One of the most devastating features of postmodern politics and activism is its innate ability to reverse the gains made by earlier reform movements. In an earlier post, we saw that this is true with race and racism. In this post, we will show why it is true also with feminism and women’s rights.
What is “feminism” and how did it emerge?
The concept of “feminism” has generally referred to the advocacy of women’s rights based on the equality of the sexes. However, there are new forms of feminism that reject such a definition.
By the dawn of the twenty-first century, older forms of feminism—which advocated for women’s rights based on the equality of the sexes—had made significant gains. Most Americans are now feminists in that older, more traditional, sense of the word. Yet, just as it had achieved victory, newer (postmodern) forms of feminism emerged and began, ironically, to reverse the gains made by traditional feminism.
What are four different types of feminism?
Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay summarize the development of feminism in four steps, leading from older to newer conceptions of what it means to advocate for women:
- Liberal (traditional) feminism: extend to women the same rights that men already have.
- Materialist feminism: focus on overcoming patriarchy and bad capitalism that constrain women
- Radical feminism: focus on overcoming patriarchy, view men as having oppressor status and women as having oppressed status.
- Intersectional feminism: applied postmodernism is different than old POMO because it views identity oppression as objectively real. It blended various forms of critical theory, but especially intersectionality. Instead of promoting the shared identity of women, it denies that women have common experiences, and it complicates even the meaning of “woman.”
What are the central features of the newer—Intersectional—feminism?
This transformation of feminism from the traditional model to the Intersectional model is unfortunately harmful to women and society. Instead of focusing on real material disadvantages, the new feminism rallies around disrupting what it considers to be oppressive discourses. Judith Lorber identifies four main tendencies of the shift toward focusing on oppressive discourses:
- Making gender—instead of biological sex—central.
- Treating gender and sexuality as social constructs.
- Reading power into those constructs.
- Focusing on a person’s standpoint identity.
In other words, postmodern Instersectional feminism rejected old forms of feminism because it rejected simple binaries and wanted to problematize the categories of “man” and “woman. Such terms are incoherent when applied universally rather than in particular. Thus feminism ended up embracing intersectionality.
Old forms of feminism had made such tremendous progress that they were now irrelevant. Intersectionality gave new feminists something to do and say. It problematized feminism and feminists.
What is “gender studies”?
What does the new “gender studies” actually examine? Everything. It studies everything in which humans engage. If gendering is an oppressive action, then its oppression is woven throughout everything that men or women do. Biological essentialism is rejected in favor of gender identity being formed through socialization.
How should Americans think about the new postmodern—Intersectional—feminism?
Intersectional feminists are especially vitriolic in their attacks against traditional forms of feminism. They don’t like traditional feminism’s view that American society already provides the opportunities through which women can succeed, as long as the doors are open to women. Intersectional feminists reject and mock this view because they want to engage in identity politics toward the end of forging a social revolution; they want overthrow the social architecture of American society and start from scratch. Americans should reject this impulse. As I argue here, social reform is always better than social revolution.
Americans should also reject Intersectionality’s obsession with social groupings. Intersectional theorists mostly ignore the individual (and individual women’s rights) and the universal (commonalities among all women), choosing instead to focus on social groups.
Intersectional feminists are irritated with any focus on individual women. For example, they don’t want to defend an individual’s free speech but instead defend the value of ideas that belong to certain groups. Thus, they reject any form of feminism that centers on women making personal choices. They aren’t interested in equality but in social equity. For them, everything—including the rights of individual women—is somehow problematic.
Intersectional feminists also are irritated with universal claims about women. For them, gender oppression exists at all times and everywhere around us. They ignore the biological differences between men and women, differences that play a large role in traditional gender views. They presuppose their conclusion that gender bias is pervasive and socially constructed; they oversimplify even though, ironically, Intersectional Theory is complicated and muddled. Their only real conclusion is that straight white men need to get out of the way. Americans should also lament Intersectionality’s neglect of “economic class” as an important indicator of society’s health. Intersectional feminism ignores the real material world—where some women are financially destitute through no fault of their own—in favor of ambiguous and unfalsifiable assertions about power and privilege. In fact, the Democratic party is losing the vote of the working class because of its embrace of postmodern activism that overlooks economic class.