The sands of time wait and change for no man. Movements and causes may come and die but some struggles are eternal and those who fight to solve such issues, must also adapt and change with time. Such is the case for the feminist movement. From the time of the Suffragettes fighting for the right to vote, to that of the feminist movement of the 60's and 70's, where equal rights in the workplace and sexual discrimination was fought for, the feminist movement has come a long way. The latest wave, not without its critics and concepts, is third-wave feminism.
What is 3rd-Wave Feminism?
Every fire needs just a spark to light and the spark in question, for the latest wave of feminism is Rebecca Walker. In 1991, Clarence Thomas, an African-American lawyer, was being nominated as a Supreme Court judge. Towards the end of his confirmation hearings, he was accused of sexual harassment by a former employee, Anita Hill. He faced his accuser and was accepted into the U.S. Senate.
The case drew a lot of attention and Walker, a writer, wrote an article in the feminist magazine Ms., in response to the case, titled "Becoming the Third Wave", in which she drew reference to the fading effects of second-wave feminism, with the statement "I am not a post-feminism feminist. I am the third-wave." This statement made Walker the recipient of numerous letters, from young women across America, who expressed their solidarity with her ideals and also vouched for the fact that feminism was not dead or slumbering. Rather it was being awoken in a new form.
To understand the future phenomenon, one must first examine the past, in this case, the different waves of feminism. First-wave feminism was a movement across time, an earnest quest by the women of the 19th and 20th century, centered around one basic right denied to them: the right to vote. Second-wave feminism was more diverse and more long-lasting in its impact. Spanning nearly twenty years, this wave of feminism challenged the legal and social inequalities that women had to face, such as the right to work, a right to have an abortion, right to drawing an equal salary as a man amongst many other issues.
Second-wave feminism also campaigned for more women in all-male fields and institutions, such as the Army, NASA, military academies and the Supreme Court. But for all such successes, the second-wave feminist movement was too inclusive and still faces criticism for one point: it focused heavily on white, middle class, straight women. Women of color, of different religions and races, were rarely represented. In fact, second-wave feminists represented people of color for the civil rights movement, where some participants were women. On the whole, African-American women were rarely part of the feminist movement.
Plus, the epicenter of this movement was in developed Western countries, most notably the United States. Women from third world and under-developed countries, with very severe female rights issues were largely ignored. Another major flaw in the second-wave feminist movement was the lack of support towards the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans-gender (LGBT) female community. In fact, most feminists were largely considered to be "anti-men" activists and so wrongly labeled as being gay, an accusation that hurt second-wave feminists. They felt it was a negative stereotype and so ignored the female members of the LGBT community along with their rights and issues, in order to distance themselves from any negative association.
Second-wave feminists were also a bit rigid and fixed about certain issues. Third-wave feminism is not a movement or force of many, rather it is considered a way for women to express their own femininity and handle their issues in a less activist and more individualistic manner. It does deal with women empowerment in all spheres of life, family, social, political, economical and educational but the focus is more on forging a unique identity rather than following a group.
Key Points of 3rd-Wave Feminism
Less of a follower, more of a leader, this is a woman. The strength to lead and set examples for, is in any women, be she a wife, student or professional. This form of feminism looks to womanhood empowerment on a personal and individualistic level. They rightly identify that a woman can have rights and freedom everywhere else but within her own mind, she is still chained and frightened and this attitude needs to change. This sort of mindset is what third-wave feminists look to eradicate.
Gay pride and power is an essential part of the third-wave feminist movement. Whether transsexual, gay or bisexual, a woman is a woman and the right of gay women have always been clubbed into a separate ignored category. Equal rights, the right to marriage, right to declare their lifestyle in their place of work and amongst others, the right to adopt and other gay issues and politics are part of the third-wave feminist movement.
The basis and foundation of third-wave feminism was laid by the second-wave feminist movement. Issues such as domestic abuse, the right to abortion, women in higher positions and as leaders, sexual harassment laws were handled by second-wave feminists and their institutions, programs and various centers dealing with such issues, have helped provide a strong root and foundational platform for third-wave feminists.
Attitude is the key and why should a woman be ashamed of her attitude and thoughts? No longer timid or "speak when spoken to", third-wave feminist thinking encourages women to be loud, outspoken, dramatic and show their anger as desired. Women are fighters, survivors and leaders, not victims and helpless or damsels in distress and this movement embraces a positive and confident attitude.
Sexuality is another key characteristic. A woman should not be made ashamed of her sexual prowess or lack. Terms like "slut", "bitch", which are essentially used to describe women in a loose and characterless manner, are actually double-standard terms. Such dual-handled tactics of applying labels is strongly challenged and addressed by third-wave feminists, as they hurt all women. A modern women is free to be as sexual as she likes and no one has a right to question her actions.
Third-wave feminists represent women of any color, caste and race, locally and globally. Whether it is the women of Africa or women in the Western world, all women are represented equally and in need of support and aid. Women of color have an especially strong presence and following in this feminist movement as opposed to earlier movements.
New-age issues, tackled by this third wave of feminists, involve:
- Reproduction rights, involving activities such as abortion and contraception.
- Helping women in all income levels, be they rich or poor and recognizing the difference in issues depending on financial income.
- Women in the workplace rights, such as fighting with the glass ceiling, working mothers, maternity leave issues and sexual harassment laws.
- Letting go of narrow-mindedness and trying to accept women of porn films and prostitution, as voices to be empowered and heard.
- Challenging and changing the traditional views of women and feminists themselves, from that of hard-headed political activists to a much softer, appealing yet powerful force.
Third-wave feminists are of the digital age and reflect the change in technology in expressing themselves. They show their solidarity through digital mediums and embrace new-age idols and inspirations from different walks of life, be they celebrity or ordinary. Culture and society around them is enhanced and examined for its likeness to their issues and struggles.
This wave of feminism is not without its detractors. Why the need for a separate wave or new movement? Isn't it just rephrasing or renaming updated second-wave feminism? But third-wave feminists argue that with change in times and generations, even the movement must change, though the eternal and core message of feminine power remains. Perhaps another flaw in this form of feminism is the lack of a singular cause to fight for. With first-wave, it was the right to vote, with second-wave, it was the right to equal work opportunities.
What do third-wave feminists fight for? This wave of feminists feel they are not here to fight, rather to enlighten and awaken feelings of "girl power" and strength in womanhood. Plus they are bridging the generation gap that exists between second-wave feminists and the new generation Y of women. All such waves, movements and activists just goes to show: feminism isn't dead, just evolving albeit quietly.