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What Heterodox Feminism Is Not

It's not enough to be a dissenter: it also matters what you are dissenting from and what you're getting out of it.

· 9 min read
Composite image of Anna Khachiyan, Kathleen Stock, Bridget Phetasy, Mary Harrington, and Diana Fleischman.
Anna Khachiyan, Kathleen Stock, Bridget Phetasy, Mary Harrington, and Diana Fleischman during their Dissident Dialogues panel.

The Heterodox Academy homepage declares “Great Minds Don’t Always Think Alike” and states, “We advance the principles of open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement to improve higher education and academic research.” The Heterodorx podcast’s “About” page defines ‘heterodox’ as “not conforming with accepted or orthodox standards or beliefs.” Terms like ‘heretic,’ ‘dissident,’ ‘apostate,’ and ‘freethinker’ try to capture a similar idea. Kate Phelan and I called our YouTube channel “Feminist Heretics” to mark our difference from other feminist philosophers; Debbie Hayton’s recent book—which critiques gender identity ideology—is called Transsexual Apostate.

These are not neutral terms. In the mouths of the orthodox, they are pejoratives; Galileo, famously, was declared a heretic by the Catholic Church and consigned to house arrest for the remainder of his life. John Stuart Mill was an early figure in the revaluation of the heterodox thinker, arguing for the protection of viewpoint minorities partly on the grounds that they contribute to the finding of truth even when they are wrong. Today, many people value heterodoxy—or at least, they value it in the abstract, even if they find it irritating or uncomfortable when it involves dissent from their cherished beliefs.

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