4th Wave Feminism as the End of Essentialism


In order to make this argument it is crucial to define what I am referring to as 4th wave feminism. From what I have noticed through most online sources and communities, the defining characteristics seem to be, first, the use of an online medium and second, trans inclusion. However, I suggest one reads this post as a prediction of a possible future for the definition of the 4th wave, for currently I believe much of the specifics about the use of technology as a medium to propagate this wave have yet to be settled.

So in order to entertain the notion that a digital world reduces individuals to consciousness with an absent physical body, we can consider Haraway’s theory of the cyborg from 1985 and identity tourism through Nakamura’s 2001 interpretation. A good critic of the complete abandonment of the body is brought up by Jessie Daniel’s in her paper, Rethinking Cyberfeminism(s) Race, Gender, and Embodiment, where she states that women have yet to obtain equality in a non-digital world, therefore their interactions with the internet become distinguishable due to the way oppression influences their behaviour. I would say the quintessential flaw in this argument is the act of condensing all experiences into one neatly labelled package of the oppressed”. All experiences and products thereof are different and neglecting the diversity that exists in the minds of each individual subscribed to identity X is another way to categorize, just as essentialism defines the mind as a product of the body.

Is the way in which we interact with the internet somehow linked to the habits and behaviors we accumulate as a result of having the body we do? Hence forth it becomes a matter of opinion.

My personal opinion is rooted in an anti-essentialist stance, so I’m going to argue that since it is extremely difficult to prove that one’s mind is influenced by the type of oppression they experience. (Here I am NOT saying that oppression doesn’t affect individuals on a fundamental level, I just think that everyone handles situations in their own way and it cannot be said that people who experience whatever oppression will react in a predicted way.)

Relating this back to the internet and video game goodness, I will state that you cannot identify anyone on the internet through assumptions based on their behavior. One step further again, I will state that therefor it is possible that individuals can thereby adapt any identity representation through a visual representation (avatar in a game) or a textual representation (eg. stating you are a biological woman/man). With malleable identities in a digital world, we lack accountability, but as the ways in which we interact become more and more lubricated by the internet I hope we can see the way we make assumptions about skills and personality traits gradually dissipate, for one can prove their competence before the stereotypes affiliated with their body is able to hinder their opportunities.

So as 4th wave feminism makes it’s movement online, we could see the ambiguous abandonment of identity politics. We could also see a complete disposal of essentialist arguments. This arbitrary ambiguity is already present in many online representations. Such as the 100 anti-theses developed to define what cyberfeminism is not. It is all very vague, and even somewhat humorous. But inclusive.

Now to just tackle class issues and get everyone internet access.

  • SarahBeck
  • Currently works as a software developer of EA. She has a BSc in Computing Science and enjoys JRPGS, anime, and Ruby on Rails. You can find her on Twitter at @sarah_bytes. Opinions are my own.