So third wave feminism is important to me, to my dissertation, and I've been trying to figure out what it is so that I can write about it in said dissertation. Basically, the idea is that there have been three distinct "waves" of feminism. The first wave is considered to be early feminists-- a big long historical group starting roughly with women like Mary Wollstonecraft and moving into the 1900s with suffragettes and suffragists (yes, there is a difference--one is more radical, one more conservative. I just can't remember which is which.)
Second wave feminists are the ones we are most familiar with-- women and yes, men, of the 1960s to the present who fought for equal pay rights, equality in the workplace, an end to domestic violence (even just as a "to the moon Alice" joke), sexual freedoms, such as birth control rights, and increased representation of women in ALL walks of life (politics, medicine, sports, etc). These second wavers are still actively engaged in feminism-- many of them are my mentors. Third wave, then, is defined as women and men who have come to feminist thinking with it always there-- those of us born since, say, 1964ish. But what, you say, beyond this rather simplistic concept of "waves" is the third wave of feminism?
We correspond roughly with Gen-X (although we don't often like to admit that.) A while back, on my other website, we did a collaborative review of a book that helps define third wave feminism better than I can do in a brief blog entry. Check it out. Also check out a couple of websites with some good definitions and arguments: here and here.
Third wavers have been called post-feminist, and disparaged as creating division within feminism where there should be none. Second Wavers have said that third wavers are selfish, that we feel a sense of entitlement.
"Well, geez" says I. "Wasn't us being entitled to freedoms and choice part of what you fought for?"
The Onion wrote a bit a while back titled "Women Now Empowered By Everything a Woman Does." They mean it as a joke-- a way of poking fun at the way feminism has been co-opted by things such as the Luna bar and cereal. But the thing is-- the Onion is partially right! Women today can be and are feminists without having to march on Washington in big groups waving signs. It's not just about big political movements; it's also about being free to choose to not think about it! The freedom for women to just live their lives today IS a feminist act-- because of feminists, women can choose to live their lives without being forced into things they don't want to do, or given no voice. Even the choice to NOT be a feminist can be seen as a feminist act. You are allowed to not think about it, to stay home and be conservative, and still enjoy certain freedoms as a woman that women of the past, women of other countries, do not have. Think about the women being beaten with a stick by the Taliban for going out in public without a man to accompany them, and women who have to ask for political asylum to avoid having parts of their sexual organs cut off, and you will realize that ALL women in the US and other "first world" countries have a lot to thank feminism for.
Just in the daily clothing choices we make, and our choices of whether or not to be stay at home moms or high-powered attorneys, of whether to teach our toddler sign language or dress them in pink and blue, we can define ourselves as feminists. Like to wear short, short leather skirts and spike heels? Like to wear PANTS? Like to cut your hair? Like to use a condom to prevent pregnancy and/or disease? Like to READ? You have a feminist to thank for that. At one time, you would have been punished for those clothing choices. The Onion can make fun of a woman wearing a "Slut" t-shirt, but by doing so, a woman is potenially redefining what those labels which have kept us controlled mean to us. A word only has power over you (think of any slur you can) if you let it control you.
As a blog I recently discovered put it, feminism doesn't exist-- feminismS do. There is no monolithic theory upon which we all agree. I can't define it very well right here. I'll have to do some work and really write a clear, coherent description of feminism, including third wave sorts of it. But that, of course, would mean I'd be working on my dissertation. So. For now, know that third wave feminism is a fact and will be around for a while. That doesn't mean we're trying to destroy those who have come before us-- nor that we don't realize we, too, will eventually be last year's news.
originally published in slightly different form @Kim Procrastinates.