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Rules for Talking About Third Wave Feminisms

"third wave" does not equal "young women"

Forum: WMST-L
Date: 01/19/2004

On 1/18/04 12:25 PM, "SHEREEN" wrote:

I'm using Manifesta this semester. It's very student-friendly. One of the authors, Amy Richards, has a strong presence on the internet with her column "Ask Amy." Young women relate to her.

Certainly, some young women do. But which ones? I'm thinking mostly white, because "Manifesta" repeatedly dismisses "accusation of racism within feminism" as backlash against feminism rather than a real concern for feminists of colour and anti-racist white feminists (later in the book, the authors do offer one sentence that says, well, there were some racist stuff too).

I'm also thinking mostly straight, because "Manifesta" positions bisexuality as a convenient tool for straight women to experiment with their sexuality rather than its own legitimate sexual identity or experience.

And I'm thinking mostly middle-class, because the particular feminist achievements and advances "Manifesta" speaks about--e.g. thirty years ago it was hard for women to go to college; now women can go to college if they want to, or thirty years ago women were to stay at home but today women can pursue career--are specific changes experienced by the middle-class American women.

Which is not to say that that book is all bad, or that it should not have been published. I realize that it's not fair to expect a book to speak for all of its authors' generation, and so my criticism is directed not toward the book itself, but to those who use the book as the representative of young women's thinking.

My "research" on third wave feminisms used to consist of reading scrawled letters and words of obscure feminist 'zines and listening to the almost incoherent lyrics of Riot Grrrl tapes recorded at someone's bedroom. Today it has become so much easier because there are tons of books and anthologies on the topic being sold at the bookstore, but I fear that the presence of established intermediaries such as publishers and editors have contaminated what people hear about.

Rules for talking about third wave feminisms:

1) "Third wave feminism" does not equal "young women's feminism." Many older (and not so old) women have moved beyond their starting point and are now part of the third wave. And someone simply being young does not make it third wave feminism any more than someone being a woman makes her a feminist.

2) "Third wave feminism" is older than what you think. Certainly older than "Manifesta." Earlier "third wave" anthologies, especially "Third Wave Agenda," make it clear that the "third wave feminisms" sprung out of the work of women of colour and working-class women.

3) Don't believe everything you read or hear about young women or feminists in the media--if you don't want young women to believe everything they hear about the "70s feminists."

4) "Third wave" publications are not the direct representation of the third wave feminisms itself, but a product of the power dynamics within the third wave feminisms, amplified by its interaction with the broader social structures of power. Think about what's *not* being published.

5) Let students teach you about their feminisms.

Emi K.

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