Today’s Feminism: A Brief Look at Third-Wave Feminism

Being the third part in a series on different feminisms. The second part was:‘No Longer a Second Sex: A Brief Look at Second-Wave Feminism

Beginning in the 1990s, after the end of second-wave feminism and the Feminist Sex Wars, third-wave feminism began with a mixture of disgruntled and unsure feminists and feminists born into a world where feminism had always existed. Third-wave feminism began in a world with punk rock, and thus carved out the safe space of Riot Grrrl. Third-wave feminism may be the most diverse and individualistic feminist wave to date.

The movement of third-wave feminism focused less on laws and the political process and more on individual identity. The movement of third-wave feminism is said to have arisen out of the realization that women are of many colors, ethnicities, nationalities, religions and cultural backgrounds.

With this wave of feminism what can be seen is a desire to challenge or avoid the assumption that there is a universal female identity and over-emphasizing of the experience of the upper-middle class white woman. Cherrie Morago and Gloria E. Anzaldua in books such as This Bridge Called My Back and All the Women Are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies critiqued second-wave feminism for its focus primarily on the problems and political positions of white women.

Proponents of third-wave feminism claim that it allows women to define feminism for themselves by incorporating their own identities into their belief system of what feminism is and what it can become.

Having the successes of the first two waves of feminism – the right to vote, the right to work, a greater right to one’s own body, a greater right to education – third-wave feminists felt a need for further changes in the stereotypes against women and in the media portrayals of women as well as in the language that is used to define women.

In this advocacy, feminists have argued that language has been used to create binaries (such as the male/female or heterosexual/homosexual binaries). Post-structuralist feminists see these binaries as artificial constructs created to maintain the power of dominant groups.

The roots of Intersectional Feminism can be said to be found in the roots of third-wave feminism, which usually incorporates elements of queer theory, anti-racism and women of color, as well as people of color, consciousness, womanism, girl power, post-colonial (anti-Imperialism) theory, postmodernism, transnationalism, cyber feminism, ecofeminism, individualist feminism, new feminist theory, Trans*gender politics and a rejection of the gender binary.

Another important part of this wave of feminism is sex-positivity, a celebration of sexuality as a positive aspect of life, with a broader definition of what sex means and what oppression and empowerment may imply in the context of sex. Though opinions of sex and sexuality are not universal. The Feminist Sex Wars split feminists on the issue of sex and sexuality. Split into the anti-porn and sex positive factions respectfully, these two factions disagreed on sexuality, pornography and other forms of equal representation, prostitution, the role of trans*women in the lesbian community as well as lesbian sexual practices and BDSM.
The anti-pornography faction argued that, “Pederasty, pornography, sadomasochism and public sex” were about “exploitation, violence or invasion of privacy” and not “sexual preference or orientation.”

Meanwhile, the sex positive faction promotes personal, individualized views on the gender-related issues focused on during the feminist sex wars, such as prostitution, pornography, and sadomasochism. Additionally, many third-wave feminists challenge existing beliefs that participants in pornography and sex work are always being exploited.

It has been suggested to both factions that rather than pass personal judgment of sexual acts, each feminist camp should recognize the plasticity of sexual meaning. It is argued that this would enable the feminist movement through shared education and mutual respect, to benefit from a greater comprehension of the diverse sexual preferences that exist.

Further, third-wave feminists want to transform the traditional notions of sexuality and embrace ‘an exploration of women’s feelings about sexuality that includes vagina-centered topics as diverse as orgasm, birth and rape.’ Baumgardner and Richards, authors of Manifesta wrote, “It is not feminism’s goal to control any woman’s fertility, only to free each woman to control her own.”

Some feminists prefer to change the connotations of a word or words that are sexist rather than censor it from speech. This idea of changing the connotation of a word inspired the first SlutWalk in Toronto, Canada in 2011 in response to a Toronto police officer who stated, “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

As discussed in the second part of this series, “No Longer a Second Sex”, third wave feminists are not finished fighting political battles, they face continuing pay inequality, a glass ceiling, sexual harassment, unfair maternity leave policies, a lack of support for single mothers by means such as welfare and child care and a lack of respect for working mothers and mothers who decide to leave their careers to raise their children full-time as well as restrictions to Supreme Court decisions such as Roe V. Wade (such restrictions come at the state and county levels and include restrictions such as mandatory waiting periods, parental consent laws and spousal consent laws).

Third Wave Direct Action Corporation was founded by American feminists Rebecca Walker and Shannon Liss as a multiracial, multicultural, multi-issue organization to support young activists. The organization’s initial mission was to fill a void in young women’s leadership and to mobilize young people to become more involved socially and politically in their communities.

To fully understand the past, present and future of feminism, as well as to reach a full understanding of intersectionality, this series will next begin looking at various individual feminisms, of which there are many.

Some Third-Wave Feminists of Note:

Joan W. Scott – “Deconstructing Equality-Versus-Difference: Or, the Uses of Poststructuralist Theory for Feminism”

Jennifer Baumgardner & Amy Richards – Manifesta

Rebecca Walker – To Be Real

Gloria Anzaldua & Cherrie Moraga – This Bridge Called My Back , All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies

Elizabeth Wurtzel – Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women

Susan Faludi – Backlash

Eve Ensler – The Vagina Monologues

Categories: feminism, Jessica Fisher | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “Today’s Feminism: A Brief Look at Third-Wave Feminism

  1. Pingback: Amazon Feminism: Erasing Biology as a Barrier to Equality | Being Feminist

  2. Pingback: Ruby’s Feminism 101 | Observations from the Demimonde

  3. Jennie

    I have an issue with the so-called “slut walk.” Men assume that if us women dress “provocatively” that we are asking to be raped-approached-sexually harrassed etc. As we know this is definitely not the case. For example, I dress how I wish and wear what makes me feel comfortable. If a guy sees me and judges me for this it is his problem not mine. I do not think dressing up as “sluts” and marching down the street is the answer. In my opinion, women are just giving men a free show. I believe in freedom in expression, individualism & women’s rights but I just don’t see where a slut walk is going to change anything. I think the feminist movement when Andrea Dworkin was around was much more effective. (I met her here in nyc before she passed). And “girlpower” is a joke in my opinion. It’s all sex based and ridiculous. “The Spice Girls” were into “girl power” right? And it was a man who created that group remember? Haha! What a joke!

    • I think that the Slut Walks, as a choice, can be empowering for women. Empowering for them to say they have the right to dress however they want, empowering for them to be able to walk down the street safely, empowering that they are a part of a community that shares solidarity with them.

      But then, that is just my opinion/the way I see it, and we are all entitled to our opinions.

      Thank you for your comment!

      The LongHairedPoet

    • sveta

      Yes,I agree with you.

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