Third-wave feminism encompasses several diverse strains of feminist activity and study. Though exact boundaries are a subject of debate, it is generally marked as beginning in the early 1990s and continuing to the present. It is an "individual movement" in the sense that its purpose includes redefining what it is to be a feminist.
- New generations and feminism
- Gender violence
- Reproductive rights
- Reclaiming derogatory terms
- Other issues
- Lack of cohesion
The third wave arose partially as a response to the perceived failures of second-wave feminism, and the backlash against initiatives and movements created during the 1960s, '70s and '80s. It attempts to expand feminism to include women with a diverse set of identities recognising that women are of "many colors, ethnicities, nationalities, religions and cultural backgrounds". Thus it can be seen as a reaction to or continuation of second-wave feminism, and constitutes a partial destabilization of constructs from the second wave. The related concept of intersectionality was introduced in 1989, a few years before the third wave began, but it was during this wave that the concept was embraced.
Rebecca Walker coined the term "Third Wave" to highlight the focus on queer and non-white women.
In 1992, she published an article in response to the Anita Hill case, in order to express her offense at what she saw as the silencing of women by men who commit acts of sexual harassment and other forms of oppression, and who use their privilege to escape justice for such injustices, stating, "I am not a post-feminism feminist. I am the third wave". Walker sought to establish that third-wave feminism was not just a reaction, but a movement in itself, because women's issues were far from over. Third-wave feminists have broadened their goals, focusing on ideas like queer theory, and abolishing gender role expectations and stereotypes. Unlike the determined position of second-wave feminists about women in pornography, sex work, and prostitution, third-wave feminists were rather ambiguous and divided about these themes (feminist sex wars). While some thought these sexual acts were degrading and oppressing women, others saw it as empowering that women were owning their sexuality. There was a divide in opinion but third-wave feminism embraced differences, personal narratives, and individualism, instead of all having one agenda (there were exceptions such as rape culture and equal pay). The focus was less on political changes and more on individualistic identity.
The shift from second wave feminism came about with many of the legal and institutional rights that were extended to women. In addition to these institutional gains, third-wave feminists believed there needed to be further changes in stereotypes, media portrayals, and language to define women. The purpose was to celebrate diverse identities and abandon the "victim feminism" ideology, which was enforced in second wave feminism. Third-wave ideology focuses on a more post-structuralist interpretation of gender and sexuality. In "Deconstructing Equality-versus-Difference: Or, the Uses of Poststructuralist Theory for Feminism," Joan W. Scott describes how language has been used as a way to understand the world, however, "poststructuralists insist that words and texts have no fixed or intrinsic meanings, that there is no transparent or self-evident relationship between them and either ideas or things, no basic or ultimate correspondence between language and the world" Thus, while language has been used to create binaries (such as male/female), post-structuralist feminists see these binaries as artificial constructs created to maintain the power of dominant groups. In the "The local is global: third wave feminism, peace, and social justice", the authors explain third wave feminism offers five primary focuses: (1) Responsible choice grounded in dialogue. (2) Respect and appreciation for experiences and dynamic knowledge. (3) An understanding of "the personal is political" that incorporates both the idea that personal experiences have roots in structural problems and the idea that responsible, individuated personal action has social consequences. (4) Use of personal narratives in both theorizing and political activism. (5) Political activism as local, with global connections and consequences.
New generations and feminism
Riot grrrl was thought by some to be the beginning of third wave feminism. This was a movement based on hard core punk rock that talked about issues like rape, patriarchy, sexuality, women empowerment, and other feminist issues. They responded to the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas court case as well.
Third-wave feminists such as Elle Green often focus on "micro-politics", and challenge the second wave's paradigm as to what is, or is not, good for women.
Proponents of third-wave feminism claim that it allows women to define feminism for themselves by incorporating their own identities into the belief system of what feminism is and what it can become through one's own perspective. In the introduction to the idea of third-wave feminism in Manifesta, authors Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards suggest that feminism can change with every generation and individual:
The fact that feminism is no longer limited to arenas where we expect to see it – NOW, Ms., women's studies, and redsuited congresswomen – perhaps means that young women today have really reaped what feminism has sown. Raised after Title IX and William Wants a Doll [sic], young women emerged from college or high school or two years of marriage or their first job and began challenging some of the received wisdom of the past ten or twenty years of feminism. We're not doing feminism the same way that the seventies feminists did it; being liberated doesn't mean copying what came before but finding one's own way – a way that is genuine to one's own generation.
Some third-wave feminists prefer not to call themselves feminists, as the word feminist can be misinterpreted as insensitive to the fluid notion of gender and the potential oppressions inherent in all gender roles, or perhaps misconstrued as exclusive or elitist by critics. Others have kept and redefined the term to include these ideas. Third-wave feminism seeks to challenge any universal definition of femininity. In the introduction of To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism, the Third Wave Foundation founder and leader Rebecca Walker writes:
Whether the young women who refuse the feminist label realize it or not, on some level they recognize that an ideal woman born of prevalent notions of how empowered women look, act, or think is simply another impossible contrivance of perfect womanhood, another scripted role to perform in the name of biology and virtue.
Third-wave feminism deals with issues which are perceived to limit or oppress women, as well as other marginalized identities. Consciousness-raising activism has been referred to as "the collective critical reconstitution of the meaning of women's social experience, as women live through it." In their book Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future, Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards write:
"Consciousness among women is what caused this [change], and consciousness, one's ability to open their mind to the fact that male domination does affect the women of our generation, is what we need... The presence of feminism in our lives is taken for granted. For our generation, feminism is like fluoride. We scarcely notice we have it – it's simply in the water."
Feminist scholars such as Shira Tarrant object to the "wave construct" because it ignores important progress between the so-called waves. Furthermore, if feminism is a global movement, she feels the fact that the "first-, second-, and third waves time periods correspond most closely to American feminist developments" raises serious problems about how feminism fails to recognize the history of political issues around the world.
Arguably, the biggest challenge to the efforts of third-wave feminism is the decline in popular support for the relevance and importance of feminism in, what some claim is, the "post-feminist" era. Manon Tremblay refers to this phenomenon as the "antifeminist undercurrent" of the West. Here, a concern for what Amy Friedman calls third-wave feminism's "radical fanaticism" is expressed. Essentially, the claim is that gender equality has already been achieved via the first two waves and further attempts to push for women's rights are either irrelevant, unnecessary, or excessively pushing the pendulum towards advantaging women over men and exaggerating the state of women in modern western society. This issue is seen manifesting itself in the heated debates over whether or not affirmative action initiatives really are creating societal gender equality, or actually disadvantaging and punishing white, middle-class, males for a biological history that they have inherited. However, Rebecca Walker's article in Ms. Magazine challenges this idea. She says "So I write this as a plea to all women, especially the women of my generation: Let Thomas' confirmation serve to re-mind you, as it did me, that the fight is far from over. Let this dismissal of a woman's experience move you to anger. Turn that outrage into political power."
In response to such sentiments, we can trace many previously self-proclaimed feminists crossing the floor to becoming self-proclaimed post-feminists, claiming that the strands of feminism extant today are out of sync with the reality of the success story of women's gains. The popular media has played a large role in propounding this image of radical feminists. Donna LaFromboise is known for stating third-wave feminism of having "perpetuated the myth of female martyrdom, stated that feminists have deliberately maintained such fictions to ensure its survival, and differentiated between "a feminism that informs one's opinions and a feminism that dictates how one should think".
Third-wave feminism began in the early 1990s arising as a response to perceived failures of the second wave, and it addressed the backlash against initiatives and movements created by the second wave. However, the fundamental rights and programs gained by feminist activists of the second wave – including the creation of domestic-abuse shelters for women and children and the acknowledgment of abuse and rape of women on a public level, access to contraception and other reproductive services (including the legalization of abortion), the creation and enforcement of sexual-harassment policies for women in the workplace, child-care services, equal or greater educational and extracurricular funding for young women, women's studies programs, and much more – have also served as a foundation and a tool for third-wave feminists. Feminist leaders rooted in the second wave like Gloria Anzaldúa, bell hooks, Kerry Ann Kane, Cherríe Moraga, Audre Lorde, Maxine Hong Kingston, Reena Walker and many other feminists of color, sought to negotiate a space within feminist thought for consideration of subjects related to race.
In 1981 Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa published the anthology This Bridge Called My Back, which, along with All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies (1982), critiqued second-wave feminism, which focused primarily on the problems and political positions of white women.
The roots of the third wave began, however, in the mid-1980s. Feminist leaders rooted in the second wave called for a new subjectivity in feminist voice. They sought to negotiate prominent space within feminist thought for consideration of race-related subjectivities. This focus on the intersection between race and gender remained prominent through the Hill-Thomas hearings, but was perceived to shift with the Freedom Ride 1992, the first project of the Walker-led Third Wave Direct Action Corporation. This drive to register voters in poor minority communities was surrounded with rhetoric that focused on rallying young women.
In 1991, Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas, a man nominated to the United States Supreme Court, of sexual harassment. Thomas denied the accusations and, after extensive debate, the United States Senate voted 52–48 in favor of Thomas.
In response to this case, Rebecca Walker published an article entitled "Becoming the Third Wave" in which she stated: "I am not a post-feminism feminist. I am the third wave." Throughout the trial, Thomas referred to these accusations as a "high-tech lynching". Many argued Thomas should be acquitted because of his plans to become a Supreme Court Justice and create opportunities for people of color. When Walker asked her partner his opinion and he stated this same concept, she asked: "When will progressive black men prioritize my rights and well-being?" She wanted equality among races, but without dismissing women; basically, Clarence Thomas was not going to be the last person to run for Supreme Court Justice who pushed civil rights, so why not get someone who respects women?
In 1992, the "Year of the Woman" saw four women enter the United States Senate to join the two already there. The following year another woman, Kay Bailey Hutchison, won a special election, bringing the number to seven. The 1990s also saw the first female United States Attorney General and Secretary of State, as well as the second woman on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the first US First Lady, Hillary Clinton, to have an independent political, legal, corporate executive, activist, and public service career. However, the Equal Rights Amendment, which is supported by second- and third-wave feminists, remains a work in progress.
Third-wave feminists have recently utilized the internet and modern technology to enhance their movement, which has allowed for information and organization to reach a larger audience.
"The increasing ease of publishing on the Internet meant that e-zines (electronic magazines) and blogs became ubiquitous. Many serious independent writers, not to mention organizations, found that the Internet offered a forum for the exchange of information and the publication of essays and videos that made their point to a potentially huge audience. The Internet radically democratized the content of the feminist movement with respect to participants, aesthetics, and issues."
Gender violence has become a central issue for third-wave feminists. Gender violence is any kind of violence which primarily affects women, such as rape, domestic violence, and sexual harassment. Organizations such as V-Day have formed with the goal of ending gender violence, and artistic expressions, such as The Vagina Monologues, have generated awareness and action around issues relating to women's sexuality. Third-wave feminists want to transform the traditional notions of sexuality and embrace "an exploration of women's feelings about sexuality that included vagina-centred topics as diverse as orgasm, birth, and rape."
One of feminism's primary goals is to demonstrate that access to contraception and abortion are women's reproductive rights. According to Baumgardner and Richards, "It is not feminism's goal to control any woman's fertility, only to free each woman to control her own". South Dakota's 2006 attempt to ban abortion in all cases, except when necessary to protect the mother's life, and the US Supreme Court's recent vote to uphold the partial birth abortion ban are viewed by many feminists as restrictions on women's civil and reproductive rights. Restrictions on abortion in the United States, which was mostly legalized by the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, are becoming more common in states around the country. Such restrictions include mandatory waiting periods, parental-consent laws, and spousal-consent laws.
Reclaiming derogatory terms
English-speakers continue to use words such as spinster, bitch, whore, and cunt to refer to women in derogatory ways. Author Inga Muscio writes, "I posit that we're free to seize a word that was kidnapped and co-opted in a pain-filled, distant, past, with a ransom that cost our grandmothers' freedom, children, traditions, pride, and land."
Part of taking back the word bitch was fueled by the 1994 single, "All Women Are Bitches" by the all-woman band Fifth Column and later, by the 1999 book Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel. In her declaration of the word bitch, Wurtzel introduces her philosophy: "I intend to scream, shout, race the engine, call when I feel like it, throw tantrums in Bloomingdale's if I feel like it and confess intimate details about my life to complete strangers. I intend to do what I want to do and be whom I want to be and answer only to myself: that is, quite simply, the bitch philosophy."
Since 2011, the utility of the reclamation strategy has been a hot topic among third-wave feminists with the introduction of SlutWalks. The first SlutWalk took place in Toronto on April 3, 2011 in response to Toronto police officer Michael Sanguinetti's statement that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." The SlutWalk movement caught on rapidly, and additional SlutWalks sprang up internationally with marchers contending a reclamation of the word "slut" their position being that if victimized women are sluts, then all women must be, since anyone can be victimized regardless of what they are wearing. "By marching under the banner of "slut," the protesters take the poison out of the word, to change social attitudes about women's bodies and to empower women with the potential of their own sexualities." This movement empowered women to own their sexuality, be a "slut" if that is what you want, while also discrediting Sanguinetti's comment regarding victim blaming. SlutWalks have occurred in over 60 cities internationally, including New York City, Berlin, Seattle, West Hollywood, and London. Third-wave feminist bloggers have both praised and criticized the Slutwalks, with the reclamation of the word "slut" being questioned for its possible exclusion of some cultural groups.
Third-wave feminism regards race, social class, transgender rights, and sexual liberation as central issues. However, it also pays attention to workplace matters such as the glass ceiling, sexual harassment, unfair maternity-leave policies, motherhood support for single mothers by means of welfare and child care, respect for working mothers, and also, for mothers who decide to leave their careers to raise their children full-time.
Third-wave feminism is often associated, primarily by critics of third-wave feminism, with the emergence of so-called "lipstick" or "girly" feminists and with the rise of "raunch culture". This is because these new feminists advocated for "expressions of femininity and female sexuality as a challenge to objectification". Accordingly, this included the dismissal of any restriction, whether deemed patriarchal or feminist, to define or control how women or girls should dress, act, or generally express themselves. These emerging positions stood in stark contrast with the anti-pornography strains of feminism prevalent in the 1980s. Second wave feminism took on the idea of "victim feminism", which views pornography as encouraging violence towards women. These new feminists posit that the ability to make autonomous choices about self-expression can be an empowering act of resistance, not simply internalized oppression.
However, such views have been critiqued because of the subjective nature of empowerment and autonomy. Scholars are unsure if empowerment is best measured as an "internal feeling of power and agency" or as an external "measure of power and control". Moreover, they critique an over-investment in "a model of free will and choice" in the marketplace of identities and ideas. Regardless, the "girly" feminists attempted to be open to all different selves while maintaining a dialogue about the meaning of identity and femininity in the contemporary world.
Third-wave Feminists claim that these view-points shouldn't be limited by the label "girly" feminism or regarded as simply advocating for "raunch culture". Rather, they seek to be inclusive of the many diverse relationships and roles women fulfill. Gender scholars Linda Duits and Liesbet van Zoonen highlight this inclusiveness by looking at the politicization of women's clothing choices and how the "controversial sartorial choices of girls" and women are constituted in public discourse as "a locus of necessary regulation". Thus the "hijab" and the "belly shirt", as dress choices, are both identified as requiring regulation but for different reasons. The two clothing items of women that have caused a great deal of controversy initially appear to be opposing forms of self-expression. However, through the lens of "girly" feminists, one can view both as symbolic of "political agency and resistance to objectification". The "hijab" can be seen as an act of resistance against western ambivalence towards Islamic identity, while the "belly shirt" can be viewed as an act of resistance towards patriarchal society's narrow views of female sexuality. Both are regarded as valid forms of self-expression.
Layli Miller-Muro founded the Tahirih Justice Center in 1997 following a well-publicized asylum case in which she was involved as a student attorney dealing with female genital mutilation. Miller-Muro later co-wrote a book with the client she had aided and used her portion of the proceeds for the initial funding of the center named after Táhirih. As of 2012, the organization had assisted more than 13,000 women and children fleeing from a wide variety of abuses. The organization played a significant role in the passage of the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA), which was signed by President Bush in early 2006 and incorporated into the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). IMBRA gives foreign women important information about prospective American husbands (for a summary, see also Mail-order bride, Legal issues).
One major difference of the third wave compared to the first and second was the global reach of feminists to others around the world to gain power and equality within their own cultures and communities using voice as substance. In Turkey, the feminist movement is often separated into three separate wave classifications. The first wave dates back to the early 20th century when women faced issues with civil and political rights in 1920. According to Şule Toktaş, "The Kemalist ideal of becoming a Westernized society required legal equality between all citizens irrespective of gender" keeping hand in hand with the ideal of feminists in that era. The second wave came much later in 1980, after the military coup d'état. Women in Turkey were subjected to what women in other countries identified as sexist behavior: the scrutinization of women in the media, experiencing violence against women, and oppression of women became more apparent to bystanders.
During the leftist movements of the 1960s and 1970s, Kurdish women were active in politics but struggled with socialism and being seen as equals in society. In addition, Kurdish women argued that their "sexuality and individuality are ignored." Women that worked were described as sexless militants by Turkish society. Movements in the 1980s focused on the ethnic problems along with socialism. A majority of these Kurdish women stayed at home in what was considered full obedience to their husband. These women, begun to stand up for their rights within the households and society and advocating against sexual oppression. They struggled against their culture, traditions, and languages. These struggles laid the foundations for the Kurdish women's movement. The movement for feminism stimulated women in Turkey to become gender-conscious and to distinguish themselves away from organizations for men as well as create and organize movements and organization with their own identities as feminists in mind. Today, Islamic women are standing up for their rights of language, culture, and identity, all of which contribute to individuals' recognition as Muslims and characteristics in themselves as feminist.
The third wave came into effect between 1990 and 2000, and it is thought to still be in occurrence today. This new wave has been termed by the Turkish Republic as 'Kurdish nationalist feminism.' According to the Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, "Kurdish women's groups pinpointed the dual exploitation that Kurdish women have experienced in the patriarchal tribal system dominant in Kurdish culture and the imperialist system that the centralist Turkish state has imposed on Kurdish people." Islamic feminists soon after began condemning the United States and European countries for their interference of cultural, economic and political notions and how they affect Muslim society. Islamic women have since found ways to continue to adhere to the Muslim religion and connect with feminist politics.
A Kurdish women's organization, KAMER, is one of the largest feminist organizations. Most of the founders are Kurdish women who have endured violence from men, oftentimes, their husbands. The founders of KAMER understand the difficulties other women continue to face with Kurdish conflict and violence. KAMER has found that it is common for such abuse to occur in the homes of these women. KAMER's goals have extended beyond helping just women and have developed systems that change and improve human rights and end violence culturally and traditionally that affect both women and children. Beyond KAMER, Cagla Diner and Şulecites Toktaş, cited other Kurdish women's organizations such as DIKASUM, Kardelen, Selis and VAKAD which, also focus on the difﬁculties women face."
Throughout Turkey's feminists movement, feminists of the new era have elected to battle the unequal treatment of women especially in the Muslim community. This time, however, feminists have been seeking to approach the gender issues from a different context by addressing the employment crisis and exploiting the reasons why women receive little economic independence or are not allowed enough involvement in local or national affairs. Adam Leake stated in his article A Brief History of the Feminist Movements in Turkey that "Overcoming these gender-stereotypes of the family orientated mother whose job it is to look after the children is a crucial step towards achieving equal status of women in the community." Since the 1990s feminist organizations from around Turkey have met up annually to share in a discussion of their goal to stop violence against women. New proposals and topics such as shelters for women are also discussed during the annual meetings. Although both Kurdish and Turkish feminist groups are working together, women still face challenges with discrimination and sexism.
Lack of cohesion
One issue often pointed out by critics is the lack of a single cause for third-wave feminism. The first wave fought for and gained the right for women to vote. The second wave fought for the right for women to have access to and equal opportunity in the workforce, as well as the end of legal sex discrimination.
The third wave of feminism lacks a cohesive goal, and it is often seen as an extension of the second wave. Also, third-wave feminism does not have a set definition distinguishing it from second-wave feminism. Some argue the third wave can be dubbed the "Second Wave, Part Two" when it comes to the politics of feminism and "only young feminist culture as truly third wave". Some claim that the equation of third wave feminism with individualism prevents the movement from growing and moving towards political goals. Kathleen P. Iannello wrote her thoughts on third wave feminism goals:
"The conceptual and real-world "trap" of choice feminism (between work and home) has led women to challenge each other rather than the patriarchy. Individualism conceived of as "choice" does not empower women; it silences them and prevents feminism from becoming a political movement and addressing the real issues of distribution of resources."
Amy Richards defines the feminist culture for this generation is "third wave because it's an expression of having grown up with feminism". Second-wave feminists grew up where the politics intertwined within the culture, such as "Kennedy, the Vietnam War, civil rights, and women's rights"; In contrast, the third wave sprang from a culture of "punk-rock, hip-hop, 'zines, products, consumerism and the Internet".
In an essay entitled "Generations, Academic Feminists in dialogue" Diane Elam writes:
"This problem manifests itself when senior feminists insist that junior feminists be good daughters, defending the same kind of feminism their mothers advocated. Questions and criticisms are allowed, but only if they proceed from the approved brand of feminism. Daughters are not allowed to invent new ways of thinking and doing feminism for themselves; feminists' politics should take the same shape that it has always assumed."
Rebecca Walker, in To Be Real, writes about her fear of rejection by her mother (author Alice Walker) and by her godmother (Gloria Steinem) for challenging their views:
"Young Women feminists find themselves watching their speech and tone in their works so as not to upset their elder feminist mothers. There is a definite gap among feminists who consider themselves to be second-wave and those who would label themselves as third-wave. Although, the age criteria for second-wave feminists and third-wave feminists is murky, younger feminists definitely have a hard time proving themselves worthy as feminist scholars and activists."