Feminism Dialog, Part 1

My friend Kristin King and I have had several tense but mutually respectful conversations on Facebook where evolution intersects gender politics. We’ve decided to hold a series of conversations about feminism by introducing a subtopic as a post and then holding a dialog in the comments. This past week, over several days, we held a leisurely exchange in the response thread to my post “Liberalism Needs a Housecleaning.” This will be like that.

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I’ll let Kristin introduce herself:

“I’m Kristin King, author, blogger, mom, and intersectional feminist. (I blog at kristinking.org.) I met Bob in a writing group, got to know him, and consider him my friend. We ended up in some Internet arguments over feminism, and I wanted the opportunity to discuss them in a dialogue based on mutual trust and respect. After lengthy discussion in the comments section on Bob’s blog, we found we were in general agreement over the nature of truth, which I think we needed to do in order to have any meaningful discussion at all.

“Feminism has a job to do — transform our culture and our world because the conditions in which we live are intolerable. I came to feminism in college in the early 1990s and learned that just because we call ourselves feminist doesn’t mean we won’t turn around and oppress somebody else. The specific article that was so eye-opening for me was the case of a blind woman coming to a feminist meeting and being marginalized. This isn’t a problem specific to feminism — it’s a mistake human beings keep making over and over.

“Over the years I’ve seen feminism make some mistakes and learn from its own mistakes as well. There is a constant dialogue among feminists about how we do our politics, and one thing I like about feminism is that it is willing to change. That change is uneven, though. We don’t have one feminism these days (if we ever did): we have multiple feminisms. Anyway, I’m looking forward to this conversation.”

* * *

Since this is my blog, I’ll kick this off. First, welcome, Kristin, and thanks for your interest in this project, but most of all, thanks for your objectivity these past few years on my Facebook threads. I didn’t go looking for a fight with feminism, and I didn’t give it a lot of thought until I started doing posts on evolution. About six years ago (!), my daughter’s teacher made a backhand critique of evolution theory. The teacher was showing my daughter’s fifth-grade class a picture of a dragon fly’s wing and said, “Look at this wonder of nature. And some people say that we came from microbes in the mud! Pfft.” I’ve got strong feelings about this kind of talk. At first, I was determined to go confront the teacher, but then I decided that it wasn’t worth risking trouble for my kid in her class over what was just dogwhistle indoctrination (though my daughter got the whistle loud and clear).

Philosopher Daniel Dennett calls Darwin’s theory the best idea anyone ever had, and I agree. It explains the mechanism of design in nature, and it has made biology a coherent field and helped unify it with all the other scientific fields: chemistry, physics, geology, and, yes, even psychology. Of course, it’s psychology where it’s run afoul of politics. The first outraged critics of my evolution posts were fundamentalist Christians. When I started writing posts that took evolution studies into evolutionary psychology, I drew the ire of feminists. Or, rather, to be clear, I pissed off feminists who seem to have an affinity for the anthropology of Franz Boas and Margaret Mead or for those otherwise trained in sociology.

I was deeply ignorant about the controversy and depth of feeling I’d stepped into, even though I’d read Stephen Pinker’s The Blank Slate, which should have given me some idea. One of my good friends, a very intelligent woman and a wonderful science fiction writer, came after me with a vengeance, and basically made the claim that the field of evolutionary psychology is not an honest scientific discipline but a stalking horse political movement to support the status quo in gender relations. When I asked for evidence of this, she begged the question and basically said that applying evolutionary logic to human psychology was an inherently fruitless exercise and that it amounted to bad politics to even hold the discussion.

At this point, it was my turn to be angry, for several reasons. I hold free speech as a core value, and here I was being asked to shut up. I think there is such a thing as an approachable, if not reachable, ideal of objective truth, free of political taint. I respect the scientific method and have a long public record of at least trying to be impartial. I have never unfriended anyone on Facebook for disagreeing with me. Actually I’ve never unfriended anyone on Facebook who wasn’t some stranger trying to scam me. I am not racist or sexist. And finally and even more personally, I felt both my very motives and intelligence were being questioned, where my friend should have known me better. Evolutionary psychology is a scientific field, except where it isn’t. Yes, it’s been abused and its tentative claims appropriated for political ends. Many of the hypotheses it has generated have not panned out, which is true of the hypotheses in any serious scientific discipline. A few seem promising, like those exploring a dedicated neural preformation for cheater detection and its inquiry into cognitive biases like loss aversion and, yes, certain sexual attitudes. I think that evolutionary psychology and neurology comprise the best foundation for progress in the field of psychology, which is plagued with unfalsifiable claims, thanks largely to the convenient dodge of “repression.” And to the extent that feminism is fair, the truth and science are its most reliable allies.

So I wanted to share my history here. After that first unpleasant introduction to feminist ire, I’ve had similar encounters, and you witnessed a recent one, where a feminist author claimed that by arguing that a cultural phenomenon is biologically based, I was supporting it or at least saying it’s inevitable. She was using the Appeal to Nature fallacy, and it crops up again and again in these kinds of discussions, along with other fallacies like Appeal to Arbitrary Authority and Slippery Slope. To explain an influence on human behavior is not to apologize for the behavior. The key word is “influence.” Humans have the ability to change their behavior. But acculturation has to deal with biology at some level.

I’m laying this groundwork, Kristin, for three main reasons: one, to acknowledge that you do not entertain these logical fallacies, which is why I think you’re a great partner for this discussion. Two, to make a disclaimer about my disappointing experience with gender/social-constructionist feminists. It is not their stated goals of equality that I’ve had a problem with but their behavior in argument, which has shaken my faith in their objectivity and motives just as they have questioned mine. And three, to emphasize that when I discuss the possible influences of biology on behavior, I am not talking a position on behavior itself. Some biological influences on our behavior are strong. It’s hard to resist sweets, for instance, but our ability to resist sweets does not mean that liking sweets is purely a cultural construct or that our biological tendency not to resist means that we can’t.

Okay, so the first topic. What is feminism? What is it really? The explanation that it’s simply a movement advocating for equality and human rights is inadequate. A short definition to counter the equality one is that feminism is the position that women should have more power, but I think that’s an inadequate definition too. You observe it’s not a monolithic movement. I think what unites feminism is something that is not openly acknowledged, or at least in the way I think of it. Feminism is the position that women are properly freed of the traditional need to raise large families, and should have more representation in government and be encouraged through legislative protections and incentives to pursue work outside the home where that suits them. The key word is here is “more.” If you think women have enough power, or have overstepped, then you’re no longer an active feminist. Let’s leave off Patriarchy theory for now and the social attitudes that feminism negotiates and concentrate on the core value proposition of feminism, whatever that might be. I might add to my definition “… for the prosperity of all humanity, which faces an existential threat with traditional population-growth strategies.”

Opposed to feminism, therefore, would be anti-feminism, which holds that notwithstanding medical technology that permits us to limit our birth rate, a traditional breakdown of gender roles is still probably best, because women by and large don’t want to perform the necessary analytical and grunt work to promote civilization. The new anti-feminism warns that those societies embracing feminism will eventually be parasitized and defeated  — perhaps simply out-bred — by cultural memes of radical patriarchy like fundamentalist Islam, so while first-wave feminism helped us advance the culture, we need to stop while we’re ahead, because we’re now squandering the capacities of men.

I’m not taking a position here. I’m just trying to articulate the general issue and core point of debate. Most discussions of feminism, for or against, don’t do this juxtaposition in good faith. So, to sum up: feminists see traditional gender roles as squandering the capacities of women and to a lesser extent men; anti-feminists see feminism as now threatening to squander the capacities of men and to a lesser extent women. What would you add to this framing?

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About robertpkruger

Writer, editor, and software developer. President of ElectricStory.com.
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46 Responses to Feminism Dialog, Part 1

  1. Kristin says:

    Thanks, Bob. As usual, you’ve given me a lot to digest and it’ll take some time. Three things to start off with – first, I know nothing about evolutionary psychology. Second, my definition of feminism is very different. And third – are you an INFJ? (Myers-Briggs.) I am, and the way you approach intellectual matters seems similar.

  2. 1. When I talk about evolutionary psychology, I mean broadly applying Darwin’s theory to human psychology. This is an idea going back to Darwin. In the seventies, Richard Dawkins wrote The Selfish Gene, in which he did some speculating that could be called evolutionary psychology, and E.O. Wilson and Robert Trivers did too. The movement called Evolutionary Psychology was pioneered by the husband-and-wife team of Leda Cosmides and John Tooby in the early nineties. Basically, EP is a perspective used to generate hypotheses based on Darwinian principles. The central idea is Mismatch Theory, which holds that humans did most of their recent evolving during the Pleistocene on the savannahs of Africa, the so-called “ancestral environment,” our psychology was heavily shaped by the demands of that environment, and that the conditions of modern life have changed our survival circumstances so that the cognitive biases we evolved do not always fit well. There are many cross-cultural studies based on evolutionary psychology.

    2. I’m interested in your definition.

    3. I am IN and split between T and F, and J and P, though I’m probably more J than P.

  3. Kristin says:

    OK!

    1. It looks like there’s a whole field of study I’m mostly unaware of. I read an earlier post of yours and followed the link to the person you had mentioned, I got pretty overwhelmed. It would have taken a couple hours to do it justice (and as often happens, in my life, one child or another was demanding something of me at the time). So when you bring up evolutionary psychology, if you have a specific passage or theory to point to, that will help focus the discussion. If it helps, I read Scientific American regularly.
    2. I’d be interested to know what my definition of feminism is, too! It’s one of those words I use a lot without having a clear definition. Since 1992, I’ve been studying it academically and otherwise and followed a variety of thinkers. I’ve found a group of people/ideas I mostly agree with and stay mostly with those and avoid the rest. One of the things I realized after some discussion with you is that I probably make the common mistake of generalizing these people/ideas as “what feminism is.” Here’s my working definition for the moment: “Feminism is a broad array of ideas and practices roughly relating to gender.”
    3. Myers-Briggs – that’s pretty close to what I am too.

    • I can cite evolutionary psychology as it becomes relevant, but a lot of evolutionary logic applied to the human condition doesn’t require any new line of thinking. For example, although Karen Straughan brings up evo-psych arguments in her videos, some of her most compelling arguments involving Darwinian logic don’t really impinge on the field of psychology at all. Patriarchy, for instance, cannot be an arbitrary construct according to evolutionary logic, not because of the cognitive biases we’ve evolved but simply because of the huge energy investment of bearing and raising children. You don’t have to go as far as psychology to appreciate how the ancestral environment demanded specialization of sex roles. Also, consider birth control and the welfare state. All animals have evolved a proper number of offspring to maximize their fitness. Humans typically bear only one child at a time for very good reasons: gestating a human child is a huge energy investment, and raising multiple helpless babies at a time would be hazardous. Medical technology and the welfare state have changed the energy equation, so even our slow rate of reproduction relative to other animals becomes very fast and taxing on the environment without birth control. This is a practical reason that liberal policies come packaged together. The upshot is that you don’t need to get too fixated on the new evo-psych movement to appreciate the Darwinian logic that many if not most academic feminists seem to have shunned.

      Your working definition of feminism could include anti-feminism. Most people understand feminism to be a political movement. Can you define your feminist politics?

  4. From now on, I’ll reply on the page instead of to your posts themselves.

  5. You say, “Feminism has a job to do — transform our culture and our world because the conditions in which we live are intolerable.” In what ways have the conditions become intolerable, and how can feminism address them? That should give me a good idea of your political position.

  6. Kristin says:

    I’m still stuck on “what is my definition of feminism” so before I address your other comments I’ll give a couple of links. I imagine you’ve heard of “first wave feminism,” “second wave feminism,” “third wave feminism,” and so on. The feminism you mentioned in your definition was probably “second wave feminism.” I came to it just as it was being challenged on many fronts and a new kind of feminism, “intersectional feminism,” was being developed. So this first link is a pretty good idea of intersectional feminism. It’s written for feminists who need to expand their horizons. I do think the approach is limited, however, and the recommendation that white women not call themselves “intersectional feminists” is missing something. So, grain of salt and all that. http://intersectionalfeminism101.tumblr.com/faq. This next link, an article written by three intersectional anarcha-feminists, takes intersectional theory out of feminism and applies it to anarchism. http://anarkismo.net/article/14923. I’ve been heavily influenced by that one. Both these links give good insight into some of the arguments that have taken place within feminism. From the second article, this quote I like: “Proponents of intersectionality, then, argue that all struggles against domination are necessary components for the creation of a liberatory society. It is unnecessary to create a totem pole of importance out of social struggles and suggest that some are “primary” while others are “secondary” or “peripheral” because of the complete ways that they intersect and inform one another.”

  7. I’m generally familiar with these categories, and I’ve read the links. So what are the problems, what does feminism identify as the cause, and what is the solution?

  8. Kristin says:

    Feminism diverges widely on the problems, the cause, and the solution. And every time somebody comes up with a Grand Unifying Theory of Feminism, it turns out to be incomplete and to fail miserably for some segment of the population. It relates to gender but never was exclusively about gender. For “First Wave Feminism,” for instance, the suffrage movement grew partly from working-class struggle. “Second Wave Feminism” grew partly from the civil rights movement. It was criticized from the get-go as being the feminism of the white upper class, and that was because wealthy white women had greater access to publishers. Conversations about power have always been part of feminism – who has it, how’s it being used, how *could* it be used. Where we are right now with feminism is that many people are looking back at all this history and drawing from it what lessons we can. And some have settled on feminism as it was defined ten, twenty, thirty years ago. (That’s part of why some feminists like Hillary Clinton and other ones prefer Bernie Sanders–generation gap.) The feminist movement is also converging with other social movements.

    So as far as what feminism thinks of the problem, cause, and solution, forget it. There’s no answer.

    What about me? As a feminist, what do I think? I can’t answer that either because “feminist” is not the end-all, be-all definition of me. My most pressing concern at the moment is climate change. And I think that currently, the biggest problem is capitalism — that we have created a social, political, and economic machine we can’t turn off. As a mom I’m watching our K-12 education system turn into a totalitarian nightmare and so I worry about what humanity will become, and more specifically, what will happen to my children.

    As for the cause of our problems, it’s some combination of our biology and our culture. Or, same thing. Our culture is a biological adaptation that made it possible for us to live in large groups and survive in wildly different environmental conditions. Curiously, our culture itself is evolving. (I have a lot of theories about that.) If we’re not careful, it will evolve into a biological dead end.

    As for the solution, I think it’s necessary for human beings to engage in a collective liberation project that involves recognizing our differences, power disparities, and various forms of oppression, in order to act in solidarity and reinvent our social, economic, and political institutions in a way that makes more sense. I believe that the feminist movement has some of the answers as part of that solution. Broadly speaking, we have a pretty good analysis of how power operates and how different forms of oppression intersect. And we have the intent to promote justice for all.

    Is this solution possible? I hope so.

  9. I’ll assume a hostile position to start a debate. How would you answer someone who says that “feminism” is therefore an empty term better replaced with “humanism”? If feminism is about acknowledging and valuing people’s differences including gender differences, then it’s wrong to imply a female focus; either that, or feminism must be defined in opposition to a status quo that denies and devalues these differences, presumably this thing called Patriarchy. There’s a widespread cynical formulation on the Internet that goes something like this: “Feminism is the idea that we can address the needs of both sexes by concentrating on the needs of only one.”

  10. Kristin says:

    I would say first off that if humanists had done the job that feminists did, then what is now called feminism would be called humanism instead. But humanists didn’t, and so it’s not. I would also say that the name “feminism” reflects its history. Borrowing from the New World Encyclopedia: “The term “feminism” originated from the French word “feminisme,” coined by the utopian socialist Charles Fourier, and was first used in English in the 1890s, in association with the movement for equal political and legal rights for women.” So you could think of feminism not as a desire to acknowledge and value peoples’ differences, but as a _liberation struggle_. As such, it’s not done. We don’t have equal political and legal rights. If we ever end up having equal rights, would we still call it “feminism”? If so, would the meaning of the word change?

  11. Kristin says:

    That leads me to perhaps a better definition of feminism: “Feminism is a liberation struggle including but not limited to women’s liberation.”

  12. Okay, but liberation from what? It’s clear to most Westerners that, say, the Muslim world does not afford women equal rights. So what specifically needs to be done yet in the West? So far, you haven’t given me any examples that we can discuss.

  13. Kristin says:

    Liberation from the exploitation of women’s labor would be one thing. Mothers provide what some might call an important task: bringing the young of our species into the world. We are also often, not always, the primary caregivers–and at first, that’s a 24 hour-a-day, 7 day-a-week job. However, this is considered “not working.” Under capitalism, our labor can’t be exchanged for food, shelter, medical care, goods, and services, the same way wage work can. That affects women’s social standing as well. Money is power, and respect follows power. We need, among other things, a whole new economic model that provides for communal responsibility for the birthing and rearing of our young. I don’t know what that would be. State communism was a failed solution.

  14. Kristin says:

    Also, to briefly touch on the concept of “Western patriarchal oppression,” since the topic has come up before and “patriarchy” is a term that bothers you, the Judeo-Christian scripture explicitly says that the man is the head of the house and the woman must submit themselves to his authority. This is deep-rooted in our culture. It’s been the rule of the Western world for two thousand years, ever since the Roman Empire overran everything and obliterated other cultures, and it’s only beginning to change. There will be echoes for generations to come.

  15. Patriarchy goes back further than that. I’d actually be interested in any clear examples of non-patriarchal cultures. Western culture seems about the most sexually egalitarian humans have yet managed. But this arrangement where the men rule society and the women care for the children is not the kind of “patriarchy” that’s at issue. Rather, feminists have elaborate theories about patriarchy as an arbitrary habit of thought that informs people’s most intimate relationships, and while cultural assumptions do play a role in shaping our perceptions, what bothers me is that feminists are often hostile to biological explanations for the more stubborn gender roles and attitudes, even when they are much cleaner explanations.

    As for liberation from the exploitation of women’s labor, I don’t know what this means in the West. Women are free to pursue work outside the home. Couples are free to negotiate whatever work arrangements they want. And there is generally some welfare for mothers who need it. If you’re going to elevate the social status of homemakers, who would set and enforce standards for women’s job performance in the home? Presumably not husbands. Do women want to submit to each other’s scrutiny in receiving state wages, honors, and promotions for good mothering? And while I think it’s practical that women be the primary caregivers in most cases, is that really a feminist position at all?

    In any case, what else does feminism need to get done in the West?

  16. Kristin says:

    Patriarchy does go back farther than that, yes. I’m really interested in Mesopotamia and how patriarchy appears to have evolved, based on what happened with narratives about their gods. Gilgamesh is particularly interesting there. I think patriarchy is a function of centralized control of resources, such as grain, and the development of centralized militaries.

    As for clear examples of more sexually egalitarian societies, that is a really complicated question. Multiple factors are going to affect it. Who owns property? Who are the leaders, and in which domains? (Military, political, extended family.) Whose responsibility is childrearing? How are occupations divided? What’s more, we don’t have that great of a way of knowing these things. If patriarchy is a function of centralized control of resources, it came before written language. We do know that human societies have been organized all kinds of ways. Here are just a few links to societies that have been different than patriarchy as we now know it.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_Americans_in_the_United_States#Gender_roles – of note to women’s liberation is this: “Matrilineal structures enable young women to have assistance in childbirth and rearing, and protect them in case of conflicts between the couple.”

    http://www.celtlearn.org/pdfs/women.pdf – although Iron Age Celts were patriarchal, women had more liberties than their counterparts in the Roman Empire.

    http://utopianist.com/1275 – matriarchal societies

    http://mentalfloss.com/article/31274/6-modern-societies-where-women-literally-rule – more matriarchal societies

    So to answer this comment: “As for liberation from the exploitation of women’s labor, I don’t know what this means in the West.” Me either. I don’t see any way to avoid exploitation of women’s labor under capitalism. A common solution is to temper capitalism with socialism–that’s what welfare is. However, state socialism still centralizes power. Could there be some kind of decentralized socialism? Could hunter-gatherer kinship groups (whether matriarchal or not) provide a model for support of mothers?

    Whatever the solution, until women are free to a) access birth control and abortion universally; and b) have guaranteed economic support while occupied with childrearing; we are not liberated. It’s feminism’s job to change that.

    So that’s already a mouthful. I had better stop there and answer the other questions later.

  17. Kristin says:

    Have a spare moment, so here are two more things from your last post I wanted to address:

    “what bothers me is that feminists are often hostile to biological explanations for the more stubborn gender roles and attitudes”

    Feminists are by no means monolithic here. Feminists, sociologists, and anthropologists have been arguing for decades about whether gender is socially constructed or biologically determined, and to what extent. Wikipedia has a good beginner’s overview of what major thinkers have said in the topic “Gender Role” — especially the sections “Theories of the Social Construction of Gender” and “Anthropology and Evolution” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_role)

    In my opinion the truth is somewhere in between. However, feminists are definitely leaning toward social construction of gender at the moment. Why? IMO it’s because there is so much societal pressure going the other way. Raising a son and a daughter has been a real eye-opener for me.

    Next, this:

    “Rather, feminists have elaborate theories about patriarchy as an arbitrary habit of thought that informs people’s most intimate relationships”

    This seems pretty dismissive of feminist theory, which is a legitimate field of academic study.

  18. > I think patriarchy is a function of centralized control of resources, such as grain, and the development of centralized militaries.

    Hunter-gatherer societies, especially in harsh environments, are heavily patriarchal, by necessity. Men do the dangerous work and hunt, and women rear the children. Our sexual dimorphism attests to the cold equations of the ancestral environment. Maybe it was different among Neanderthals, but they didn’t make it, maybe in part because the traditional breakdown of roles was the most efficient and effective in our competition with them. I understand that Neanderthals had a higher calorie budget, and females needed to hunt alongside men. If so, that would put them at a huge disadvantage against homo sapiens. In any case, traditional roles were certainly most effective for competing human tribes. These social structures and egalitarian concepts we think of as so modern have been entertained over and over again. If you haven’t, read some Plutarch. There’s nothing new under the Sun…

    Except our technology. It has changed the equation. Enlightened activism didn’t have a chance until we could save more people’s lives on the one hand and reliably control childbirth on the other.

    This step we’re taking where we limit our reproduction and promote women in traditionally masculine roles is unprecedented and is an uncomfortable fit with our biology, but the change is necessary. We’ve reached carrying capacity, and we cannot afford to squander the talents of women. The old cycle of unchecked reproduction and constant warfare is untenable going forward. Even if it weren’t immoral, it would be untenable: our weapons are just too powerful now.

    > However, feminists are definitely leaning toward social construction of gender at the moment. Why? IMO it’s because there is so much societal pressure going the other way.

    Hmm, this seems to beg the question. It assumes this societal pressure to define gender is arbitrary and transmitted by culture rather than founded on deep biological pressures. Such a position is self-reinforcing and not objective. But that’s the problem with political movements — they make assumptions and become hostile to any science that might possibly threaten those assumptions, whether it actually does or not. A theory of the social construction of gender is not strictly necessary to validate people’s gender identity, as long as we have anti-discrimination laws. So why do feminists make that their political position? I suppose feminists would argue that it frees people. But frees them from what? From expectations that go against their nature? Ah, nature, so we’re back to biology again. Critics would point out that it’s convenient for trying to pathologize masculinity and overly valorize female psychology.

    And it is. As you identify as a feminist, this might be raising your blood pressure, but consider it objectively. I’m not accusing you of holding this agenda, but if there is not a check within the movement against this agenda, then it will be exploited. Political movements may forswear convenient weapons, but they always grab them in a pinch.

    I find it interesting that most feminists I’ve talked with or read do not take the line of argument that Patriarchy overly valorizes male psychology. Rather, feminists avoid positing any gender-based psychology at all. They have an idea of the behaviors they want to normalize but dismiss the idea that they’re up against biology. And that strikes me as either ignorant or disingenuous.

    There are feminists who acknowledge innate gender biases, but the ones I know of, like Christina Hoff Sommers, are reviled by mainstream feminists as quislings. Maybe you know of some who are better respected within the movement.

    > “Rather, feminists have elaborate theories about patriarchy as an arbitrary habit of thought that informs people’s most intimate relationships”

    > This seems pretty dismissive of feminist theory, which is a legitimate field of academic study.

    I don’t see how it’s dismissive. It’s either true or not. Maybe what you mean is that it’s an over-generalization. Maybe, but the theory of patriarchy as pervasive and arbitrary seems to dominate academic feminism. I’m happy to learn otherwise.

    “Feminist theory” like “Marxist theory” is intertwined with politics. And political movements are legitimate fields of academic study only from the outside, in a disinterested mode. There is a fine line between various political studies and indoctrination, and it gets crossed all the time, by both conservatives and liberals.

    Some aspects of feminist theory seem clearly to be to be bunk. And maybe you’d like to move on to that for a really juicy argument.

  19. By the way, I’ve just started looking into the scholarship of Sarah Hrdy, a primatologist, and what she says reinforces my view that sociobiology (the original name for evo psych and probably still a better one) is the strongest, most parsimonious foundation for a durable feminism. I encourage you to look her up on YouTube. Also, I think the following Quora debate is illuminating. You’ll notice that all the feminist critics of evo psych attack it on the basis of how it’s abused without actually engaging what it is or has to offer.

    https://www.quora.com/Why-do-some-feminists-hate-evolutionary-psychology

  20. Kristin says:

    Once again, a quick answer now and more in-depth later.
    As far as what you say about hunter-gatherer societies, I’m skeptical of the science. Confirmation bias is rampant in anthropology and archaeology.
    For the seeming dismissiveness — it was more about how you said it than what you said. There’s a pattern here, and I suspect a fair number of feminists have taken offense over things you’ve said because of connotation rather than denotation. Something to think about.
    Christina Hoff-Sommers — I can’t take her seriously partly because she’s got an oversimplified view of feminism but mostly because she’s from the American Enterprise Institute. I haven’t seen anything come out of there that wasn’t carefully crafted propaganda. I will check on whether there are feminists who say the same thing.
    Sarah Hrdy — interesting! What she says about alloparenting is similar to what I’m saying about a need for an extended network to care for a child – in other words, “it takes a village.”
    Next chance I get, I’ll take a thorough look at the Quora article and we can go from there.

  21. Kristin says:

    Now for this: “There are feminists who acknowledge innate gender biases, but the ones I know of, like Christina Hoff Sommers, are reviled by mainstream feminists as quislings. Maybe you know of some who are better respected within the movement.”

    I don’t know what “mainstream feminists” are and there is no longer one movement. There never was just one movement. There was one publicly visible movement, which consisted of feminists with the means to monopolize public dialogue, and that movement has always been criticized by feminists who are marginalized. I recommend bell hooks’ book _From Margin to Center._

    Anyway, for a quick overgeneralization of feminist movement(s), there was a debate in the 1980s and 1990s over whether there were innate differences between women and men (see the Wikipedia article on Difference Feminism), but that debate was superseded by things like queer theory and intersectionality, and there never was a full consensus. I personally started studying feminism under Professor Kathryn Stockton right when that change was happening – her bio is here. http://www.kathrynbondstockton.com/. She showed us some of the many ways biological gender does not define sexuality and gender roles. It was obvious to me after taking her class that biology is not destiny, and if there’s any general agreement within feminism, that’s it. However, there are types of feminism like “difference feminism” and “cultural feminism” that talk about the different ways women have of relating-whether biological or not. There’s also been a recurring strain of discussion about “women’s language,” which maybe started with sociolinguist Robin Lakoff and which I encountered in some SF books by Suzette Haden Elgin. And there’s a lot of feminist sci fi that starts with postulating evolutionary differences between men and women and create ambiguous feminist utopias that I find creepy and/or horrifying. _The Gate to Women’s Country_ comes to mind.

    As for the Quora article and its comments, I did take a look at it and came to a different conclusion than you did. That might be an interesting direction for our conversation to go.

    You wrote: “You’ll notice that all the feminist critics of evo psych attack it on the basis of how it’s abused without actually engaging what it is or has to offer.”

    That’s not what I saw at all. I saw several feminists engaging thoughtfully with the Quora question, which is “Why do some feminists hate evolutionary psychology.” (Side note: that’s quite a leading question, intended to provoke argument. Why use the word “hate” otherwise?) In fact, the first feminist to appear in the comments, William Pietri, gave quite a reasonable answer, which is “A lot of people who bring up evolutionary psychology do it because it lets them exercise the naturalistic fallacy in support of their argument.” The best answer, by Mel Nicholson, made the point that “This question, like many of the answers, conflates “evolutionary psychology” with the “evo-psych-bullshit” it explicitly asks about in the question details. In the blogosphere, most comments about Evolutionary Psych come from people trying to pretend that their bullshit has scientific backing, when in reality they made it up while typing.” But William Pietri and Mel Nicholson both imply that there is something to the science. The 2nd and 3rd feminists to appear in the list, Lucretia M Pruitt and Carrie Cutler, are not attacking evo psych but rather explaining why they’re against it.

    As far as engaging what it is or has to offer, that’s just not what the Quora question asked people to do. Are you a member of Quora and can you start your own question? You might get a different answer if you asked “Does the field of evolutionary psychology have anything to offer contemporary feminist movements?”

  22. > I don’t know what “mainstream feminists” are and there is no longer one movement. There never was just one movement.

    Yes, so far, we’ve failed to define feminism at all. The obvious problem with that is that if you can’t say what a movement is, you can’t defend it against what you think it isn’t. I thought my original summation was pretty good, but I suppose you could broaden it to “Feminism is an attitude that centers the experience and perspective of women,” or something. Feminism seems variously a set of academic theories and a political movement.

    > It was obvious to me after taking her class that biology is not destiny, and if there’s any general agreement within feminism, that’s it.

    Well, what is the agreement? That people can control their behavior? Some people can. Psychosis is pretty much destiny, and trying to change person’s sexual orientation is likely to leave all concerned frustrated. If you mean that feminists privilege cultural over biological explanations for people’s attitudes, that seems true in my experience. It’s also my experience that they take this to an implausible extreme, but maybe I attract the attention of the wrong feminists.

    > Anyway, for a quick overgeneralization of feminist movement(s), there was a debate in the 1980s and 1990s over whether there were innate differences between women and men

    This seems more an issue for scientific study than political debate. And it’s very clear there is an distribution of innate psychological differences. Look up studies on sex drive, for one. Individually the studies may be a bit equivocal — and individual people can be all over the map — but taking the studies in aggregate, it’s very clear there are differences. To the extent a feminist position holds that there aren’t innate psychological differences between the sexes, its appeal will be limited to those with an ax to grind.

    > That’s not what I saw at all. I saw several feminists engaging thoughtfully with the Quora question, which is “Why do some feminists hate evolutionary psychology.” (Side note: that’s quite a leading question, intended to provoke argument. Why use the word “hate” otherwise?)

    I think “some” rescues it from being a leading question. I suppose you could say “clearly despise” rather than “hate,” and they do. The naturalistic fallacy cuts both ways. Whenever I discuss sociobiology on Facebook, I get hit with the naturalistic fallacy, in textbook form, by feminists. You witnessed the last discussion I had, where a woman who should have known better said that by arguing biological explanations for people’s attitudes, I was saying those attitudes were proper or at least inevitable. No, no, and no. I’ve been hit with this fallacy several times. What is natural is emphatically not what is good, and the fact that there may be a strong biological component to behavior does not mean the behavior is inevitable; it just means that changing the behavior is a tough job. You can’t look to nature for moral authority at all.

    So do we look to culture? Culture can be a vehicle for approaching morality, but as an abstract ideal, morality occupies its own sphere. Morality is axiomatic — you must have an intuition for goodness and evil; you’ll never be able to approach it through pure reason. It does not derive directly from the instincts. There’s altruism, but that’s not the same as a moral instinct. There is no moral instinct that reliably sets altruism above selfishness. C.S. Lewis does a good job of tackling this issue in The Abolition of Man. You can find my elaboration on this blog.

    Feminism makes a lot of culture, for sure, but there’s much more to the human experience than culture.

    > The 2nd and 3rd feminists to appear in the list, Lucretia M Pruitt and Carrie Cutler, are not attacking evo psych but rather explaining why they’re against it.

    I fail to see the distinction. In any case, it’s not something to be against, any more than evolution is something to be against. Evo psych unlike feminism is not a political movement. Those who try to make it a political movement, whether they think they’re for it or against it, are wrong.

    > You might get a different answer if you asked “Does the field of evolutionary psychology have anything to offer contemporary feminist movements?”

    I was hasty to say “have to offer.” I realized that as I typed it. I meant in terms of the pursuit of pure knowledge. Science is inconvenient for everyone’s politics at some point. My interest in evo psych is not to attack or validate feminism, nor has it ever been. It is not I but _some_ feminists who put the evo psych and feminism in competition with each other.

  23. Kristin says:

    I can tell you’re really itching to get to a discussion of evolutionary psychology, and I’d be up for that, but you’re right that we haven’t come up with a common definition of feminism yet. I’ve called it a liberation struggle and you’ve called it a position or an attitude. That’s miles apart. Positions, attitudes, theories — they’re part of feminism, but not the whole thing. The struggle, the movement, came first, and in the process of struggle, people developed theories. All kinds of theories, and some of them opposed. So what do you think? Can we come up with a common definition of feminism?

  24. I’m not necessarily itching to discuss evolutionary psychology in this context, but I will if there’s any contention. So far, you only seem skeptical of my claim that hunter-gatherer societies are heavily patriarchal by necessity. This isn’t a claim of evo psych as far as I know. It’s more population physics. Do you seriously think the Inuit, for example, would have survived if the women hunted and fought battles and the men tended the household? Women have enough attrition from childbirth in primitive societies. I find it interesting that men die from violence in hunter-gatherer societies at roughly the same rate that women die in childbirth. Steven Pinker alludes to some of this in The Better Angels of Our Nature, a book that demonstrates how the world has become increasingly peaceful.

    So feminism is about a liberation struggle? Okay, what does that mean in the west? Fighting for birth control, abortion rights, and nondiscrimination laws, in addition to trying to change attitudes that devalue and threaten women? That seems a decent core definition to me, and doesn’t require attaching the movement to any controversial theories.

  25. Kristin says:

    If the feminist movement doesn’t have any controversial theories, it’s not getting anything done. The core definition you suggest is only a weak subset of feminism, and specifically, white liberal feminism of the sort that has been critiqued as incomplete ever since the groundbreaking 1977 Combahee River Statement, which is here: http://circuitous.org/scraps/combahee.html. Feminism is also liberation from racial oppression, economic oppression, ability-based oppression, and a lot of other stuff I don’t have time to list. That said, why don’t we jump right into the theories you find controversial?

  26. I think that just about anytime there’s a idea about the psychology of gender that competes with a simpler Darwinian explanation, it’s probably on shaky ground. Most feminists reject Darwinian logic out of hand. The ones who don’t like Sommers are not popular, as I’ve said. That’s a shame, because the Darwinian view is coherent and amenable to falsifiable testing.

    I don’t think it amounts to a theory, but it’s popular among many feminists to state that rape is always a crime of violence and not of lust. This is a political statement, not a scientific one. And it’s counterproductive, because without qualifying the statement, it’s plain wrong. Most rapists use enough force to gain compliance, and rape is a serious crime in our culture. If violence were the motivation, they could simply assault a woman and inflict more physical pain with less risk to themselves. (This is not to say that rape is never a crime of violence or that the motivation in any way redeems the act.)

    So why do feminists push this idea? I don’t know, but I guess the reasons are twofold. The cynical one is that the message is a lie used to add some special stigma to rape, as if it weren’t bad enough. However, I think there’s something else going on here, and Karen Straughan lays it out pretty well in her video on objectification. In the ancestral environment, and right up to the advent of reliable birth control and other medicine, sex was much more dangerous for women than men. Not being able to assert control over her own reproduction had such huge costs for a woman, it’s probable that women and men’s psychology around this violation evolved along different lines. I have a few male friends who were raped by men. They did not take it lightly. One killed his abuser. I can imagine that women would be inclined to take it even worse.

    I think there’s likely an evolved asymmetry around the psychology of rape. And here’s where the men’s rights movement seems to gloss over logic that they otherwise embrace. They complain that when men are raped by women, it’s not taken as seriously as the reverse. As a practical matter, they’re right that this needs to be corrected. But you would expect that the rape of men by women would be viewed differently, not so much because of “culture” or the “patriarchy” as because men had less to lose in the ancestral environment. Having your life threatened by unwanted childbirth, alienation from a supportive mate, and loss of status in the tribe moves the violation out of the realm of the cultural into selective pressure that drives evolution.

    Men need to consider that not just violent assault but any unwanted coercive sex would logically hold a deep visceral horror for women. So when many feminists talk about rape violence and statisticians point out that many rapes do not involve serious physical harm they’re probably talking past each other. Still, objectively, the popular feminist line is wrong.

    The way to resolve this is to do the uncomfortable work of trying to suss out the truth with science. I predict that feminism would be on a much firmer footing because of it.

  27. I’m guessing you’ll want some citation for my claims. Check out the following legal paper on the sociobiology of rape, page 861. I haven’t read all the paper, but it looks pretty good. (Early in the essay, the author gives Susan Brownmiller her due in raising rape awareness and kicking off a productive dialog. However, she’s probably wrong about the causes and social function of rape. The evo-psych explanations are much better.)

    http://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1551&context=californialawreview

    You might be tempted to ask what the harm of being wrong about rape is if a narrative brings extra censure to bear. And it’s a good question. Generally, I think the truth, however inconvenient, is preferable to error, but in this case, it’s also pretty clear that the truth is much better for the goals of feminism. Consider the studies that show that chemical castration that reduces sex drive does in fact decrease recidivism.

  28. Kristin says:

    To me the first question is not “what is scientifically right or wrong” but “how do you stop rape” and “how do you stop rape culture.” It looks like you’re saying that understanding the biological component to rape is important to finding solutions to stop it?

  29. Kristin says:

    I don’t have an issue with that. Would you grant that it is also important to fight rape by changing our culture?

  30. Kristin says:

    For one, there’s “challenging rape culture,” and by “rape culture” I mean all the ways that people who are not themselves rapists still culturally uphold the institution of rape by making rape jokes, blaming the victim, sending mixed messages about what is and is not appropriate, and a bunch of other stuff. (Here’s a URL with a big list: http://www.shakesville.com/2009/10/rape-culture-101.html) There’s also doing a better job of educating our youth about consent, because it can be confusing. For example, one teenager I knew had a boyfriend who came into her bedroom through the window and had sex with her even though she expressed discomfort with it. She never explicitly said no, but neither did he get consent. He didn’t intentionally rape her, but she was raped. We need to teach the concept of “yes means yes.”

  31. I’m wary of this term “rape culture.” I think it got traction with Against Our Will by Susan Brownmiller, and I think she was wrong about rape being an institution that all men benefit from. We do not usually talk about a “murder culture,” though I’ve seen a few people try. And we don’t because it’s not a thing that can be productively attributed to the dominant culture. And I think rape has similar problems. There are subcultures that seem to encourage rape, but rape is a big problem for civilization. Is there a theft culture or a wife-beating culture? The case could be made for a subculture of sick people seeking mutual support, but mainstream society does not condone these things, and will never insofar as there’s any rule of law.

    What is called rape culture seems better framed as an absence of culture, or a failure of acculturation. We can promote a consent culture to forestall the opportunities and excuses for rape. That is positive. That can be articulated. But positing rape as acculturated where it is primitive or pathological is counterproductive, and leads to a fruitless witch hunt. After we’ve eliminated a given culture that supposedly promotes rape, we will still be left with creatures that rape. At which point have we eliminated “rape culture” then?

    This probably seems like semantic wrangling, and it is, but some semantics obfuscate and some help clarify, and I think “rape culture” is one of the obfuscating ones, because it doesn’t have a clear definition. We need to build a consent culture that increasingly discourages rape, and, fortunately, we are doing that. This crime, like most serious personal crime, has been on the wane.

  32. Kristin says:

    Maybe I should lay out some boundaries for what the term “rape culture” does and does not mean to me. First, it does not mean all men terrorizing all women. I’ve never heard of Brownmiller and I don’t agree with her on that at all. Second, it does not mean that our culture explicitly condones rape. Third, it’s not exclusive to the U.S., to the West, or to patriarchy. Fourth, it’s not limited to men — women also create rape culture.

    As for what it does mean–yes, it is a widespread cultural phenomenon. It is very common for a woman who has been raped to be accused of “asking for it” or otherwise blamed. (This is different, by the way, from how murder is treated. We don’t usually say people were asking to be murdered, and that’s why we don’t have a “murder culture.”) It is also very common for movies and television shows to depict sexual assault as a normal human behavior. Man kisses woman, woman resists, man continues kissing, woman falls into his arms, because it turns out she wanted that kiss all along.

    Rape culture is a changing phenomenon, though. It is less common than it used to be for rape to be shown in movies and TV as normal human behavior. I remember a popular soap opera that showed a man raping a woman, and the woman then falling in love with him and marrying him. And there are all those little things, like the line in Grease when Danny is asked whether Sandy “put up a fight.” Another change is that it used to be perfectly legal for a man to rape his wife, and that’s no longer true.

  33. I’m very surprised you haven’t heard of Brownmiller. She was hugely influential.

    The term seems a way of packaging a bunch of bad behaviors together, whether acculturated or not. Maybe I’m wrong and this does advance the dialog, if only to help people try to tackle the problems as a pattern, which may exist whether we get its origin right or not. For me, liberalism and humanism are the values that address the bad behaviors, rather than feminism, unless we are addressing the specific biological needs, physical and mental, of women. I’m starting to think that one definition of feminism may be a perspective that has packaged certain phenomena together to make them appear a coherent anti-woman culture or anti-woman conspiracy. The depiction of rape in popular entertainment, especially in women’s romance novels, where I understand it is ubiquitous, may not stem from an active cultural conditioning, and it may not be at all what it appears on the surface. Rape fantasies among women are apparently very common, but this is probably not an indication of internalized misogyny or rape culture, just as widespread enjoyment of horror movies is not indicative of a murder culture. My friend Loren Rosson wrote an interesting essay on this. He examines the various theories about rape fantasy and does his own analysis, which seems logical to me.

    https://rossonl.wordpress.com/2009/05/02/horror-movies-and-rape-fantasies/

  34. Kristin says:

    Rape fantasy is an area I’m not comfortable discussing, unfortunately. Bear in mind that because I am a woman, there is a one in six chance that I have been raped in my lifetime. I’m not saying I have or haven’t — that’s a matter that most women would choose to keep private.

    Susan Brownmiller – she may have been hugely influential, but how long ago? Sounds like that book came out fifteen years before I took my first feminist theory course. When and how did you come across her?

    For this – “Maybe I’m wrong and this does advance the dialog, if only to help people try to tackle the problems as a pattern, which may exist whether we get its origin right or not.”

    Yes, that’s exactly the purpose of the term “rape culture,” to try to tackle the problems as a pattern. The origin may well be biological, but changing our underlying biology is nowhere near as easy as changing culture (and it’s probably inadvisable as well!). Moreover, if we can see rape as a problem that exists on a continuum with other kinds of sexual assault, violence, and power struggle, it gives us a chance to potentially put the brakes on long before it gets to that point.

    And finally, for this: “I’m starting to think that one definition of feminism may be a perspective that has packaged certain phenomena together to make them appear a coherent anti-woman culture or anti-woman conspiracy.”

    I would say there are strains of feminism who believe there is an “anti-woman conspiracy” but that they are not the majority. I personally reject the concept. As for “anti-woman culture,” that doesn’t seem like the right way of putting it. When people are talking about patriarchy, they’re usually not talking about men per se, but about the social, economic, and political institutions that put a small number of men in charge of almost everything, at the expense of everyone else. They’re also talking about the extremely rigid gender roles that everyone is asked (especially by the religious right) to follow, whether they fit or not. We might not see it as much, living in the relatively liberal Pacific Northwest, but I spent many of my formative years in Utah, where the man is explicitly “the head of the house,” and the church leaders are explicitly called patriarchs. There are a lot of cultural patterns that go along with that patriarchal religious structure — ways women are treated there — and I have experienced them in Utah. And everywhere else, really, to a different extent. Culture has a way of bleeding into everything.

    It’s interesting, though, that you say “_coherent_ anti-woman culture.” Because feminists do attempt to make _coherent_ narratives to explain the experiences we face. That’s a thing people do — take a lot of random experiences and try to make a coherent story out of them. We try to make order out of chaos. Then, once we’ve made our order, we throw out whatever doesn’t seem to fit. Bad habit, but there it is.

  35. > Rape fantasy is an area I’m not comfortable discussing, unfortunately.

    Nor am I, but you brought it up as an example of rape culture. You said, “I remember a popular soap opera that showed a man raping a woman, and the woman then falling in love with him and marrying him.” And this is what I was responding to. I have never read a pure romance novel, but as a publisher, I took some interest in the industry — it’s a huge industry, eclipsing all other genres — and I learned that this kind of fantasy is very common in romance books written by women. But Loren makes a compelling case that the phenomenon does not reflect a woman’s desire to be raped, nor is it a product of rape culture (and he takes the term “rape culture” more seriously than I do). You should read what he has to say, in the interest of clarity on this topic. The fact that the romance-novel trope made it to TV might be an argument in favor of rape culture, in that the trope crossed context boundaries from the very personal realm of closet pornography and sympathetic activation (qv Loren’t article) into the mainstream where it might actually be taken seriously.

    > Moreover, if we can see rape as a problem that exists on a continuum with other kinds of sexual assault, violence, and power struggle, it gives us a chance to potentially put the brakes on long before it gets to that point.

    I understand the reasoning, but the conflation is hazardous. For example, I do not think dirty jokes and romance novels help create a culture of rape, at least not in every context. Rape is a problem even in church cultures of extreme sexual repression and censure, cultures that likewise condemn dirty jokes and romance novels. Yet if rape culture is a medium that “cultures” rape, then it must include these church cultures. If there is a rape culture, it concerns institutions that isolate rape victims and potential victims and gives cover to criminals.

    > The origin may well be biological, but changing our underlying biology is nowhere near as easy as changing culture (and it’s probably inadvisable as well!).

    Changing biology is not on the table. Dealing honestly and constructively with biology is the issue. Culture does not create the sex drive, and broad censure only forces people to vent their sexual frustrations and explore their fantasies in private. I say “only,” but this is a good thing in many cases. We don’t want men to feel emboldened to accost women on the street, or to indulge in voyeurism or public masturbation. On the other hand, I think the label “rape culture” is inaccurate and misleading, and that makes me suspect it is also counterproductive.

  36. Kristin says:

    I’ve read a few romance novels, and they’ve tended to do a decent job of navigating the fine line of consent. That’s the key, IMO. I’m in agreement that broad censure of sexuality is problematic–in fact, I support “sex-positive” culture. There just needs to be that critical understanding that if both parties aren’t consenting, something is wrong. Repressive institutions such as those you mention are indeed part of “rape culture” partly because, by portraying sex as completely wrong and shameful, they lump consensual and nonconsensual sex together as equally evil.

    Not all feminists are “sex-positive” but I believe the trend is going in that direction, especially with millenials.

  37. Our whole project here is to define feminism, and I don’t think setting it against “rape culture” works very well, because “rape culture” is not a rigorous term. It conflates subcultures and phenomena that are unrelated to each other and even some behaviors unrelated to rape (telling unsensitive dirty jokes, for instance). “Slippery slope” is a logical fallacy. So I don’t think this is getting us anywhere. “Feminism” could just be a blanket term for gender politics that concerns women, but I thought your idea that feminism is goal-oriented seemed most productive, and I think my formulation was pretty good: “feminism is a movement to defend women’s reproductive rights and to create and enforce nondiscrimination laws, and it seeks to change attitudes that devalue and threaten women.”

  38. Kristin says:

    I’ve got some summer chaos going on, so my replies are going to be fairly slow. That definition of feminism is incomplete, because feminism is not just about gender. I need more time to think about a counterproposal for a definition of feminism. But if I can, I’d like to go back a minute to your statement about “rape culture” not being a rigorous term because it conflates phenomena that appear unrelated to you. That seems to me to be a complete misunderstanding about how and why people use the term. It’s a descriptive term used to group certain types of speech and action (for example, rape and certain types of dirty jokes). Now I would say they’re causally related, and you would not, but that’s beside the point I’m making just now. The point I’m making is that most descriptive terms used for grouping aren’t expected to be rigorous, and you wouldn’t say they’re a slippery slope, either. (For example, “enthusiastic people” or “adventure movies” or “good books” or “surfer culture” or “corrupt politicians” or “events that led to World War II.”) You just plain can’t have language without messy categories.

  39. > The point I’m making is that most descriptive terms used for grouping aren’t expected to be rigorous, and you wouldn’t say they’re a slippery slope, either.

    I think it is expected to be rigorous. It’s been put forward as a serious academic term, and many scholars have grappled with it on that basis. Here’s the Wikipedia overview, and I think it’s worth reading:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_culture

    The phenomena at the heart of the debate are real, of course, and very much worth discussing, but I don’t think they’re coherent in the way the term suggests, and coming back to my real point, it does not seem a sturdy foundation for defining feminism.

  40. Kristin says:

    I still disagree that the term “rape culture” should be expected to be rigorous, even after reading the Wikipedia overview. However, I’m happy enough to get back to the main project of defining feminism.

    I did find an interesting article that had some solid specifics. The article is about a different topic (how feminism is being commodified into meaninglessness) but it also has a quote by the cofounder of _Bitch Magazine_: “The root issues that feminism confronts—wage inequality, gendered divisions of labor, institutional racism and sexism, structural violence and, of course, bodily autonomy. . .”

    http://qz.com/692535/we-sold-feminism-to-the-masses-and-now-it-means-nothing/

    So what’s missing from the definition you propose is especially institutional racism and sexism, and also ableism, which that article also left out.

  41. Well then, complete the definition to your satisfaction. Really I wasn’t looking for an inclusive definition. I was looking for a common denominator. You seem to be saying that isn’t possible, and since I defer to you in this, we can move on. The next question is what concrete actions should feminists take. My friend Jonathan Tweet, a self-described feminist, says, “Try having a conversation that’s about what to do instead of about definitions.”

  42. Kristin says:

    I see what you’re saying. I generally like the idea of finding common denominators, but in this case if it isn’t complete to my satisfaction, it’s not going to work for me. Let’s just try this:

    “Feminism is an intersectional movement that fights to end wage inequality, gendered divisions of labor, institutional racism and sexism, ableism, structural violence, and power disparities; to defend bodily autonomy, gender expression, and reproductive rights; and to change societal attitudes that devalue and threaten women and other oppressed groups.”

    As to the means: there isn’t anything that a feminist *should* do particularly, but here are some things a feminist *might* do:

    – organize collectively with other feminists
    – study our own internalized sexism, racism, ableism, etc — as the first step in an effort to end it
    – study the sexism, racism, ableism, etc that exists in our social, political, and economic institutions, as a precursor to ending it
    – study the sexism, racism, ableism, etc that exists within our own movements
    – study our own movements and theories and critique problems and shortcomings we see
    – dream about different ways society could be organized (feminist SF does that a lot)
    – raise awareness — our own and others’ — about differing sexual orientation, gender expression, etc.
    – fight for equality
    – equalize power disparities between women and men, between white people and people of color, etc.
    – fight to change our economic institutions, specifically to end wage disparity and to restore our broken social safety net
    – fight to change the political institutions that have disenfranchised us

    I could go on but is that enough to work with?

  43. Our project in this first dialog was to arrive at a definition that seemed coherent. And this seems pretty good to me. So thank you. For my part I’m done with this dialog. If other people looking on would like to weigh in, They’re welcome now.

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