It grew out of academic feminist theory — the stuff of women’s studies and gender studies classes. Its intellectual foundation was a convoluted bullshit-osophy known as “postmodernism,” a body of thought as easy to grasp as a greased goldfish in a bathtub.
In truth, there wasn’t that much to accomplish after the European Enlightenment philosophers did their thing, rebutting superstition, embracing reason, and questioning how we know what we know. But in the 1970s, French philosophers tossed science and reason in la poubelle — the trash can — and announced there’s no real knowable truth. They wanted to out-radical the Enlightenment’s revolutionary thinkers. And they came up with a pronounced relativism. They argued, essentially, that whatever someone says is true is true — though it’s even truer if it comes from an oppressed class.
As pointed out by England’s Helen Pluckrose, a literary scholar turned critic of these French-spawned modes of thought, in postmodernism the intention of the speaker — what the speaker means to say — “is irrelevant. What matters is the impact of speech,” or how the listener feels after the communication is made.
Yes, welcome to the origins of “Sexual harassment is whatever we say it is!”
In postmodernism, you can pin a crime of thought, speech, or social behavior on anybody. You simply claim that something a person wrote, spoke, or did made you feel harmed or “unsafe.” And once you take offense, you can run with it.
Postmodernism has a race-based intellectual sister — “intersectionality.”
In a celebrated 1989 law journal article, African-American law professor and social theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw argued that black women get extra scoops of discrimination. Like white women, they’re discriminated against because they are women. But they’re also discriminated against on the basis of race.
As Crenshaw explained it, the intersection of these two marginalized identities compounds the discrimination black women experience.
As a legal point, this claim had enormous potential significance. In discrimination suits, taking both sex and race into account could increase the redress received by black female plaintiffs. But Crenshaw additionally called for “expanding feminist theory and anti-racist politics” by “embracing the intersection” of forms of discrimination.
Women’s studies and gender studies faculty jumped at this. They turned intersectionality into an identity-politics cudgel — one swung in the direction of white people, especially white men. In a reversal of Martin Luther King Jr.’s call to judge people “by the content of their character,” intersectionality became a pissing contest of victimhood and oppression. Under intersectionality, high status is not earned — it’s granted through one’s group membership. How many boxes can you check on the “marginalized” groups ledger? Lesbian? Black? Missing a limb? You get to talk. White women, shut up and “check your privilege.”
Of course, this is a kind of social original sin. You can’t control your color or whether you’re born with all the usual limbs — you can only control what you do.
For feminist academics, victimhood has become the new hustle, a way to have unearned power over others. They’re pushing a viewpoint (ironically, a paternalistic one) that effectively tells the world women cannot make it without coddling and special treatment. It’s why contemporary feminist activists feel it’s their mission to force men, governments, and businesses to provide for women.