The following entry may contain triggering material.
I began to learn about systemic imbalances of power in society when I was browsing the TV Tropes website for The Legend of Aang, which led to an episode-by-episode review through a feminist lens over at the Shakesville advanced feminism website.
Allow me to introduce Cecilia: one of Miasma’s dormitory roommates back when my mother was between jobs and had to resort to throwing me in with them, a fan of the show, and a fan of TV Tropes. Naturally, I suggested she look it up in hopes that the very humane paradigm and commentary that intersectional feminism provided would articulate for Cecilia as much that had been bothering her about life and the world as it articulated for me.
Apparently it did, because the next time we met, there was a definite spike in the specialized vocabulary that comes with entering this paradigm, which of course makes many of the integral concepts easier to talk about. Allow me to introduce Anjie was well: Cecilia’s childhood friend, and another one of Miasma’s dormitory roommates. Anjie admits that she just doesn’t do other people’s negative emotions, so I shift from Craven’s to Maven’s mode when I’m around her: recent events and immediate emotional reactions that leave off the extensive societal and philosophical analysis, entertainment media that’s actually entertaining, and together we sustain what I’ve come to call the Wandering Library which is paperback books that we’ve read and liked enough to lend to one another.
I met up with both of them (and Cecilia’s boyfriend, who’s been psychic since his near-death experience—his first near-death experience; he’s had two) for brunch.
So, I came to them in a situation that has changed in many ways: my mother got a job and then a side job, Miasma graduated and moved out of the dorm, but I just didn’t have the stamina or clarity to continue my education or else I didn’t have the funds. Depression is a drain on stamina and a cloud on clarity. From the outside, of course, it looks more like a very quiet tantrum that I could immediately get over if people stopped enabling my “depression”. From the inside, to “stop enabling ‘depression'” feels more like somebody chopped off my feet and lips and imprisoned me at the bottom of a well…and then promised me freedom if I could run a full circle while playing the tuba.
At one of my jobs, I’d had the good fortune to listen in on a history of feminism as applies to Stateside legalities, and, being excited about it, I brought up what I’d learned.
But first I’d asked if any of them had already covered this in university, because I didn’t want to bore accomplished scholars with the epiphany of a drop-out.
“Not unless you actually take up Women’s Studies,” Anjie replied.
I was surprised. Not only was this an excellent model for unpacking personal baggage and bettering relationships, I considered it an excellent way to relate to the world. Besides, one major change that I saw from Miasma returning from university was that she seemed to have a better grasp of the imbalance of powers in society as applies to nationalism versus cultural imperialism. Same system, same game, different focus being ethnicity rather than gender.
“Well,” Anjie said, “I wasn’t taking Literature.” She’d pursued a degree in a social science.
“Besides,” Cecilia added, and Cecilia had taken Literature, “In Literature, it was more about celebrating local artists.”
So, I presented my notes on the feminism in juris prudence lecture as well as my thoughts and feelings about it.
As I mentioned, to me it’s the same system in the same game: classism, racism, disability, sexual orientation, religious or ideological oppression…it’s just that sexism has had more detailed historical records to study and codify, if it’s not going to be simplified into meaninglessness. Then we have Johnny Bravo.
First Wave (a.k.a Liberal Feminism)
Focused on formal equality, that is, the assertion that the public sphere should not have discrimination of gender. The public sphere included access to education, employment, ownership of property, access to services, and to be vocal agents considered among people governed. That is, the suffragettes and women’s right to vote. This was the assertion that such should be agendered in how they’re made available to society.
Second Wave (a.k.a Difference Feminism)
Rejected the gender blindness or gender neutrality behind which First Wave feminism had united. Not only had First Wave feminism made that a united front, it would to some adherents become a universalized front. This was obviously a powerful weapon of an idea to actually get votes for women, but the cultural effect was a denial of gender identity and a continued “play to” the patriarchy on a level deeper than the one being dealt with.
Basically, the cultural victory of First Wave feminism was that you can be any gender you want in society as long as it’s masculine. To identify as “gender blind” or “not a feminist but a humanist” became politically correct but humanely problematic.
Third Wave (a.k.a. Radical Feminism)
Rejected the gender essentialism behind which Second Wave feminism had united without regressing to the pretense of gender neutrality. Essentialism, being static, then invited criticism within Second Wave feminism in how feminism as a movement arose from and was active in Western culture, and its expansion globally would often retain an appalling insensitivity to and oppression of non-Westerners…even the ones who were women…for being identifiably non-Western.
Third Wave feminism resolved the conflict of intersectionality: Was to value multiculturalism a justification for misogyny? Or was the spread of feminism an act of cultural imperialism?
The shift from essentialism to performativity then allowed for a recognition of power in society as as system.
As centered as humanity was, masculinity has been so centered by society that masculinity and humanity had conjugated as notions. Or, masculinity and humanity had conjugated and then it became centered in society. (See also: able-bodied and humanity, specific economic class and humanity, ethnicity and humanity…) Back to gender focus, that’s all well and good for masculine people who are also human, but definitely not good if that displaces the conjunction with other notions that should also be recognized as human: handicapped, poor, oppressed ethnic minority, feminine… That’s why marginalization causes so much suffering, because humanity is systematically denied in society based on these features and the notions associated with them.
It was an immense relief for me to learn all of this in such an organized way, because I’d observed that some people are still stuck on waves that have passed.
“Quit complaining about stigma attached to active and vocal female sexuality when you own property and have a right to vote.” — Still Stuck on First Wave.
“You can’t say that a Japanese anime is anti-feminist because there was no feminist movement in Japan, you ethnocentric ignoramus!” — Still Stuck on Second Wave.
“You can’t objectively categorize a sex scene as sexually objectifying women or sexually liberating women.” — Still Stuck on Third Wave.
Whatever issue that I have with this system that I feel would disillusion me, has probably already been mulled over and addressed by someone else a decade ago, and the answer lies in some woefully ignored dissertation.
“Well, no,” Cecilia piped up. “These aren’t like ocean waves. They’re like microwaves. All the waves are happening in societies at the same time, to some degree. Besides, even if you did find your particular concern already addressed, you would still have your individual perspective to add to the progression of society.”
That was an immensely generous thing for a university graduate to say to a tenth grade dropout.
I mean, everything I’m writing here is through my own filter.
We talked more about whether an act of oppression in the guise of being oppressed was A Thing that could Be Such, and I don’t think we figured that out but there was Cecilia surrendering to some privileges that she had to check when she found herself resenting the people who resented her helping in her non-government organization job; and I had the concern that all of these systems would cross a line from articulating life experiences, instincts, and relationships to the world to contriving notions in conveniently self-serving ways that could be labeled, “Oh, but it’s real to an oppressed person or oppressed group of people.”
I mean, I get the impression that many activists tie empathy to statistical evidence in society and measure or even disregard individual experiences based on that…and then claim that the political is personal, or the personal is political. I don’t fit the Gold Star Homosexual narrative where I was Born This Way (They’ve Done Studies) and always knew it and felt it and any admission of mutability or fluidity is an unacceptable vulnerability in the face of heterosexual hegemony. I can’t sincerely get behind because of what I see as a prioritization of that narrative over real human experiences, due to an understandably keener need for validation that can only be gained by kicking down because there is no apolitical environment: all swimmers move the water. Yet the vitriol I’ve seen towards bisexuals, asexuals, and demisexuals because of relative privileges and situational privileges that are not being traded on as allies or are taken as appropriative of homosexual life experience and struggles…well, far be it for me to call for mutually-respected boundaries if one identification or another has statistically and heuristically suffered greater violation and can’t simply skip to what appears to be this halcyon equality (that, due to conditioning from personal or societal history, really nobody is an objective enough an observer to set, anyway, and the theory of systemic societal oppression is just a paradigm proven to be well worth considering the applications of.)
So, sometimes, at least to the best of my knowledge in the situations that I find myself in, there doesn’t seem to be any good way to reconcile the principle of a thing versus the measure of it, and taking an interest in the particulars of a position without fear of false equivalency isn’t an option.
Cecilia related what was possibly a different cultural paradigm whereby someone in her job that she had to deal with couldn’t grasp that things worked by doing-without-category rather than doing-within-category. This was immensely frustrating. Systems could be more sophisticated than edicts, but they would never be as organic as life itself.
I brought up Zeno’s paradox as an Ancient Greek philosophical demonstration of how the common worldview categorized time into units to create a scenario whereby an arrow can never hit a target that is moving. This particle of society did not have the mathematical concept, therefore the logical concept, of the number 0 which would have been the calculated point at which the hypothetical arrow meets the hypothetical moving target.
Fourth Wave (a.k.a. Postmodern Feminism)
This is characterized by the postmodern rejection of Grand Theory for particles of societal reality, and a focus on individualism (especially in how intersectionality of societal issues other than gender would then contribute to identity.)
The unit of a personal boundary became individual. “My rights end where yours begin.” This concept of mutually-respected boundaries was touched on in what I took note of in Third Wave feminism, with a minor criticism that rights, by this definition, are always “negative” in that they’re defined by the lack of impact on others. A person has a right to be left alone, but not to be supplied their needs: and that can be a potential problem, because “have versus have-not” is also a prominent imbalance of power in society.
The concern of Fourth Wave feminism became: How can a person advance social reform if they can only speak for their individual experience?
To trade on any societal privilege as an ally to those in positions of underprivilege implies shared values and goals that then creates a group identity.
Considering this, activists must not surrender to underprivilege being merely unknowable, but rather strive to gain knowledge to understand and empathize with others. This is not mere silence to grant those with a greater authority and personal experience on a societal issue pertaining to identity a space to express, but to listen and learn.
(I consider that a good guideline, but again have been caught up in situations where those boundaries would be impossible to negotiate or even navigate. Nobody’s an objective referee, and there’s always been someone who felt like they were being silenced before another stopped needing to feel heard.)
Finally, Fourth Wave feminism is characterized by considering it the duty of academic feminists to speak for others who don’t have the luxury of an intellectual life and who don’t have the skills acquired as an intellectual to make a case for themselves.
Cecilia gave a shudder of disgust and pronounced, “That gave me the heebies!”
“Yeah,” I agreed, “That did sound a bit like intellectual elitism.”
Still, don’t people do better when they know better? If there’s any power in the world that deserves to be upheld as a societal privilege, it’s knowledge; because unlike all the other privileges, knowledge is an experience that can be shared and it’s not a conserved quantity.
Still, apparently, it can be used as a weapon of oppression. I myself have been accused of being an intellectual bully who dehumanized a racist religious supremacist dudebro who had never gone to university. I didn’t want to tell him that I’d never gone to 11th grade.