“Men are from earth. Women are from earth. Deal with it.” – George Carlin
Ceara Lynch once mentioned to me that she thought modern feminism had misguided priorities. At the time, I thought I knew what she meant. Turns out, I didn’t.
My Perception …
Funny thing about perception. A person’s perception is usually incomplete; many facets of reality go unobserved, discounted, or outright ignored. And so it was with my perception of feminism. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, I saw the Women’s Lib movement. Feminism was about female autonomy, equality of opportunity, and the right to self-actualize. By the late 1980’s, feminism had become more nuanced The emphasis shifted from equality of opportunity to equality of outcome. Feminism was a zero sum game is which women won and men lost. Then in the 2000’s, I saw feminism become less adversarial, less political, and more personalized. The emphasis shifted from women in the aggregate to the individual. The story of feminism was told in terms of individual endeavors and achievements. Feminism celebrated the success and contributions of specific women, and shined its social justice spotlight on crimes, such as sexual assault and sexual harassment, perpetrated against the individual person.
At least, that’s what I thought I saw. The fact is, what I thought I saw was not what I was seeing at all. I was missing the big picture.
The Arc of Feminism …
Some thinkers have sought to locate the roots of feminism in ancient Greece with Sappho, or the medieval world with Hildegard of Bingen or Christine de Pisan. Certainly Olympes de Gouge, Mary Wollstonecraft and Jane Austen are predecessors to the modern women’s movement. All of these people advocated for the dignity, intelligence, and basic human potential of the female sex. However, it wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that the efforts for women’s equal rights coalesced into a clearly identifiable and self-conscious series of movements.
The first wave of feminism took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, emerging out of an environment of urban industrialism and liberal, socialist politics. The goal of this wave was to open up opportunities for women, with a focus on suffrage. The wave formally began at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 when three hundred men and women rallied to the cause of equality for women. That Convention produced a Declaration that outlined the new movement’s ideology and political strategies.
In its early stages, feminism was interrelated with the temperance and abolitionist movements. Discussions about the vote and women’s participation in politics led to an examination of the differences between men and women with claims that women were morally superior to men and their presence in the civic sphere would improve public behavior and the political process.
The second wave began in the 1960s and continued into the 90s. This wave unfolded in the context of the anti-war and civil rights movements and the growing self-consciousness of a variety of minority groups around the world. The New Left was on the rise, and the voice of the second wave was increasingly radical. In this phase, sexuality and reproductive rights were dominant issues, and much of the movement’s energy was focused on passing the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.
Because the second wave of feminism found voice amid so many other social movements, it was easily marginalized and viewed as less pressing than, for example, Black Power or efforts to end the war in Vietnam. Feminists reacted by forming women-only organizations and “consciousness raising” groups. Over time,. the second wave became increasingly theoretical, based on a fusion of neo-Marxism and psycho-analytical theory, and began to associate the subjugation of women with broader critiques of patriarchy, capitalism, normative heterosexuality, and the woman’s role as wife and mother.
Whereas the first wave of feminism was generally propelled by middle class western white women, the second phase drew in women of color and developing nations, seeking sisterhood and solidarity. Feminists spoke of women as a social class and coined phrases such as “the personal is political” and “identity politics” in an effort to demonstrate that race, class, and gender oppression are all related. They initiated a concentrated effort to rid society top-to-bottom of sexism, from children’s cartoons to the highest levels of government. One of the strains of this complex and diverse wave was the development of women-only spaces and the notion that women working together create a special dynamic that is not possible in mixed-groups, which would ultimately work for the betterment of the entire planet. Women, whether due to their long “subjugation” or to their biology, were thought by some to be more humane, collaborative, inclusive, peaceful, nurturing, democratic, and holistic in their approach to problem solving than men.
How successful was the second wave? Many goals of the second wave were met: more women in positions of leadership in higher education, business and politics; abortion rights; access to the pill that increased women’s control over their bodies; more expression and acceptance of female sexuality; general public awareness of the concept of and need for the “rights of women”; a solid academic field in feminism, gender and sexuality studies; greater access to education; organizations and legislation for the protection of battered women; women’s support groups and organizations; an industry in the publication of books by and about women/feminism; public forums for the discussion of women’s rights; and a societal discourse at the popular level about women’s suppression, efforts for reform, and a critique of patriarchy. With these successes, there was a a sense that many women’s needs have been met. The movement didn’t end, however. Rather, a third wave evolved.
The third wave of feminism began in the mid-90’s and focused less on laws and politics and more on individual identity and choices. Realizing there are many different backgrounds and many different ways to be a woman, it challenged the assumption there is a universal way to be a ‘good woman.’ The third wave allowed women to define feminism for themselves by incorporating their own identities into their belief system of what feminism is and what it could become. The third wave challenged stereotypes in the media, words used to describe gender, rape culture, gender expectations, body image issues, institutionalized patriarchy, etc. This wave also tried to avoid the “us-vs.-them mentalities” of the preceding waves; men weren’t the enemy, and women didn’t have some ‘better’ nature that set them apart from men. Rather, men and women were just people. Third wavers tended to think the genders had achieved parity or that society was well on its way to delivering it to them
The women of the third wave stepped onto the stage as strong and empowered, eschewing victimization and defining feminine beauty for themselves. They re-adopted the very lipstick, high heels, and low cut necklines that the first two phases of the movement identified with male oppression. Most third-wavers refused to identify as feminists and rejected the word that they find limiting and exclusionary. Third wavers tended to be global, multi-cultural, and shun simple answers or artificial categories of identity, gender, and sexuality; differences such as those of ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, etc. were celebrated and recognized as dynamic, situational, and provisional. For third wavers, struggles were more individual orientated rather than as a collective group with common grievances. Reality is conceived not so much in terms of fixed structures and power relations, but in terms of performance within contingencies. Third wave feminism broke down or did not recognize boundaries.
The fourth wave of feminism is still a captivating silhouette. Fourth-wave feminism is often associated with online feminism, especially using social media to discuss, uplift, and activate gender equality and social justice. According to the National Organization of Women, the internet has created a “call-out” culture in which sexism can be called out and challenged immediately with relative ease. Fourth wavers more readily presume a point of view that believes a persons’ social position influences their knowledge (called “standpoint theory”) and argue that the feminist movement should address global issues (such as rape, incest, and prostitution) and culturally specific issues (such as female genital mutilation in some parts of Africa and the Middle East, as well as glass ceiling practices that impede women’s advancement in developed economies) in order to understand how gender inequality interacts with racism, homophobia, and classism in a “matrix of domination.” The emerging fourth wavers are not just reincarnations of their second wave predecessors; they bring to the discussion important perspectives taught by third wave feminism. Among the third wave’s bequests is the importance of inclusion, an acceptance of the sexualized human body as non-threatening, and the role the internet can play in leveling hierarchies.
FEMDOM, Feminism, and Empowerment …
FEMDOM is a very nuanced activity. To the novice or uninitiated, FEMDOM can easily be mistaken as a type of sexual extension for radical Second Wave feminism; i.e., it’s an incredible form of female empowerment whereby a woman asserts her will over a man. Interestingly, Ceara Lynch doesn’t see herself that way at all. She doesn’t think she is inherently better than a man just because she’s a woman. As she says, “It’s just a role I’m playing to cater to men’s fantasies. It’s sex work. I have pretty good self-esteem, but I try not to take this whole ‘princess’ or ‘goddess’ thing too seriously because that would be loony tunes. At the end of the day, I’m just helping guys jerk off, and that’s okay. It’s neither extraordinary nor degrading.”
Clearly Ceara Lynch doesn’t identify with Second Wave feminism. For that matter, she probably doesn’t even consider herself a feminist. Most Third Wavers don’t. And let’s face it, whether a woman calls herself a feminist or not is just an exercise in semiotics. The whole point of feminism is that women have the right to be whoever they want to be. That means they can decide how they dress, talk, act, and (yes) even who they have sex with. Ceara Lynch is a Third Waver. She isn’t threatened by sexuality, avoids the Second Waves “us-versus-them” mentality, and takes a more inclusive global Fourth Wave view towards what she thinks are higher priority female issues.
But as Oscar Wilde pointed out, defining Ceara Lynch is “to limit.” And Ceara Lynch doesn’t allow others to limit her. She personifies feminism not because she’s a dominatrix, but because she’s her own person. She’s an empowered woman.