression.

Men also became involved in liberal and Marxist feminisms, and as allies in radical and difference feminisms. 

Failure to address different experiences

All of these strands of 2nd wave feminism failed to address the specific experience of black and minority ethnic women / women of color, liberal and radical feminism failed to address economic and class inequalities, and liberal and Marxist feminism often erased the experiences of lesbian, bisexual and other queer women. 

In the early 1980s Womanism arose, first named by the author and poet, Alice Walker, seeking to find a universal approach to human equality, rooted in the experience of black women. In a related move, in 1989, Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term "intersectionality" to refer to the way in which black women don't just experience racism, or sexism, but a combined experience of both at once. Black (Marxist) feminism was also strong in the USA (e.g. Angela Davis) and some parts of the UK (e.g. Southall Black Sisters). Womanism, Intersectionality theory, and Black feminism were counters to the overwhelming whiteness of 2nd wave feminism.

3rd Wave feminism: 1990s-present


Rejecting the often essentialist notions of gender and universalist ideas of gendered experience found in 2nd wave feminisms, 3rd wave feminism is characterised by freedom and fluidity in gender identity and expression, and individual empowerment, often at the expense of collective organising. It plays with gender, and opens the way to great diversity of identity, expression, and presentation for all genders -- including genderqueer and nonbinary. Identity is seen as provisional and flexible. Trans people are included and, in some ways, central.

4th Wave feminism: late 2000s-???


Who knows?! Still developing. Online engagement and a greater focus on intersectionality (taken way beyond Kimberlé Crenshaw's original definition) are clear features, but beyond that... I guess we'll find out.

Image credit: photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

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