Do fourth wave sex acceptance feminists have a point?

During the last 10 to 12 years, scholars, theorists, and feminist activists have started talking about a fourth wave feminism. However, there is not much agreement on what the content of this forth wave is or whether it has any new ideas to offer that have not already been encompassed by previous versions of feminism.

It is important to note that this critical assessment of fourth wave of feminism is not something we have cooked up, nor some anti-feminist caricature, but in fact an assessment shared by even feminists themselves. They also disagree on whether the fourth wave should be considered a thing. And as stated, they also hold contradictory views of what the fourth wave is even about, insofar as it exists.

In this video we’re going to focus on a recent statements made by self-identified fourth wave sex acceptance feminists. Their argument is that there’s a gender imbalance in the way our culture views the sexual exploits of men and women. According to them, if a man sleeps around with tons of women, he is a stud and worthy of admiration, whereas if a woman sleeps around with tons of men, she is disparaged as slutty. One is positive and the other negative. According to the feminists, this exposes a cultural sexist double standard.

Do the feminists have a point? Let’s look at the arguments of their opponents. They have generally objected that according to evolutionary psychology, men have traditionally not been able to know whether they were the fathers of children their wives gave birth to, whereas women could always be sure that they were the mothers. According to this line of thinking, it wouldn’t be a big deal if a man slept around, since the child, carrying his genes, would be raised at someone else’s expense. But if a woman slept around, her husband would end up expending resources raising a child that wasn’t his. It would therefore make sense for traditional societies to evolve a social order which placed a greater premium on female chastity than on male chastity.

In other words, the opponents do not deny that there exists a separate set of sexual norms for each gender, but they believe this evolutionary reasoning can justify the differing moralities.

Let’s assume that the evolutionary argument is correct. Would it then justify the position of the opponents? There are reasons to be sceptical.

  • One is that technology has long since caught up with the reasons for maintaining this morality. Now that we have birth-control and DNA tests, the original reasons for upholding this morality have gone. That is not to say that the dispositions that have been handed down to us through evolution are gone. There are scientific studies showing that men are on average more prone to sexual jealousy and rage at their spouse’s promiscuity than women are. And since we know from modern behavioural genetics that every human trait is heritable to some extent, it is safe to assume that this sex difference is not just brought about by culture, but also by genetics. So yes, even if we could completely change our culture overnight, men are probably going to be more uncomfortable with their lady friends sleeping around than the other way around. However being made uncomfortable by something does not give you a right to avoid it. There are also studies showing that religious people get extremely aggravated at seeing their prophet mocked or religion insulted. But that does not give religious people a free pass from having their religion satirized.
  • Another reason is that saying “evolution made it that way,” without further elaboration, is an instance of the naturalistic fallacy, that is, the tendency equate the state of nature with moral goodness or the way things are meant to be. But as scientific studies have detailed, evolution most likely also shaped us to be uncannily likely to neglect or harm our stepchildren as opposed to our own children. Rape is considered to be a natural phenomenon by the majority of evolutionary psychologists too. In other words, to simply say that “that’s how evolution arranged for things to be,” can also be used to justify every kind of atrocity that evolution primed us with during humanity’s long and violent past.

Now interestingly, the sex acceptance fourth wave feminists don’t actually engage with the evolutionary argument – at least not as far as we have seen. They just argue as if the whole of the problem were cultural, which – as we have seen – is unlikely. But nonetheless, they do have a point that the sexual morals concerning men and women amount to a kind of double standard. Their opponents will have to do better here.