Many dismiss the goal for more female representation in boardrooms as mere “corporate feminism”, not truly advancing the interests of women. Others think that including LGBTQ rights as part of the feminist agenda dilutes the real cause. But the argument that there is one correct way to fight for the equality of the sexes is wrong. It’s mostly used for grandstanding and dismissing political opponents. We need to rethink feminism so that it can allow for a plurality of views that critically rethink who feminism aims to protect, and who it seeks to exclude, writes Hazel Biana.
Feminism is one of the most fundamental theories behind the aim to give power back to women. By challenging gender norms and expectations, the feminist movement examines what society has done to women over the years. Although the waves of feminism begun with the fight for equal rights between men and women of the same class, it has evolved into multiple causes which seek to improve the social order. Feminism, however, can be misused by those who fail to understand it. It can also be a divisive tool among members of society, especially those who refuse to recognize that everyone is part of the fight against different forms of oppression and that different people also have the right to be heard. A more pluralistic account of feminism acknowledges that though each experience of oppression is unique, everybody has a stake in the struggle.
In recent years, the concept of the fourth and fifth waves of feminism has been the subject of some debate. Since both waves rely heavily on social media and other digital platforms, anybody can be a feminist theorist or activist. Although this can be beneficial to the fight against oppression, feminism has sometimes been reduced to seeking retribution for sexist acts on social media. While calling out such acts is imperative, those who practoce feminism differently are ostracized. For example, not posting anything on one’s social media status about women’s rights, gender mainstreaming, or sexual harassment can be misconstrued as not supporting the feminist cause. Those who do not recognize female-based trauma are labelled as misogynists. The feminist cause is fragmented into a million and one causes for every Facebook post, Instagram story, YouTube video or Twitter tweet.
But when the public is faced with a flood of personal woes online, it makes one wonder if there is sch a thing as one true feminist cause. And if there is that one true cause, what should it be?
When a feminism claims that it is the true feminism or the only way to criticize patriarchal structures, it is just a cult of wannabee feminists that misunderstands the feminist cause
The feminist cause is not simply about smashing the patriarchy online or the fight for gender equality in various institutions. It is the complex and seemingly impossible task of establishing a new social order wherein sexism and sexist exploitation and oppression do not exist. Both bell hooks (her pen name) and Kimberle Crenshaw’s theoretical contributions laid the groundwork for younger feminisms in the latter part of the 20th century and the onset of the 21st century. The recognition of the variety of oppressive experiences have somehow led to a more visionary type of feminism, which challenges the existing philosophical structures espoused by more affluent feminist thinkers, such as Simone de Beauvoir or Betty Freidan. For instance, while Beauvoir advocated for political lesbianism, she did so in her safe position as a white, upper middle class, educated woman. Freidan, on the other hand, held a far more conservative outlook on the women’s movement by expressing her distaste about housewifery, forgetting that other women have been suffering in the workforce long before her plea. The advocacies of both Beauvoir and Freidan have been anti-pluralistic not necessarily through explicit rejections of pluralism but by ignoring the intricate web of other’s lives and needs.
A unifying definition of feminism and how to practice an inclusive feminist theory was discussed by hooks in her book Feminist theory: From margin to center as early as 1984. Hooks called out contemporary (white) feminists for failing to take into consideration the plight of other, non-privileged women such as women of color and poor women. She analyzed how various factors of oppression such as sex, race, and class form a complicated, intricate web. The cause of feminism, at that time, was exclusive to a homogenous group of women. In 1989, Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” which likewise refers to this intersecting web of sex and race and the multidimensionality of women’s experiences. In an interview in 2014, Crenshaw stated that she wanted to “come up with an everyday metaphor that anyone could use” to illustrate the invisibility of women of color in discussions of oppression. Hooks laid the groundwork for the pluralistic account of feminism by acknowledging that feminism should speak from margins, or the position or place of the other. Rather than homogenizing or systematizing oppression from a single, exclusive, and privileged point-of-view, feminism must be more visionary in that it examines the political implications of various principles and strategies.
In the last two decades, feminism has become that multi-dimensional movement that combines previous waves of feminism to end the war against women. The fourth wave or online feminism fights for social justice and continues the earlier discourses on sexism and misogyny through online platforms. Some of the projects of fourth wave feminism include the emergence of call-out or cancel culture wherein unacceptable sexist behavior by individuals or groups are confronted or boycotted online. These projects have led to critical analysis of media representations and the creation of safer spaces and venues for women and other marginalized groups so that they may call out both explicit and implicit discrimination online. Some successful projects include Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism Project and of course, the #MeToo movement which has helped in demonstrating the prevalence of sexual violence in the workplace. The fifth wave of feminism, on the other hand, is shaped by organized political activism. Natasha Garcha refers to this fifth wave as a multi-dimensional movement in the post-COVID era which combines previous feminist waves.
When the public is faced by a flood of personal woes online, it makes one wonder if there is a true feminist cause. And if there is that one true cause, what should it be?
There have been various criticisms about these waves though. The unifying vision seems to be lost in the causes of fourth and fifth wave of feminism. While each feminist post or tweet seems to be geared towards the goal of pluralism, newer online feminists have likewise excluded other people’s experiences and ways of struggling through exclusive and diluted understandings of feminism. For example, while feminists have bravely taken upon their individual selves to “smash the patriarchy” online, emerging feminisms have been used to exclude others. Feminist theory and action would justify attacks against other men and women, and other feminists who have divergent points of view or take other approaches. There are claims of being the final frontier of the true feminist cause, and criticisms on those who do not supposedly recognize misogyny. These could be reasons for accusation of so-called Feminazism. While these accusations are also ways to silence more vocal and critical feminists, it is also an invitation to self-reflect about the plurality of ways in doing feminism that does not necessarily end in a blog post, newsletter, or a Facebook status update. Male academics who write about feminism, for example, despite self-reflection and acknowledgement of their unique positions, have been shamed for misrepresenting the feminist cause. Non-exclusive feminist organizations that talk about gender issues are slammed for allegedly coalescing with the enemy.
This leads to the question of whether feminism is really for everybody. While feminism should benefit all, not everybody is sincere about its ends. Sometimes, feminism even becomes a means to grandstand, and advance one’s personal agenda or career whether in politics or academia. A feminism that excludes and does not self-reflect is not feminism. When a feminism claims that it is the true feminism or the only way to criticize patriarchal structures, it is just a cult of wannabee feminists that misunderstands the feminist cause. Feminism, after all, fights for everybody and not just the chosen few.
The pluralism of feminism recognizes the need for a critical self-reflection. To move forward to the new social order where oppression does not exist, there should be a new understanding of ourselves and our relationships with others. The long-range impact of feminist thought and action presupposes critical contemplation, inclusiveness and pluralism. In her famous adage, hooks claims how everyone is guilty of perpetuating sexism and “feminism is for everybody.” Without the participation of everyone in the struggle, the eradication of oppression would never be possible. An inclusive and pluralistic feminism bears a positive meaning, or an understanding that all people can contribute to society. This means that for every culture, society, or group, there is a different kind of feminism that defines the struggle against oppression. A pluralist feminism recognizes that diversity is instrumental to society; contrasting views are not necessarily disadvantageous.