Third Wave Feminism Defined

May 4, 2009

Naomi Wolf’s review of the new biography of Helen Gurley Brown includes a fantastic description both of what Third Wave Feminism is and the obstacles it still has to overcome.

Third wave feminism is pluralistic, strives to be multiethnic, is pro-sex and tolerant of other women’s choices. It has led to an embrace of what was once so politically suspect — the notion that you can be a “lipstick lesbian” or a “riot grrrl” if you want to be, that you can choose your persona and your freedom for yourself.

But that very individualism, which has been great for feminism’s rebranding, is also its weakness: It can be fun and frisky, but too often, it’s ahistorical and apolitical.

She is exactly right, the feature that makes Third Wave Feminism so much more approachable and inclusive is also what hinders it: it’s focus on the personal (but without the political).  

We have reached a point where many feminists feel that they can make the decisions that are right for them in terms of family, career, and sexual relationships, and that is wonderful.  Sure, we may still be judged by other feminists for the decisions we make, but at least we are able to make those decisions.  But this ability to choose based on our own priorities has led to a sort of complacency and lack of critical thinking that is problematic.  We have the freedom, but we need to use the freedom consciously.

So this leaves me with a big question: how do we continue to be political in this intensely personal world? Sometimes it seems like we are so wrapped up in our individual identities that we lose sight of our common identity of feminist. How do we bring together the working feminists and the stay-at-home feminists?  How do we bring together the queer feminists and the straight feminists?  How do we bring together the white feminists, the black feminists, the hispanic feminists, the asian feminists?  It is not a question of creating a post-identity movement, because those identities are incredibly important, but it seems like we do have to find the common ground that can motivate us for political action.

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One Response to “Third Wave Feminism Defined”

  1. Sedate Me Says:

    Third Wave? I didn’t even notice there was a Second Wave.

    Feminism ran out of gas over the course of the 80’s. Curiously, it happen to overlap with the trend towards individualism. Divide and conquer works, folks.

    You divide people into sub-groups (be it blacks, Asians, Latinos or Lipstick Lesbians, stay at homes and workplace feminists) and encourage them to look out for themselves and you’ll get smaller and smaller groups with less and less political clout. What kind of clout do left handed, stay at home, non smoking, Asian, Diesel Dyke, pro-life, Libertarian, Christians with breast implants who are under 30 have? Not much.

    I think the best way to unite is to push specific issues that cross boundaries (say maternity leave or equal pay issues) and get them used to rubbing elbows and having common goals.


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