Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Interestingly problematic

A few weeks ago I came across an article on AlJ by Anatoly Karlin, a Russian-born political commentator who now lives in the United States; he keeps two blogs, one of which focuses on western perceptions of the United States, the other offers general political commentary. He's an interesting guy; opinionated, possibly-centrist with some hints of radical individualism.

I thought I'd talk a bit about his flavour of feminism; it's of a flavour fairly distant from mine, much closer to the first wave, one that aims to preserve separate gender roles for women and men while achieving legal and blunt structural equality.

As an advocate of the second wave, you've probably seen me criticise political correctness, third-wave gender-theory/critical theory, and the like; my notion of the appropriate shape of political activism is to create a world that is reasonably pluralist in perspectives on race and gender, with an end to feminity/masculinity as binding norms, one where distinctions are loosened or abolished, where supportive institutions that discriminate (whether helping majority or minority) on race or gender need strong justification to keep doing so, particularly if they aim to do so long-term, but also one that sees acceptance rather than validation as the goal for most of these groups. The second wave celebrates cultural appropriation, it doesn't mandate any particular gender theory (even if people with odd genetics grumble), and it's one that also celebrates jokes about every grouping of humanity, every topic, and otherwise remains human.

Anatoly being on the other side (as I perceive it) of another line we don't hear a lot about, that between the first and second wave of activism, illustrates a theoretical distinction that I haven't talked much about before. I recognise first-wave activism as being (barely) feminism in the modern sense; the success of first and second-wave feminism in the west is that it has raised the bar high enough that the mainstream is already significantly in the first-and-second-wave camps, where the first wave looks potentially regressive from mainstream perspectives (although I confess my perspective, having lived in mostly liberal places, may be limiting my ability to credibly make such a statement).

What's the crucial difference? Anatoly provides a pointer to the distinction between equity and gender feminism; a position that while the essential natures of men and women differ, they merit equal (mostly professional) opportunities; Antoly further clarifies that he is largely supportive of LGBT movements. Contrast this to the broad second-wave perspective that the genders are not very different, or the particular camp I fall into which stresses (on the logic that "separate but equal" can never be equal) the end of gender-roles (and racial-roles, on issues of caste/race) entirely, and sees gender-normativity/heteronormativity as damaging. Just as third-wavers and second-wavers easily see each other as mutually mad/reprehensible (I find the call to validate unacceptable, and most of the provided theory built with the wrong goals in mind, and many third-wavers have found my mainstream-y perspectives on these matters while claiming them to be exemplars of proper feminism to be insufficient to achieve the kinds of social justice they seek), so too do first-wave and second-wave commitments clash; a fully-reached first-wave set of goals leaves alive the social steering of women and men into boxes that limit the potential of both while punishing the unsteerable, while to the first-waver I (and the third-wavers) are transforming the gendered notion of humanity into something unrecognisable, at an unknowable cost to the existing men and women (Anatoly analyses alpha-versus-beta males in the context of these social changes much of the time when he talks on the topic; I recognise these as approximations of certain kinds of men, but I aim to destroy both of those archetypes too, while I believe that a first-wave analysis would consider them indestructable). His first-wave feminism preserves a notion of chivalry and a number of other things I consider baggage from earlier times that I would generally strongly discourage; the sensibility of the second-waver is to distrust things built on differences between men and women.

I think it's probably hard for third-wavers to see the difference between first and second-wavers, and probably likewise for first-wavers to see the difference between second and third-wavers. Or perhaps it's just pointless, as their criticisms generally apply to the second-wave as well as whatever's on the other side, and if they don't, it's not generally worth mentioning where the second-wave stands.

An interesting article containing his analysis of (what I see primarily as a third-wave flavour of) feminist discourse on attractiveness. In this, I think his thinking is off because it assumes bad faith; while I believe it's perfectly appropriate to consider aesthetics a valid way to look at people, fine to celebrate our innate and acquired aesthetics (and to find fat people, deformed people, or other groups to be ugly and undesirable along that axis, although no reason to be cruel to them in individual interactions), I believe the particular subset of the third wave that aims to validate fatness (in their criticisms of fat-shaming, ableism, and the like; criticisms that I reject), isn't actually intending to demean beauty, even if it is possibly a consequence of their theory. It's just an acceptable loss along their way to their (IMO excessively broad) notion of social justice, not a target. Some parts of that article I just have to dismiss as unfortunate insults (even if they have a thread of possible truth, it is only a thread; much more delicate phrasing and structured argument would be needed to get at that thread without the insult though... hmm).

I don't see myself as balancing between a first- and third-wave so much as having a set of beliefs about social justice, the means we use to seek it, and the society we hope to build that happens to have a classification; the second wave was a very broad camp and had factions with a number of their own problems. There is a certain linearity in the development of the waves (with a few branches needed for a deeper unstanding), with what I regard as a fortunate backlash against the third wave's excesses that has provided some energy for alternatives to what once looked like an inevitable consensus on the thirdwave's notion of the nature of SJ. Just as there is now a hunger for an alternative to marxism that is also an alternative to capitalism, new theories are needed, and the best soil from which to grow them is in the space between the insufficient and the horrific; the First International and the Second Wave of Activisms are our soil, and let our theories be as moderate as possible while achieving their needed goals.

Tags: feminism

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