So… Rather than merely attaching myself to hooks’ intersectionalism or to Serano’s trans-feminism, to me, these are my guiding fourth wave feminist principles:
- Woman is born in chains, but we are everywhere making her free – to turn Rousseau’s famous quote on its head (although there are arguments that he meant closer to what I mean), rather than pretending that we are created equal, and that our differences are arbitrary constructs, we must recognize that we are born with many inequalities that give and take privilege before we even speak for ourselves and continue to operate in modified forms throughout and beyond our lives.
- Sex and gender are deeply rooted in the very existence of human social constructs, and the feminism that helps us will be every bit as radical as this, in an honest manner that understands what we can can and cannot change, today, about human biology. Like Serano and other scientists, and since I am a neuroscientist myself, I do reject the idea that sex/gender are purely socially constructed – although there is arbitrariness in what is perceived as masculine and feminine at a given time, that many people naturally congregate and compartmentalize behaviors into masculine and feminine, and that these are moderately to strongly correlated with karyotype, is a stable feature of humans across time and cultures, and evidence against either a purely socially constructed or a purely genetic (excluding epigenetic effects) notion of sex and gender makes both of these extremes implausible. The focus of fourth wave feminism must not be arguing with people about their gender identity or experiences, or arguing with people about the very existence of gender and sex, but must rather be on how we can use intellectual/philosophical, legal/moral, and scientific / technological innovations to create (not restore) equal playing fields, as we learn more and more about what we can and cannot change, and how we can and cannot change human beings.
- Only inclusion builds stronger society. We have ample evidence that segregation does not work. We must stop banging our head repeatedly against doors marked “separate but equal” when we know that this has failed us time and time again. Although she denies it, history generally credits Phyllis Schlafly with using the fright of unisex/gender inclusive bathrooms to stop the ERA, and almost 40 years later, we’re still scared enough of equality that we are frequently choosing segregation (Civil unions? Please…) when we know it is not “close enough.”
- The fights for every kind of freedom, for freedom from poverty, freedom from racial/ethnic marginalization, freedom from sexual oppression, freedom from unjust or inhumane incarceration, freedom from dominance by the ignorant – they are all the same fight, and every freedom fighter is our kin-in-arms, and I am in league with everyone who dreams of and yearns for the life beyond the bars. Whenever we start a conversation with “equality for xxx,” are we not implying that, even when we get what we want, some people will be equal-er than others? I’m not saying that we can’t be pragmatic, that we can’t implement equality piece-by-piece, but we have to be clear that the ultimate goal is an inclusive world that provides whatever we mean by equality (not homogenization) as something everyone can enjoy.
- No one ever truly became freer standing on the neck of another. Oppressing trans women will not make cis women free. Oppressing the poor does not make the rich free. Demonizing members for mere membership in the dominant ethnic minority is as wrong as demonizing someone for other factors not under their control such as their sex, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. We are none of us safe until we are all of us safe, and we must build freedom for those who lack it without trying to destroy the freedom of others.
“And Govinda saw that this mask-like smile, this smile of unity over the flowing forms, this smile of simultaneousness over the thousands of births and deaths — this smile of Siddhartha — was exactly the same as the calm, delicate, impenetrable, perhaps gracious, perhaps mocking, wise, thousand-fold smile of Gautama, the Buddha, as he perceived it with awe a hundred times.” — From Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
To paraphrase Steinem, the advocates of the status quo, of ignoring all of these points, and of keeping one group or another bound in chains, they will do anything to make a woman like me seem ridiculous. They will argue with me about everything, from my hemline to my mascara to my genitals, from questionable translations of the Bible to non-credible histories of the founding fathers, in short with everything but what really matters, which is freedom for my people.