Georgia O'Keeffe

Feminism’s New Wave Is Here

We’ve forgotten what it means to be human.

Enchanted by the previously unimaginable degree to which technology has allowed us to transcend the limitations of our bodies, we’ve harnessed the power of science and the momentum of markets to transform our everyday experiences. We increasingly expect a frictionless delivery of everything required to meet our physical needs, and we often attempt to meet our spiritual and relational ones digitally, too. Hunched over our screens, we ignore both the tension in our shoulders and the people in our lives. Even though many of us are constantly connected, materially comfortable, and physically safe, many are also more isolated, anxious, and aimless than ever before.

It’s a bleak picture. Still, I think this litany of laments is worth reciting, because I want you to know what we’re up against. Fairer Disputations is confronting a profoundly mistaken idea of what it means to be human, and we’re fighting for a better one.

Our tagline, “Sex-Realist Feminism for the 21st Century,” emphasizes both our embodiment and the technological age in which we live. You can’t be a human being without a body, and every body is either male or female. Yet today, many people succumb to transhumanist temptations, suppressing the natural functions of their bodies and endlessly altering their appearances. In a subtler way, the title of our journal emphasizes our shared capacity to reason. Men and women alike observe, reason, make judgments, and debate, articulating arguments for their positions and weighing competing truth claims. This extraordinary capacity—which depends upon our embodiment—distinguishes us from the lower animals. Reasoning together is a distinctively human pursuit.

Just a few years ago, the observation that sex is unchangeable was accepted as common sense. Today, those who voice it publicly risk losing their livelihood, reputation, and relationships. Ideas about sex, gender, power, and language that were once confined to gender studies departments have now thoroughly permeated our social imaginary. Refusing to use a person’s preferred pronouns is considered not only rude, but harmful. In reality, disagreement does not constitute violence, and words cannot erase a person’s existence. The swift and unforgiving enforcement of such misguided dogmas hurts us all, even those it seeks to protect. It makes us less human. 

The creation of this journal is a vote of confidence in our shared humanity. Here and now, on the disembodied medium of the internet, we can acknowledge both the equal dignity and distinct nature of the two sexes, and we can debate the best way to balance and accommodate those realities. 

A New Wave

Today, Fairer Disputations begins a new era. Back in January, we launched our site, bringing together a formidable team of featured authors, hosting a panel on sex-realist feminism, aggregating content from across the web, and sending out the best of the best in our weekly email. Now, we’re publishing original articles, starting with this editorial. 

Fairer Disputations didn’t create sex-realist feminism, but we are giving it a place to unite and coalesce. Here, we will define the contours of the new realist wave. In doing so, we build on the work of earlier feminists, who advanced the legal and social equality of men and women. Yet we reject many aspects of the most influential forms of contemporary feminism. These include the exaltation of autonomy over interdependence, the unquestioning acceptance of the sexual revolution, and the misguided attempt to imitate men rather than embrace what it means to be a woman: a person whose body is organized according to the tremendous potential to grow another human being within. 

Motherhood can fuel creative genius, and it can co-exist with a fulfilling professional career. It also makes formidable demands, transforming women in ways that men simply do not experience. Not all women will be mothers. Still, many sex-realist feminists—including myself—foreground the experience of motherhood not only because it is uniquely female, but because it so clearly and viscerally demonstrates how flimsy the illusion of complete autonomy really is. Babies need, need, need, and then need some more. Thanks to a flood of hormones, a radically rewired brain, and a host of biological changes that we’re only just beginning to understand, mothers are driven to meet their babies’ constant needs by a connection that is as destabilizing as it is overpowering. 

Adults are better at hiding our neediness than babies are, and men can maintain the masquerade more easily than women can. The truth is, though, we all exist in relationships of interdependence, needing and being needed, caring and being cared for. These relationships—both chosen and unchosen—are an essential part of our individual identities. Our culture will be healthier when we recognize and value the inescapable reality of interdependence instead of clinging to toxic individualism.

These three ideas—the importance of our sexed bodies, our shared capacity for reason, and our inescapable interdependence—make up the heart of Fairer Disputations’ mission. 

Next week, we’ll be publishing a series of responses—written by Mary Harrington, Leah Libresco Sargeant, Nina Power, and Helen Roy—to Erika Bachiochi’s essay in the latest issue of First Things, titled “Sex-Realist Feminism.” Erika’s scholarly writings, particularly her book The Rights of Women, propose a philosophical framework upon which we might begin to build. This site wouldn’t exist without Erika, yet she would be the first to tell you that she isn’t single-handedly defining this movement or this publication. Rather, she is one of a group of featured authors, women with a diverse and impressive array of talents, backgrounds, and opinions. 

This emphasis on intellectual collaboration seems entirely fitting to me; it’s in line with some of the positive aspects of earlier feminist waves. My mother, recalling the consciousness-raising meetings, anti-war encampments, and women’s rights demonstrations that she attended in the ‘70s and ‘80s, always emphasizes how collaborative and egalitarian the women’s movement of that era was. 

Likewise, my personal views (or those of our other editors and featured authors) aren’t the last word on any of the issues we cover. I would argue, for example, that opposition to abortion follows logically from accepting our interdependence and embracing the female body’s capacity for motherhood. Other sex-realist feminists would certainly disagree. They might concede that it has been a mistake to enshrine elective abortion as the sine qua non of women’s empowerment, yet still argue that it must remain legal. On the other hand, we are united in our opposition to pornography, which turns sex from a deeply intimate and relational act into a performance for the gratification of a third party. Sex-realist feminism repudiates the commodification of women’s bodies, whether through pornography, prostitution, human trafficking, or commercial surrogacy. These practices treat bodies as objects to be bought and sold, not as an integrated and essential aspect of human personhood.

Fairer Disputations is going to scramble preconceived ideological notions and political battle lines on both sides of the Atlantic. You don’t have to agree with our writers—they will, in fact, often disagree with each other—but there’s no question that their contributions will be shaping the way we think about women and men, and how they relate to one another, for years to come. 

If you’d like to support the work of Fairer Disputations, please subscribe to our emails, share with a friend, and consider donating to help cover our operating costs. If you’d like to write for us, click here for our submissions guidelines.