smashes the p(aradigm)

I’m encountering some new ideas in my life through some radical feminist blogs.  They have caused me to question my own feminist beliefs in some cases, and to face cognitive dissonance regarding my actions within the patriarchy and these ideas.

I’m currently reading Thomas Kuhn’s _The Structure of Scientific Revolutions_ . This book is about scientific paradigms, but it may have a lot to say about paradigm shifts in feminist thinking.   As Kuhn states,

When examining normal science… we shall want to finally describe that research as a strenuous and devoted attemot to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by professional education.”

In other words, science is about taking the data we have and trying to make it fit within our conceptual boxes.  More on this later.

The radical feminist blogs I read are influenced by what I (as a relative greenhorn) see as “2nd wave” or “radfem” feminist thinkers, while the current women’s/queer studies departments and so-called “fun fem” mainstream feminist bloggers are part of the “3rd wave” of feminists.

The 3rd wavers emphasize choice- indicating that feminism shouldn’t boss us around by telling us what is oppressive, whereas the 2nd wavers talk about choice in the context of the patriarchy, and how fully autonomous decision-making may not be possible (in cases like pornography, Girls Gone Wild, performances of femininity, etc).

The 3rd wavers emphasize “intersectionality”, or the way in which oppressions of all sorts (patriarchy, racism, transphobia, etc) intersect.  Third wave feminists ask that we continuously “check our privilege” to make sure that we’re not oppressing anyone by what we say or do..

Second wavers recognize that there are intersecting oppressive forces, but don’t want to lose sight of the oppression of women.  They may see 3rd wave feminists use intersectionality as a strategy for turning female energy away from female causes.  These radfem thinkers are particularly concerned about transgender and transexual folk who are seen by the radfems as having hijacked feminism and our efforts toward women’s liberation and moved them into a more male centered direction.  Trans women are also seen as male invaders to female spaces by these rad fems, and the fun fems think this view is transphobic.

An interesting critique of this privilege checking procedure is that any individual making a logical argument can be proven wrong by having not properly checked her privilege.  So, by making trans critical arguments that do not align with the 3rd wave party line, an individual will be shut down as transphobic, and her arguments will not be listened to.  This silencing tactic is particularly worrying to me as a person interested in the *truth*– rather than what is least offensive.

Additionally, this technique quells dissent, and turns 3rd wave feminist thought into an accommodation station for the rights of everyone but women.  Women are last.  It could be said that women are socialized not to rock the boat or hurt anyone’s feelings.  That is why this silencing technique is particularly effective.

Another topic where radfem/funfem thinkers disagree is sex.  Funfem thinkers are often described as “sex-positive”– meaning that they think we should take the shame of sex out of the equation, and encourage women to chose to have it whenever it brings them pleasure (or money).  Radfems believe that sex (penis-in-vagina sex, or PIV) is harmful to women and causes pregnancy (or that contraception methods either alter the body’s inner chemistry in harmful ways, or aren’t effective).

I am in a sexual relationship with a man, and we currently engage in PIV.  Nevertheless, the radfem line on this issue is interesting.  It has raised my awareness of the complications of pregnancy and how common they are.  Women are (physically and mentally) harmed by pregnancy and we spend huge amounts of time, money, and effort in preventing it that men do not.  This makes PIV an unequal association of two adults, and that fact makes PIV an arrangement that feminists should at least be able to discuss without being dubbed “sex-negative”.  The harm is *real*– it is possible that it may be mitigated by pleasure and intimacy, but we should be able to talk about this.  Not so, say the funfems– sex is a tra-la-la choice!

Last night I met up with my brother and his lesbian feminist friend.  Somehow we got on the topic of PIV and I brought up the perspectives I’ve recently been exposed to– namely, that PIV is harmful to women.  The lesbian feminist friend– let’s call her B– told me that these ideas are outdated and old-fashioned. She and I don’t particularly get along anyway, but I think there’s more to her dismissive comments than our personality conflicts.  This leads me, finally, to my point about Kuhn’s book _The Structure of Scientific Revolutions_.

Ideas and information that do not fit the current intersectional-sex-positive-choosy-choice-3rd wave-feminist paradigm are thrown out for being old-fashioned, not intersectional-enough, or not respecting women’s autonomy enough.  In other words, they are dismissed for not upholding the current paradigm AND NOT BECAUSE THEY ARE WRONG!

To paraphrase Kuhn, 3rd wave feminist thinking is about taking the data we have and trying to make it fit within our 3rd wave conceptual boxes. This is what I see B to have been doing.  However, I say:  If my evidence tells me that my paradigm is wrong, I should stop shoving the evidence into the old paradigm to try and make it fit.  I should smash the paradigm, and find a new one.

*Truth* is what we should seek–regardless of our current paradigm.  B’s criticisms of my claim that “PIV is harmful” were an attempt to defend her own paradigm against other perspectives.  She did not present good reasons why my points were incorrect, or poke holes in my reasoning.  She simply said that my perspective was old-fashioned, and brushed it off.  Her type of ad hominem attack is one used in internet and real life feminist discussions alike seemingly any time a radfem viewpoint is brought up.  I am glad I’m reading this book, because it puts B’s comments in context.

Another friend of mine– let’s call her K- just got her PhD in Sociology this week.  Yesterday I told her I’m worried that by performing femininity (makeup, occasional dresses, demurring at my work to the male boss, etc) I am supporting/bowing to the patriarchy.  The performance of femininity as conformity to the patriarchy is a 2nd wave/radfem idea I’ve been trying on lately.  K said my solution should be to “queer” my performance.  I should “drag it up”.  She said this turns the patriarchy on its head.  I am not sure what “dragging it up” means, but my first thought is that it involves giant heels and hair.  I think this is a classic 3rd wave solution.  I don’t meant to straw man K’s response, but I don’t see how putting on more eyeliner than ever is going to subvert the patriarchy.  I think K’s critique indicates a serious error in 3rd wave philosophy, and the radfem/2nd wave paradigm may be superior (superior= more correct) to this queer analysis.

I think about how the system of men in power (patriarchy) was threatened by 2nd wave feminism, and I believe that 3rd wave feminism *does not threaten it*.  I think this may be why 3rd wave feminism is “allowed” to prosper.  Forgive my dramatic analogy, but fun feminism is a mewling kitten, and radfem thought is a roaring lion.

We do need a lot of what 3rd wavers provide– belief in reproductive rights, a voice for domestic violence victims, and a visibility of women’s rights.  But we need so much more.

I have recently joined a feminist reading group of what seems to me to be mostly 3rd wave women.  One of the women asked if male feminists could come, because she wanted to bring her male partner.  I suggested that they should not, and that since women only spaces are important, it would be nice if this feminist group could remain women only.  I was told that such exclusion would “other” men (that is, would turn men into the “other”).  I call bullsh*t!  Men have the power, and therefore cannot be othered.  *They* are the ones who other *me*!  Inclusion may be fine for some, but I’m deny that I am “othering” people by trying to create women only space.  I’ve decided to keep my mouth shut for a while to see how the group goes– though I do feel like patriarchy is an insidious member of this meetup silencing me.

I have so much to learn about all of this, and it fascinates me to learn it. I’ve been doing more feminist thinking than ever before, and I love it!  Regardless of where I eventually stand on these issues, these are great moments of critical thought in my life.

Originally composed May 1st

About smash
Women's liberationist.

15 Responses to smashes the p(aradigm)

  1. Noanodyne says:

    Wow, you covered a LOT of ground with this post and it’s a good summary, too.

    It has always galled me when women dismiss the ideas of women who have come before this current round of “feminists.” No other group of people is so quick to dismiss the people who came before. It’s such an obvious attempt to fully silence the women who created the bulk of theory that most of feminism is based on and to make sure that their ideas are buried and lost forever. It’s one thing to say that a theory or an idea has been updated because there are better ways to do what those theories were designed to do, but the outright dismissal is very telling. 3rd wavers haven’t come up with ideas that improve women’s lives, they’ve come up with ideas that improve men’s lives and made it look as if it’s “feminist.”

    The patriarchy is very good at getting women like “B” to dismiss the women who cared about her life and future, while accepting as a given that what’s good for men is good for women. If only wishful thinking made it so.

  2. smash says:

    Yes. What is good for men is NOT good for women at all. We need to take feminism back from men and men-pleasers. I was surprised that as a lesbian “feminist”, B was so brainwashed. In fact, I brought up the PIV critical perspective thinking that she would be at least somewhat sympathetic. The fact that she was totally closed to it tells me that we have very few allies, and that it will be difficult to take feminism back.

    My book club wanted to read _Full Frontal Feminism_ (which I have read, back in my funfem days) by Valenti. I’m sure you’re familiar with it, particularly the image of a naked disembodied women’s torso and hip on the cover. What contradictory message is Valenti trying to communicate? It seems as though she is saying, “We are objects, so please take our bodies out of context, use them for your pleasure, and call the process feminism.” Talk about male pleasing!

    GYAH! This is a frustrating process. I’m starting my journey of taking back feminism by gobbling down as many feminist books as possible. Once I’m better philosophically armed, I’ll work out what comes next. Hopefully we *can* make changes.

    Thank you for your comments!

  3. paleosister says:

    I just found your blog and saw this post. It’s truly spot on. I’m glad you’re taking the time to think through these issues. One of my favorite parts of your post was this:

    “An interesting critique of this privilege checking procedure is that any individual making a logical argument can be proven wrong by having not properly checked her privilege. So, by making trans critical arguments that do not align with the 3rd wave party line, an individual will be shut down as transphobic, and her arguments will not be listened to. This silencing tactic is particularly worrying to me as a person interested in the *truth*– rather than what is least offensive.”

    YES!!! This is precisely what happens!! And how does one respond to the argument that one is “–phobic”? You can’t.

    • smash says:

      Paleosister, thank you for your comment.

      I think the tactic does work in silencing me IRL even if it hasn’t been lobbed yet. The anticipation that someone will call me “that transphobe” pretty much ensures that I won’t make trans questioning comments. I stay silent, and I think a lot of others do too.

      Truly, I have no fear or hatred of trans folk– to each her/his/zis own. However, I do think we should be able to offer good faith critiques with an awareness of context, and these critiques should be evaluated rationally– rather than in an ad hominem manner. Personal attacks don’t advance argument– and they make the attacker look as though her/his/zis position is weak.

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  5. KatieS says:

    Cool blog, Smash! I read Kuhn some decades ago, so memory may not serve in some of my comments, but I’ll try.

    For one thing, I wonder if we should assume that the so-called third wave is actually an overthrowing of an old paradigm or a new one. It seems to me that when you are talking about a scientific revolution and old paradigms, you are talking about something that is rigidly accepted, global, like the idea that the earth as the center of the universe once was. Not only is all data understood in terms of the existing (old) paradigm, but also any new research is framed in terms of the existing paradigm. There will be reactions to anything different, like the idea that the earth revolves around the sun. There will be attempts to discredit discrepant data from the earth-centric idea, no research questions framed to further study non-earth-centricity, and if all else fails, executions of persons believing these things. Not only science, but religion, a worldview.

    What I see from my view as a second wave feminist is that patriarchy is the existing paradigm. First wave feminism challenged that paradigm, and second wave feminism challenged it further. Feminism never became the existing paradigm. But there was a backlash against feminism by the existing paradigm, patriarchy, to protect the old paradigm. The funfem so-called third wave is actually just a reversion to the existing dominant patriarchy-as-the-center of the universe paradigm. There is no challenge to the dominant paradigm, and quite a bit of reinforcement of it. Slutwalk is an obvious example, with the sex is fun and choiceful being another. It fits the patriarchy-centric paradigm. OTOH, PIV as harmful does not fit a patriarchy-centric paradigm.

    The idea of two rigidly defined genders, i.e., masculinity and feminity, is also p-centric, and the transgender phenomenon does not threaten that paradigm but rather supports it, particularly in its classic form, where the person is said to have a birth defect (brain-body mismatch) that medicine can correct. Radical feminists, the continuing wave, the continuing challenge to the p-centric paradigm, are saying that gender performance is part of the p-centric paradigm, harmful to women in all kinds of ways. I do see some of the blogs (like GenderTrender) who present this information as concerned about the harm by the patriarchy to those who are trans (especially children) and at the same time challenging the theory behind it. I don’t see that there is a hatred of trans people as a class, but rather a challenge to their theory. However, if you are a radfem it is probable that you will dislike a particular trans person who is harrassing you for not accepting classic p-centric trans theory, particularly if it is someone acting out of the old misogynist behavior paradigm. (IOW, acting like a dick while calling oneself a woman).

    Ok, long enough. Can you tell I like metatheorizing! Yay! Kuhn! Much fun! 😀

  6. KatieS says:

    I keep thinking about Kuhn’s idea that science does not proceed by accretion, but by radical shifts and that culture change plays a large role, it is not all rational steps in science change. This started me thinking about climate change in science and how such a large number of people now think it is up for debate. This is purely the result of propaganda, but it will have an effect, for instance, a loss of funding for research that might increase evidence of climate change occuring, while an increase for research that may find evidence that could cast doubt on it. And this is in science.

    Then I come back to what has happened to the paradigm that was (what we now call radical) feminism, and it seems to me that a very successful campaign has been waged to dilute it while at the same time promoting various misogynist ideas to replace it (identity-gender studies, fun-fems, even MRAs). This is not just a backlash, which is “lashing” against something “dangerous,” which keeps the dangerous idea in focus. It is the effort to dilute, to make feminism invisible by putting something in its place. It is an effort to shift the paradigm in a counter-direction.

    I think that many of the social media are helping this counter-direction. I think of things “going viral” on youtube, for instance, the young teens finding it fashionable to take hormones as a fashion statement. Even the “revolution” in Egypt was attributed to the presence of social media, and led in part by a Google executive (suspicious when an exec of a large corporation leads a revolution, no?). One question: Though the role of women was spotlighted initially, women are no more in evidence. This seems, then, like a social media performance, rather than a revolution.

    So, the bottom line here is that Kuhn did not foresee the effect something like worldwide instantaneous communications might enable the powers that be (patriarchy to us) to dismantle the kinds of paradigm shifts that he wrote about and to shift it deliberately in their own direction.

    Just some random thoughts about paradigm shifts prompted by your blog.

  7. smash says:

    KatieS, I am loving your comments on here, and I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. I think your explanation of feminism as having been diluted, instead of backlashed-against is *right* on. This does shift the paradigm, but it does so in a way that most women don’t even notice.

    Kuhn does talk about smaller paradigm shifts, say, within a given slice of science such as molecular biology or neuro-anatomy. I don’t think that by using the word “paradigm” we are necessarily talking about the absolute dominant paradigm. There can be paradigm shifts within feminism itself that are mostly ignored by the outside world. But, as you say, patriarchy has an interest in diluting and squashing these shifts if they ever come close to being minimally dangerous to the status quo.

    I recently read another book called _Propaganda_ by Edward Bernays. It was written in 1928, and it is essentially a defense of the use of propaganda as a tool. As he says,

    “I am aware that the word propaganda carries to many minds an unpleasant connotation. Yet whether, in any instance, propaganda is good or bad depends upon the merit of the cause urged, and the correctness of the information published.” (p 48)

    When I first read the book, I was rather disturbed by the idea. Now, I wonder if we radfems can find a way to get our (very much reflective of reality, but couched in a way that women can get passionate about) propaganda out there and recruit. Perhaps we could get enough women on our side to avoid being diluted once the P starts to take notice.

    What do you think? Is this possible?

    Thanks as always for your very smart comments. It is fun to see these things with you.

  8. KatieS says:

    You do a lot of interesting reading. Good questions about propaganda. I’ve not read Bernays, but have heard him referenced. I’ve read some other things on propaganda, don’t remember where. I’m of two minds about it. On one hand, I trust that women will understand radical feminism because radical feminism appeals to the woman be-ing that is underneath the patriarchal conditioning, we already do understand, even if this is buried. I really do trust that women, if given the right circumstances and the right information would naturally gravitate toward what is called radical feminism. If radical means root, that is a woman going back to her roots. I do remember consciousness raising in the 1970’s and it worked. It was unpropaganda, in a sense.I

    On the other hand, cultural brainwashing/propaganda is really, really heavy. There is discussion right now on a couple of blogs about the power of images (femonade and radfemcrafts) that seems important to this question. Images are powerful and they slip in under the radar. These patriarchy “propaganda” images (women as sex objects, housewives, etc.) prevent women, confusing them so they cannot find their roots. People getting their information through images is increasing at an alarming rate. This hurts us terribly as a movement, I fear.

    I don’t have a tv and don’t even watch that many movies. Occasionally, when I visit family and they are watching I watch with them, to be social. When I’m done watching, I notice how some of my perceptions have changed in subtle ways. Like I may begin to feel bad about my body, which I usually appreciate. The stuff I mostly appreciate is my body from within. I like to stretch, use my muscles to do things, feel the wind on my skin, stuff like that. But suddenly, I’m partly seeing my body from the outside, how it looks, and comparing it to those images. I am feeling slightly critical about my body/myself. I am too old, not fit enough, etc. I think that’s the result of propaganda. I know it’s stoopid consciously, but it affects my feelings, just slightly, enough to notice. I haven’t had a tv for most of my adult life, but think that stuff got imprinted at a young age. It’s weird and happens so fast. It makes me feel horrible about women who swim in this stuff all the time, including some stuff on the internet.

    Thinking of propaganda, I guess my questions is about how can we help women live inside themselves and outside patriarchy. It’s about the image/process as well as the content. I don’t know how propaganda fits with that. It’s a good question, though.

  9. smash says:

    As Bernays says, propaganda is good or bad based “upon the merit of the cause urged, and the correctness of the information published”. Clearly, the images you’re talking about are for a terrible woman-hating and patriarchy-supporting cause, using false (photoshopped, out-of-context) images. In other words, bad propaganda.

    In this sense, radical feminism is sort of its own good propaganda since it’s spreading *THE TRUTH*. It is for a good cause, and it’s correct. That should be enough to convince ladies right there.

    And yet, the goal-post-changers are the ones who are heard. As I’ve said before, I don’t know any radical feminists IRL, and that (I believe) is because of the effectiveness of the negative anti-feminist, anti-woman propaganda that the P spits out.

    These images of patriarchal propaganda are effective even on those of us who know better, aren’t they? I’m only now starting to realize that. We may be consciously aware of the reason for that attendant, insidious self-consciousness that arises right after the body-shaming yogurt commercial ends, but that doesn’t stop us from suddenly grabbing the pillow and using it to cover our middle . At least we’re aware of the reason (most of the time). I wish I had this awareness 10-15 years ago. But it would be even better to escape this sh*t all together.

    Can we live outside patriarchy? It sounds like your plan to avoid tv and movies is a good one, but the images are in stores, on billboards, and the internet too. I’d love to get a cabin in the woods to escape, but at this point it’s an unrealistic idea. I’d like to brainstorm more ideas to, as you say, “help women live inside themselves and outside patriarchy”.

    Finally, YES to this: “The stuff I mostly appreciate is my body from within. I like to stretch, use my muscles to do things, feel the wind on my skin, stuff like that.”

    This is so affirming, and I need to practice body awareness in this way more than I do. Feeling good about my body is a feminist act, and a great starting place.

    KatieS, you give me the feminist goosebumps!

  10. KatieS says:

    Feminist goosebumps. That gave me a good feminist chuckle! 😀

    Your point about how many radfems we know IRL is a great point. Ok, let’s have some really good, really true feminist propaganda! Yes! (I forgot irl there aren’t many radfems or even serious feminists around, and all those women who have been brainwashed).

    I just kind of fell away from watching tv. It’s way too boring and I hated the misogyny, overt and covert, also classism, racism, etc. Most movies, ditto, though I watch some and get a few dvd’s. I got the first season dvd’s of The L-Word. It was boring and plastic.

    One day I was listening to the radio while driving, NPR. What came to me was that I was sick and tired of other people choosing how I would use my brain for that next half-hour, hour, whatever. Someone gets an idea and decides to fill my brain with it whether it’s something I’m interested in or not. So, I’ve kind of fallen away from radio, though not always.

    Books are different, in that you choose them, even have a list of which ideas you want to engage with next. The internet and radfem blogs are like this, and it’s fun engaging with others this way. Your blog, for example, has some really cool ideas, things that make me think. Wow! It’s just great to engage with so many witty, creative, and brilliant women online.

    The new blog design is great!

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