Culture War Correspondence: 4th Wave Feminism

GORDON: Ladies and gentlemen, last week, I kinda volunteered a discussion topic which Kat has graciously decided to roll with. Today, we’re going to be talking about feminism- where we stand now, and with an increasing number of people claiming that feminism’s work is done- what we’d like to see next on the agenda.

KAT: So perhaps we should start be establishing what the first three waves of feminism have accomplished.

You are probably all familiar with the fact that the first wave fought for (and won) the right for the vote.

While the second wave pushed for access and equal opportunity to the workforce, as well as legal sex discrimination.

The third wave is a little more tricky. It’s known as being “post-structuralist” because a lot of what the third wave did was to deconstruct some of the issues with the third wave.

Gordon, you wrote a piece a little while ago about your feelings towards third wave feminism, so maybe you can explain your understanding of it as well. Or what you think people tend to associate with it

GORDON: Well, the way I’d probably explain it is that 1st wave feminism demanded equality within the law, 2nd wave feminism demanded equality within the workplace, and 3rd wave feminism demands equality within society. An equal standard of treatment for sex among women and men, equal rights for the transgendered, and stronger societal protection against sexual assaults and harassment.

While 3rd wave feminism is what many would call “sex-positive” (maintaining that use of your sexuality is empowering), it also has spawned the now-famous “slut-walks”- protests against rape and sexual attacks made on the basis of what the women were wearing at the time.

KAT: Right-

So when you first mentioned this topic to me you mentioned the idea of “fourth wave feminism” and what might be coming next. While I’m not entirely sure there is anything post-post-structural (and therefore no obvious new wave) I do agree that feminism is going to keep evolving and shifting focus. I think maybe one of the ways it is continuing to evolve is by reexamining the sex-positive attitude from more racial perspectives, something you can see with the #solidarityisforwhitewomen movement on twitter

Where do you think feminism will head next? Or will it just be more attention to many of the previous goals, just reworking them to be more inclusive?

GORDON: Well, one of the criticism’s I leveled at 3rd wave feminism was the idea that any kind of use of your sexuality is somehow empowering. Stripping, pornography, prostitution- IF they make you money (and they very often don’t) aren’t any more “empowering” than a black actor making money by playing some viciously stereotyped role is “empowered”.

Objectification DOES exist, I guess would be my point. 3rd wave feminism has done some good stuff, but it still has solved the issue of exploitation. And yeah, we could also probably discuss the pretty big difference between what being a feminist in the west entails and what being a feminist means elsewhere. Heck- across class divides, we could have the same discussion.

KAT: Yeah, I think what you put your finger on with mentioning “the sex debate” is addressed really well in this article a friend sent me on Miley Cyrus and all the controversy over her new image. It addresses how their tends to be two ways of looking at objectification. 1) As an individual making your own independent choices (that you have the right to do) and 2) as a member of a larger overarching system of power and oppression (and that your actions may help to perpetuate the oppression of other women even if they don’t necessarily affect you negatively). She explains how we all have to do what she calls “patriarchal bargaining” to some degree in our lives.

In her words “We are all Miley, though.  We all make patriarchal bargains, large and small.  Housewives do when they support husbands’ careers on the agreement that he share the dividends.  Many high-achieving women do when they go into masculinized occupations to reap the benefits, but don’t challenge the idea that occupations associated with men are of greater value.  None of us have the moral high ground here.”

GORDON: That’s… pretty dang good.

KAT: Yeah, I really like how she doesn’t accuse any of those things of being wrong. She just acknowledges that any and all of them will allow the system to continue ticking away the way it always has.

GORDON: I’m gonna be upfront here and admit that I’m not entirely without my own agenda. Marxism actually helped spawn the feminist movement (there’s a whole section in the Manifesto dedicated to explaining how women were/are getting screwed by the system) and we have a pretty clear plan for what we think should be the solutions to the issues.

Of course, that all ties into the overthrow of global capitalism, so baby steps, I guess.

You brought up this “bargaining” system we’re in- what do YOU think should be on the agenda for addressing it and the issues facing feminism on the whole?

KAT: Well I definitely fall more into the category of collectivist feminists, if that’s a real term. I do believe that objectification of women contributes to the lack of equality in politics, etc. But I’ve also been really challenged to reconsider my view on the “sex-positive” movement (as I mention in one of my article’s with CWR on legalizing prostitution). So I guess I would encourage other women to make choices that are going to open up doors for other women in the future (and I try to do so with my own life). That’s being said, I realize I negotiate those choices in my own life so I’m trying to be more understanding of those things even if I don’t agree. That being said nothing grates on me like a middle-class woman with access to a world of opportunity who decides to go into sex work for fun. Seriously, let’s at least try to fight the perception that women are sex objects! That being said those middle-class women often bring with them more safety and respect for sex-workers and that I fully support.

GORDON: I was writing up some notes the other night, and yeah, that’s actually I similar conclusion I came to. Again using my Commie soap box as a jumping-off point, I’d make the argument that your sexuality aint a bad thing- but it oughta to be YOUR thing. Putting the workers in charge of their own work, I think, will give these women at least some basic control of their own situation and a command of what they will and will not do. I’m not saying it’s the be-all, end-all solution- but I’m going to guess that you’re only going to allow yourself to be exploited so much if you’re in control of your situation. Same with any kind of work.

…Unionize the strippers, I guess, is what I’m saying.

And of course, less wealth inequality means better education and better options (i.e., non-exploitative/much-less-exploitative options) for women in general.

KAT: Agreed. But back to your original question. What do you think should be the next focus for feminism?


It seems to me that the greatest overarching issue facing women today is objectification. Women have been turned from private property (as you’d see in the 1800s and before) to a mass-marketed commodity. Reclaiming sexuality and selfhood in general I think has got to be the next major challenge- and along with that is going to come the fight against slavery, sweatshops, and every other kind of exploitation.

KAT: Agreed. I really loved the film Miss-representation for their presentation of how objectification (in media) contributes to the objectification. I also really love that they are now coming out with a film looking at how that objectification affects men. I think there is a lot of complaint that (at least for the middle class) feminism has actually allowed girls to surpass boys in their openness to opportunity.

There’s a study I read about how interviewing young girls and boys has actually made people realize that boys are believing that their opportunities are limited to the non-feminine aspects of life (especially with work). While girls are encouraged to pursue anything, masculine or feminine, young boys try to avoid the feminine because they are told (often through advertising) that some things are just for girls (i.e. it’s pink).

GORDON: That’s certainly true. Nursing, which started out as an exclusively male profession, has actually become associated inherently with women.

KAT: I think if we don’t address the way objectification affects men too it will only lead to more resentment towards feminism than there already is.

GORDON: As far as other issues go, we really can’t NOT talk about sexual assault. Personally, while I think objectification is bad, I’m not entirely sure I believe that sexist ads are to be responsible for the general rise in sexual assaults we’ve been seeing.

KAT: Is it rising or is it just more culturally acceptable for it to be reported?

GORDON: I mean, the position of women has improved over the past 50 years- I’m not sure the connection is as concrete as many might think it is (though obviously it can’t be helping)- though what you bring up is also a valid point.
I don’t think that women should be required to protect themselves- I mean, the entire point is that they shouldn’t have to- but I can’t help but wonder if there’s not some grassroots solution to dealing with the problem directly.
Guns, would be my gut reaction, but maybe that’s just me.

I’m also not opposed to swords.

KAT: I think I would have to lean more towards men talking to men about it. Like I mentioned in my article about Sir Patrick Stewart, if guys are already disrespect women enough to treat them violently then they aren’t going to listen to women telling them to stop being violence. That’s  why i am such a big believer in male feminists or allies.

GORDON: It’s certainly a discussion worth having.

We’re almost out of time, so let’s recap what we have so far:

I. We want to see sexuality dealt with in such a way as to put control of the product (sexuality, in this case) in the hands of the people producing it (dang, that sounds like a double entendre).


II. We want to be aware of how all women and men have to negotiate with patriarchy in their lives.


III. We want a more inclusive response to the issues of exploitation as a whole, in such a way as to place feminism and the struggle for labor rights in the same boat.


IV. We want men to get involved in the fight against violence, and we acknowledge that objectification is detrimental to men and male relationships as well.

GORDON: And I think that about covers it.

KAT: Yep.

Let us know your thoughts on objectification/exploitation and the involvement of men in feminism, because both can be pretty hot button issues.

GORDON: And of course, feel free to comment in general, and be sure to check in next time- and leave a comment for what YOU want to hear us discuss next.

One response to “Culture War Correspondence: 4th Wave Feminism

  1. To answer the original question of “what will the next wave of feminism look like” I think that it looks a lot like Sir Patrick Stewart. At this point the first three waves of feminism have accomplished pretty much all that women can accomplish alone. The three goals of equality within law, workplace, and society have been, in theory, reached. But the problem is that they have not been reached in practice. As long as men don’t get on board with these ideas things really won’t change for women.

    Women may have technical equality in the law, but as long as the majority of our lawmakers are men, and men who view women as less than themselves, things won’t really change. We need more women in power and more of the men in power need to get with the program regarding women. “Legitimate rape” is the kind of male ignorance and offensiveness that springs to mind.

    Women may have equality in the workplace in theory because the laws support that idea. But in practice the majority of CEOs and other major players in the business world are men. For this to change we need women who are ambitious and men who support that ambition. I mean, the whole idea behind the term “glass ceiling” is that we can’t see it. But it’s there and a lot of it is the subconscious decisions behind promotions and other business decisions. People are most likely to promote those who are similar to themselves. So if men are the ones handing out promotions other men will reap the benefits.

    Socially I would say women still are not equal, actually. At least not fully. I think third wave feminism is making progress in that regard but it is in no way finished yet. Or maybe it is finished in the sense that it has gone as far as it can as a movement of women. I think now is the time for the fourth wave of feminism: male allies. To achieve the fulfillment of the first three waves of feminism we need to transform this entire issue. Feminism can no longer be a women’s movement. Feminism needs to be a human movement.

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