When I was in England in 2001, the academic environment was buzzing around the legacy of feminist theories from the 1970s, now reinvigorated in Gender Studies, Gay and Lesbian Studies, and later Queer Theory. Regardless of its specific themes and authors, the movement included a kind of resumption of the presence of politics in the human sciences. But gender theories could only be understood in a landscape composed of other emerging theories, such as the cultural studies of Stuart Hall and Raymond Williams, which questioned the hierarchization between high and popular culture, and the postcolonial theory of Spivak, which criticized the presence of processes of racialization and subalternity in complex societies that, apparently, would have left this behind. This landscape also included the post-Marxism of Zizek, Laclau and Badiou, the post-structuralism of Derrida and Deleuze and, closing the train, almost getting off the train, the critically inspired psychoanalysis of Juliet Mitchel and Julia Kristeva.
One of the most interesting aspects of this nascent trend was the way it was able to establish cross-cutting debates as well as link university research to the real world. Perhaps this stems from the bifid origins of feminism, among intellectuals and trade unionists. Academics tend to agree on the two problems that plague us: the administrative mania, which makes the researcher dedicate himself more to filling out forms than to classes or projects, and the departmental prison, which chains each one to his theme, his magazines, its community, tending to be overspecialized. We recently lost one of our most dedicated neuroscientists, Suzana Herculano-Houzel, to the first problem. Gender studies, being dispersed throughout the humanities, with no fixed abode in anthropology or psychology, literature or philosophy, ended up being a kind of relief against the confinement of university conversation and a way of returning to the “real world” after the decline of what was once called political debate, whose epicenter was economics, law and history.
Back in Brazil, I did not understand why such theories were underrepresented, with their pioneers still with little visibility and most of the authors of reference poorly translated. However, in ten years things have changed substantially and in an unusual way. Today, there is no self-respecting school in São Paulo that does not have a feminist collective. The LGBTT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Transgender) movements have multiplied, gaining visibility and recognition, but the most important thing is that there is a growing change in our ways of thinking and practicing relationships between genders. I want to believe that the great novelty of this set of movements is to think that our most everyday relationships and our simplest habits replicate and update power relationships. In our small linguistic or behavioral decisions, consumption and style, in the field of work, knowledge and love, there is a game involving power. This brings to every aspect of everyday life the possibility of transforming these relationships, that is, a real and accessible path for us to invent another world, and for us to feel part of the difference that makes a difference in this process. If in the 1950s work and the nation defined the content of this difference and in the 1970s the place of transformation migrates to sexuality and desire, the 2000s invite us to think about a crossroads, or rather an intersection, between the different forms of minorization of the other and of oneself, as well as the policies of reversal of this minority. For that, the profession and the study, the ways of loving and desiring, the modalities of government and family, above all, the body and culture, must be thought of as determined by constructed options, and not natural ones. There is nothing essential, compulsory or coercive about them.
Apparently, those who are unhappy with the rise of gender demands can only read in this set of claims a loss of space and power, a threat to the family and to modesty. A competition between feminism and machismo, as if they were particular and symmetrical parties in search of a slice of power. Those who are discontented with the issue of gender turn it into an ideology, as if the real ideology were not the one that prevents us from seeing the flagrant inequalities in the relationship between men and women, the discrimination of homosexuals, the horror of transsexuals and even the suffering those who do not define themselves in any genre. When interim Temer leaves women out of his ministry, this should not be read merely as an offense to equity in power participation, nor should it lead us to any consideration of comparative excellence, but as an ostensible declaration that he does not “think with genres”. He does not think with all that this issue represents in terms of metonymy of the problem of violence, segregation, inequity and social difference in our country. Just as he does not “think with the culture”. His way of doing politics dates back to the 1950s, parodying Pascal, “kneel and work that faith will come by itself”, as if the progress of the economy spontaneously sprouted the happiness of peoples. His problem is not in the solutions he is practising, but in the anachronism of his theory of transformation.
The so-called fourth wave of feminists, like most of the adjacent movements, was greatly boosted by the internet. It is as if we had gone from a situation of flagrant discursive delay, which I portrayed above, to a leap towards a vanguard of mistreated social problems. Problems that had been waiting for recognition for a long time, with violence and segregation as a point of convergence. In a way, the Brazilian colonization of the internet quickly followed the stages of the debate over power. First it was used for strategic, scientific and military matters of interest to the nation. Then came the time of big business, ecommerce and millionaire startups. Then there was the phase of abundant, copious, and massive pornography. Now, the emptiness of meaning and the excess of available formal means seem to have found a universal content in the issue of gender and in the suffering of gender. Campaigns such as #PrimeiroAssédio, #MeuAmigoSecreto and #AgoraÉqueSãoElas brought a new strategy to thematize oppression and violence. Not just raising awareness and fighting for institutionalized rights, but a reform of everyday life and practical indignation against gender inequity. Along with this comes the discovery of a new power of the word, capable of denouncing and responding in the same currency to the offense received. This is quite compatible with the idea that gender is not just an anatomical or biological condition, eg male or female, nor an orientation of desire or affection, such as homoeroticism or heteroeroticism. Gender is something you do, not just something you are. It is a practice that by performative means, that is, by the effectiveness in the repetition of certain patterns, whose origin or reference can be empty, endorses or deconstructs power relations.
The university backwardness in terms of gender is a symptom of how Brazil still thinks of its means of transformation as excessively linked to the institutionalization of the treatment of differences. Laws are fundamental, but they do not always change the social substance of those who are touched by them. I want to believe that a great novelty and part of the political force of the new feminism resides in this point. Touching immediate, pre- and post-institutional relationships, private life and the desiring sphere, as well as their public and economic impact. The price to pay for the effectiveness of this strategy is the sedimentation of identities that are excessively particularized in the public space. And this is different from asserting the uniqueness of each subject, the objective of a true politics of the dispossessed, including those dispossessed of their own identity.
That is why the oppression of women by women must be thought of together with all other oppressions. In a post-identity era, and following the thesis of the empty essence as a form of resistance to power, militancy for a specific group requires performative criteria to finally know: who is a woman? In other words, identity politics can be decisive to create recognition in the face of so many other identities. But that doesn't seem to work so well beyond that strategic plan. Separated from a policy that recognizes in everyone a fragment of a minority, it will tend to practice the segregation and self-segregation that it seeks to eradicate. Without resuming its function of transversality between knowledge and intersectionality between minorities, its destiny will be to reify the capitalist possession of this narcissistic good: its own identity.
For that we will need a fifth wave.