Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Third Wave in Feminism

Last month we had a quick overview of the state of modern feminism. This month we are going to take a closer look at what has been referred to as Third-wave feminism, and some of the associated writings.
As Michelle Doege, Professor of English and Women’s Studies at Fanshawe College, pointed out last month, it’s generally thought that there are three waves of feminism: “The first takes us back to the turn of the last century and is concerned primarily with access issues such as getting women the vote, property rights, and access to education. The second runs through the 1950s to the 1980s, and includes the acceptance of women in the workplace and in positions of authority in government and society.”
The beginnings of the notion of a third wave of feminism can probably be traced to the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court of the United States by President George Bush Sr. in the fall of 1991. During the subsequent Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, Anita Hill, an African-American law professor, claimed she was sexually harassed by Thomas a decade earlier while in his employment. In response to the Thomas hearings, Rebecca Walker, a leading American feminist and writer, published an article titled “Becoming the Third Wave” in a 1992 issue of Ms. magazine in which she wrote, “I am not a postfeminism feminist. I am the Third wave,” and thus coined the term.
According to the Wikipedia entry dealing with Third-wave feminism, Third-wave feminism seeks to “challenge or avoid what it deems the second wave's ‘essentialist’ definitions of femininity, which (according to the third wave) often assumed a universal female identity and over-emphasized the experiences of upper middle class white women... Third wave theory usually encompasses queer theory, women-of-color consciousness, post-colonial theory, critical theory, transnationalism, ecofeminism, and new feminist theory.” The entry goes on to note that Third wave feminists often focus on "micropolitics," writing about forms of gender expression and representation that are less explicitly political than their predecessors. They also challenged the second wave's ideas of what is, and is not, good for females.
But there seems to be very little awareness of, and literature related to, this new wave of feminism. In 2000, Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards wrote Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), a book that argues for the continued importance of feminism in politics, education and culture. The authors, both established journalists and Third-wave leaders, had spent five years examining the state of the women's movement, trying to define the controversial ascendance of "girlie culture," a phenomenon of female self-empowerment that emerged in the 1990s with movies such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the all-girl, punk rock, musical groups such as Riot Grrrl – a name that would evolve to encompass a female, do-it-yourself punk subculture - and books like Elizabeth Wurtzel's Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women (Anchor Books, 1998).
Baumgardner and Richards advocated so-called “girlie culture” because they felt that Second Wave feminists, and especially Second Wave politicians and journalists, were largely against their idea of a the Third-wave feminist movement. According to Tamara Straus, writer and senior editor of from 1999-2002, in her article, A manifesto for Third-wave Feminism on, women such as former New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen have argued that “equating lipstick with empowerment, however playful or ironic, and reclaiming such words as bitch and slut, makes a mockery of feminism's longtime and still unachieved goals of social and economic equality. Second Wavers bemoan girlie culture's focus on the personal and the cultural over the political.”
But what else did they have six years ago, and what else is there now? A quick look at a brief bibliography of Third Wave literature would indicate that there has not been much truly seminal written on the subject since the turn of the century. The Web site, for instance. is a “feminist, activist foundation that works nationally to support young women and transgender youth ages 15 to 30.” By raising money and working in leadership development, and philanthropic advocacy, this organization support groups and individuals “working towards gender, racial, economic, and social justice.” The organization does have a newsletter called change it!, but the groups seems more dedicated to fundraising and social justice, than large-scale societal consciousness-raising.
As Professor Doege mentioned last month, “The Third wave is what we’re in now, and what I am seeing is young women who do want some change, but who experience their sphere of influence more locally… They use poetry and music, or they think about how they can publish their thoughts in small college and university publications, but their sense of power is very localized.”
Is it possible that Third wave feminism, and feminism in general, has become so localized that it’s in danger of losing its political and social relevance?

A bibliographical sampling:
Alfonso, Rita and Jo Triglio1997 Surfing the Thrid Wave: A Dialogue Between Two Third Wave Feminists. Hypatia 12(3):7-16, Summer.

Bailey, Cathryn1997 Making Waves and Drawing Lines: The Politics of Defining the Vicissitudes of Feminism. Hypatia 12(3):22-28, Summer.

Baumgardner, Jennifer and Amy Richards2000 Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Drake, Jennifer1997 Book Review of Listen Up: Voices from the Next 1998 Feminist Generation and Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation. Feminist Studies 23(2):97+, Spring.

Finlen, Barbara
1995 Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation. Seattle: Seal Press.

Higginbotham, Anastasia2000 Book Review of Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future. Women's Review of Books XVIII(1):1+, October.

Orr, Catherine1996 Charting the Currents of the Third Wave. Hypatia 12(3):29-45, Summer.

Shah, Sonia
1996 Book Review of Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation. Sojourner 21(9):43, May.

Siegel, Deborah L.1997 The Legacy of the Personal: Generating Theory in Feminism's Third Wave. Hypatia 12(3):46-75, Summer.

Straus, Tamara1999 A Manifesto for Third Wave Feminism (interview with
Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards). In Independent News and Information <>
Wingfoot, Alana1998 Abortion: Beyond Legality. In The 3rd WWWave: Feminism for the New Millennium <>
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