Law in Contemporary Society

Direction for the Fourth Wave

Second Wave Feminism: Consciousness Raising

The Personal is Political. Hanisch’s iconic phrase is often repeated and more often misunderstood; the importance of this message merits revisiting. Although written in 1969, her essay is anything but anachronistic today. In the face of Roe’s reversal, feminists must revive the activism of our grandmothers, from preparing at-home abortion devices to legal petitions. But why are reliving our grandmothers' hard-fought victories? This is the defining question for fourth-wave feminists, and the answer lies, in part, in feminists’ abandonment of consciousness-raising.

Principles of the Praxis

Radical feminists in the 1960s initiated consciousness raising groups as a means to confront the former meaning of self-deception. Through the praxis of critical consciousness development, women discovered the possibility of an autonomy free from internalized cultural conditioning but realized that this was only possible through political solutions. In this way, the women collectively birthed a revolutionary praxis that would transform their emotional, intellectual, and social understandings of oppression.

The pedagogical resistance to integrating emotion into theoretical and political discussions derives from a pervasive sentiment that a “right” interpretation of the truth can be discovered by filtering the objective from the subjective. Pursuit of an objective truth predominates feminist legal methods which assume that “knowledge [of truth] is accessible and, when obtained, can make law more rational,” which will improve the law. However, legal feminists must question the epistemological underpinnings of conceptualizing “truth” as a delineated, objective abstraction.

Consciousness-raising implicitly refutes this conceptualization and instead presumes that “truth”’ inherently has multiple meanings. CR derives its value from the fact that individuals’ social positionality will invariably induce different interpretations of the same experience and the integrated understanding will get closer to the truth." CR does not seek to filter out contradictory interpretations or to uncover the enshrouded objectivity, for the assumed concept of truth moves beyond the subjective/objective binary. With this recognition, “truth” is not an end goal to be attained; rather, the truth is something dynamic “that must be continually subject to the effort to reappraise, deconstruct, and transform”. This process of continual rediscovery is the source of radial imagination that generates individual self-realization, incentivizes new academic inquiry, and sparks social activism.

CR induces self-realization because it encourages female participants to confront the “division of the self” produced by internalized sexism of which other members help them become aware. This greater awareness of covert sexism broadens the intellectual horizon, and these combined forces generate activism, which in turn incentivizes greater self and intellectual inquiry. In this way, CR is vital to effectuate action at all points on the movements’ timeline, not merely valuable as a precursor to action as it was misunderstood by subsequent generations.

Loss of the Radical Imagination

As the second wave turned to the third, the abandonment of CR practices resulted in self-deception. In conceptualizing “solidarity” as a homogenous collective rather than engaging with complexities, white feminists "trade[d] too freely in notions of self-deception" and created a feminism "dominating the subjects it presumes to liberate."

Although the second-wave feminists' goal of fostering a solidarity of sisterhood intended to value each woman’s truth equally, priviledged speakers’ narratives dominated. White women often dismissed discussions of intersectional issues as divisive because of the added complexity and replaced CR practices with more “practical,” actionable reform. This shift may be attributed the idea that legitimacy in the (masculine) governance sphere requires emotionlessness. Legal feminists experience this pressure twofold, as jurisprudence itself gains its legitimacy from a false bifurcation of emotion and reason. By confining its inquiries to the bounds of traditional law and order, legal feminism obscurificated the underlying issue by offering as recourse “liberalism’s signature cocktail of individual rights, formal equality, limited government, and the rule of law." This recourse endowed feminism with a “false generosity” – instead of pursuing a radical agenda, third-wave feminists’ end goal became a temporary softening of oppression. In abandoning the praxis of consciousness-raising, the feminist movement inadvertently stifled the radical imagination.

Difference need not fracture; grappling with the complexities of intra-group differences cultivates the radical imagination. Without listening to the voices of women from unique positionalities, feminism reaches a glass ceiling of its own creation. Consciousness-raising groups need not pursue a united agenda; in fact, the lack of political agenda incentivizes the inclusion of diverse perspectives without censoring individuals for having different goals: in this space, "difference[s] must not merely be tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark." Only by listening to all women can feminism conceive the creative solutions required to effectuate justice.

This is not to say that legal feminism’s victories – such as equal protection, affirmative consent, and abortion rights, to name a few – are inutile. These battles are and continue to be integral, but a truly radical feminist ideology demands more: it demands scrutiny of the gendered psychosocial structures covertly operating in a society that erroneously considers itself liberated and likewise scrutiny of the movement’s methodology that failed to address this.

Direction for the Fourth Wave

With this in mind, Fourth-Wave feminists must revive the praxis of consciousness-raising. Legal feminists should pursue a “perverse civil rights strategy”that resists the temptation to cling to traditional ‘rational’ methodology and instead remember to remake feminism and its methods routinely.

With the increasing understanding that gender exists on a spectrum rather than as a binary, feminism must redefine itself as not simply a movement for (white) women, but rather a movement for all. CR practices may also be remade. Feminists must listen to our sisters as our grandmothers did in the 60s, to our brothers about the normative grip of masculinity, and to transgender and nonbinary folx about how to enact radical self-determination. This is critical because it is only with higher consciousness can we as a society see that gender equality is far from attained and, someday, effectuate a creative, radical solution that moves beyond the noninterference right attempted (and denied) by Dobbs.


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r4 - 07 Jun 2022 - 00:09:55 - MelissaMouritsen
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