This essay first appeared in Cliterati on August 4th; I have modified it slightly to fit the format of this blog.
Second-wave feminism in the UK has, like the first wave of the 19th century before it, devolved into a solution in search of a problem. In many English-speaking countries there are plenty of women’s rights battles to be fought, such as the brutal campaigns against abortion access in the US and a wide variety of vital issues in India. Even in Britain, there are a number of major problems it would be appropriate for feminists to address, but there’s a catch: they largely involve marginalized groups like sex workers and transwomen whom the remaining second-wavers consider to be enemies, or else nonwhite women they just don’t care about.
So just as the first wavers devolved from successfully crusading against the horrid Contagious Disease Acts to campaigning against things which made middle-class white women uncomfortable (including alcohol, sex work and masturbation), so second-wavers have followed up the monumental victories of the twentieth century with screaming about trivia. While transwomen are hounded to death, they obsess about the number of women’s pictures on banknotes. While sex workers are stripped of rights and repeatedly victimized by police, they aid the oppression by trying to criminalize our clients and destroy our means to work legally. And when we dare to challenge their war on us, they demand social media give them a means by which to censor us.
Yes, I realize that the rationalization used to demand the Twitter “report abuse button” was the horrible rape- and death-threats hurled against Caroline Perez, leader of the bank note campaign. I also realize that A) it’s already illegal to credibly threaten someone, and the proof of that is the arrest of Perez’s worst abuser despite the lack of a button; B) Twitter already has a means of reporting serious abuse, but it requires effort and is therefore difficult to exploit for coordinated mass reporting campaigns against targeted individuals; and C) Any quick and easy means of reporting abuse can also be misused by the many for silencing the few, such as the aforementioned exclusionary feminists silencing sex worker and transgender rights activists. When those with a history of attack, oppression and exclusion say they need a certain weapon for defense, you can be as certain as the sun rising in the east that it will also be used for offense; in fact, you can be sure that the offensive use is the intended one, and defense is simply the socially-palatable excuse.
The truth of this bait-and-switch tactic is revealed by the reaction of the “Lose the Lads’ Mags” campaigners to the news that a group representing the country’s largest retailers have now demanded that publishers encase the magazines in “modesty bags” to hide their covers. The crusaders’ original pretense was that “magazines and newspapers with naked women on their covers…[discriminate against]…employees uncomfortable with images of naked and near-naked women…”; if that were the real issue, the bags are an obvious solution because they remove the supposed offending stimulus (namely the pictures) from the workers’ environment. But this is not and never was the actual, narcissistic, censorious reason for their demand: those urging the stores to “Lose the Lads’ Mags” do not want these magazines to exist at all, anywhere in the world, whether within their line of sight or not; they believe that their privileged bourgeois feelings take precedence over everyone else’s rights, just as the temperance crusaders of a century ago did.
Third-wave feminism is generally inclusive, diverse and respectful of women’s individual choices, with the result that many if not most third-wavers find second-wavers embarrassing at best; many other women prefer to avoid the term “feminism” altogether, largely because of the sort of behavior described above. Second-wave feminism is therefore aging and shrinking; many more of its devotees die off every year than new ones join, and within a generation it will vanish entirely as a social influence. And given second-wavers’ fixation on their own petty concerns to the exclusion of those affecting women in general or humanity as a whole, that’s definitely for the best.