• Enter search term(s):

De-generationalizing the Third Wave

in response to Jessica Nathanson

Forum: WMST-L
Date: 07/11/2001

In response to Jessica, but answering to Daphne along the way -

On 01.7.10 8:42 PM, "Jessica Nathanson" wrote:

Sue McPherson wrote:

You can say that the 3rd wave is a lateral movement, and not one coming after* the 3rd wave, but it does* follow the 2nd wave historically and that cannot be denied.

Well, that all depends on what you are defining as the third wave. The term originated in the middle of the second wave, when women of color began using it to describe a feminism that looked at race, poverty, and other issues as central to their brand of feminism

But of course second wave has "looked at" race, poverty, and other issues, as Pauline Bart and others pointed out. To repeat the part 2 of my proposal (part 1 being that the third wave is "outside of" or "besides" the second wave, rather than "after"), I wrote that third wave feminisms are feminisms that start from the realization that there are power imbalances among women that are as serious and important as the power imbalance between women and men. Acknowledging this in theory and in practice would lead to very different set of politics than simply acknowledging diversity among women or the existence of racism, classism, etc.

One of the reasons Emi offered her analysis of the third wave as not being grounded in a particular generation was exactly because the third wave has existed for so long and has its own traditions and theories -- it is not new, and it was not invented by Jennifer Baumgartner and Amy Richards.

I had dinner with Jennifer and Amy last year, and I do love them very much and I'm glad that their book is out - the problem is that their book is too often represented as *the* third wave feminism, rather than one of many third wave possibilities. That, of course, is not their fault, but I wish that they are more aware of this tendency and did more to counteract it.

The term "third wave feminism" was used in early 80s. But aside from the use of a specific term, Ednie Garrison (who was to co-host the third wave "research cafe" with me at NWSA but couldn't get to Mpls) points out that the third wave thought can be traced back to earlier works such as _The Black Woman_, which was published in the same year as _Sisterhood is Powerful_ (which raises the quesiton *why* _Sisterhood_ is considered paradigmatic and for whom).

Of course you may question if the 70s-80s "third wave feminism" is really related to the 90s-00s "third wave feminism" - after all, it's not hard for two isolated groups of people to come up with the phrase considering the fact that there had been first and second waves already. I am willing to argue that they are related/connected - at least until mid-90s - but explaining how that is so would require a full paper. My two-part proposals, of course, is an attempt to make these connection more explicit, not just as an observer, but as a player also.

What a lot of younger feminists are calling the third wave DID come after the second wave, but there's a lot of disagreement over what third wave feminist really means in this context (help me out here, Emi).

I think that these days "third wave" is often used as a short hand for "young women" without reference to its historical roots or theoretical significance, and I view that as a problem because it once again privilege the dominant group experience of being in the certain generational group (and besides that, it makes third wave feminisms palatable to the second).

I had considered abandoning "third wave" label, as I witnessed some young women of color reject the term because they viewed third wave as a white middle-class movement - I've heard comments like "third wave feminism is like white girls throwing eggs at their mothers" and "I can't be a third wave feminist because I'm still struggling with the second wave issues." As I said in the research cafe, in some ways we are becoming our mothers (okay, okay, I don't really like this "mother-daughter" analogy but you know what I mean). That is why I feel that there needs to be more critiques of third wave feminist work for the sake of itself - and it doesn't help that we are continuously forced to participate in endless "cross-generational dialogs" instead of talking among ourselves (maybe the new third wave mailing list could be the forum... see for more info).

This is beginning to make me a little crazy. If a younger feminist says that the mother/daughter analogy doesn't cut it, apparently that is proof that she is a rebelling daughter

It is by design an irrefutable claim - which generally means that it is not worth consideration. Can you see why I asked "how is that different from arguing that feminism is a manifestation of penis envy?" when Pauline Bart mentioned it?

Besides, it's ironic that I am seen as the rebelling daughter - why, because most of the feminist activists and theorists I admire and cite are from 70s on - only that they tend to be women of color, working class women, etc. Sometimes I feel that I'm betraying women of color, working class women, etc., from my own generation, because I rely too heavily on older feminists for inspiration and in my writings. In connecting 70s/80s and 90s/00s "third wave" feminisms, it's important that we are not just talking about feminisms of women of color and working class women from 70s/80s and young white middle-class women from 90s/00s, but to make conscious effort to listen to voices of younger women of color and working class women.

Emi K. <>

-- * Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.