Feminism is a rapidly mutating species. I can pretty much identify the first and second wave, and (maybe?) third wave — but after that it seems to fall apart into incoherence. The second wave feminists (for all my disagreements with them) have my grudging respect for consistency, determination, courage and guts; but after that it gets weird. I remember when my undergrad feminist journal (oh so daringly named “the F word”), ran topless photos of faceless women on its cover, because, empowerment.
I think I quit reading their journal when they ran an op-ed where a sassy young feminist compared 2nd-wave feminism to her shy 12-year-old self wearing skin-toned sports bras, and her own 3rd wave feminism to her life now, confidently sporting a lacey red push-up. Also, there was another article (or poem?) detailing another undergrad’s hot 2-week fling with a man who dropped her off at the airport afterwards. She was kind of disappointed he was done, but grateful she can still remember the feel under the sheets, in her memories. Because, empowerment.
Maybe I’m just born in the wrong era, but this seemed to me one of the most nonsensical things I’d ever heard. I always thought that, um, most men never had a problem with women passing out naked photos of themselves, or revealing lacy red pushups, or sleeping with them for 2 weeks and meekly being dropped back off at the airport. In fact, such “daring” behavior has been rewarded since time immemorial. People wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t pay.
And throughout history, there is a reason that there have always been far more female prostitutes than male prostitutes. And its not because men are less desperate — after the floods and the crop failure, the family clan sends the 17-year-old daughter to walk the streets in the big city (or undergo the affair with the 50 year old foreman) because she has something she can sell, whereas her equally-desperate 17 year old male cousin (hawking himself as a day-laborer along dusty roads) does not. It’s always been that way — it’s the same commodity that is sold on the streets, or bargained for at a higher price in marital alliances. This commodity doesn’t just bring cash: it’s a lifesaver too, when the invading tribes kill the menfolk, they spare the nubile women, and add them to their collection in sexual servitude.
A woman’s sexuality is a commodity — a man’s less so. Not because women are weaker, but because more men are willing to pay for it than women are. In other words, women are born with a commodity that most men are willing to pay/fight/harass for, but men are born with a commodity that most women are not willing to pay/fight/harass for.
And in here, is the reason for so much historical female suffering. In the words of an old Korean saying, “Beautiful women have suffering lives.” (Or more literally, “beautiful women have ugly/painful lives.”)
In societies without rules to the contrary, the more beautiful you were, the more vulnerable you were. Like all commodities, the higher your asking price, the higher the chance of robbery and assault. Sexual desirability is a double-edged sword. It is precisely in this high value placed on female sexuality that sexual inequality (and sexual oppression) springs from. Even “patriarchal” traditional sexual morality is really a form of time-tested, negotiated self-defense — parents trying to get their daughters to more carefully navigate the market of their commodity, ultimately for their child’s own net gain. Don’t give it all at once! Beware! “Why buy the cow when the milk is so cheap?”
In its current reincarnations, it seems that 3rd-new-nth wave feminism will systematically erase everything the 1st and 2nd wave feminists fought for, that a women didn’t have to ply her sexual favors in the game of life. So we will end up back to square one — the male mammal with his long-suffering female harem, but no worries — it’s now liberating sex-positive polyamory — and this is all they want anyway because its all they expect, and hey, a few of the females born with high sexual desirability exercise some power through using their desirability to give strategic favors. So, empowerment! The favorite concubine of the warlord may have some influence at court! Yeah empowerment! Harem intrigue. Progress!
EMPOWERMENT THROUGH USING HER FEMALE SEXUALITY TO EXERCISE POWER OVER OTHERS AND GET WHAT SHE WANTS! YEAH!
Call it what you want, but it’s not progress. It’s not even new. It’s just business as usual, back to the way the world has always been.
And its degrading. Inherently and cosmologically degrading. And on that, the ghosts of the first and second wavers agree with me.
LATER UPDATE Addendum: My formative experience with feminism was mainly in undergrad, 2006-2010. It was solidly 3rd wave, or "new wave" as some called it then. The jury is out on what "fourth wave feminism" is, but if the wikipedia page is accurate, then the 4th wave started in 2012, and is defined by an anti-sexual-harassment agenda. If this is the case, then there is much hope. May the 4th wavers realize and repudiate the damage of the 3rd wave and save the human race! :-)