I don’t know if we can talk about ‘waves’ of feminism anymore – by my reckoning, the next wave would be the fifth, and I suspect it’s around the fifth wave that you stop referring to individual waves, and start to refer, simply, to an incoming tide.
– Caitlin Moran, How To Be A Woman
With the establishment of my Instagram (@dollydastardly, if you’re interested!), I’ve connected with so many different activist accounts – some of them dedicated to feminism, some of them to womanism, some of them to equalism… and some of them to anti-feminism.
Or, more specifically, anti third wave feminism.
Often, in their Instagram bios, activist accounts will list the things they are “pro-” and “anti-“. “Anti third wave feminism” occurs frequently. Sometimes they will even specify that they “respect” first and second wave feminism, but they hate third wave feminism. This statement troubles me for several reasons. (Mostly, it’s because I am 99.9% certain that they don’t actually know what “third wave feminism” means.)
Sooo, let’s make sure we’re all starting on an equal playing field and begin with a crash course in the three(ish) waves of feminism:
First-wave feminism usually refers both to activity that occurred prior to any organised feminist activism and to the fight for voting and legal rights (i.e. ownership of property, financial independence). By some definitions (including by that of Simone de Beauvoir), it can stretch back to Christine de Pizan, writing in the 15th century. Much of her work focused on practical advice for women and on the role women ought to play in society. The works of Mary Wollstonecraft also belong to this era of feminism; she penned treatises on the social and moral equality of the sexes. First-wave feminism is generally accepted to have culminated in women’s suffrage in the early 20th century, at least by Western standards – see, we’re already having trouble with this wave system, right?
Second-wave feminism began in the early 1960s and “ended” (yes, those quotation marks are deliberate – another problem with these bloody waves!) in the 1980s. It differed from the first wave in terms of purpose. It still retained the basic tenets of gender equality, but the second wave was characterised by activism based upon reproductive rights, relationships and sexuality. It drew attention to domestic violence and sexual assault. In 1961, the contraceptive pill became commercially available in the USA, leading to greater autonomy for women. Feminists in this period began to critique the social expectations of women and their role in the family. Authors like Betty Friedan, in her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique, argued that the idealised familial structure was in fact degrading to women.
But there were problems with this second wave of feminism, and who better to solve them than…
Third-wave feminism is generally accepted to have originated in the 1990s. This is an entirely different kind of feminism. There is no cohesive goal, instead replaced by a strong sense of individuality and identity. Amid the riot grrrl scene (think Bikini Kill) and the rebirth of radical feminism, third-wave feminists have sought to build upon second-wave feminism. They have acknowledged that their foremothers cultivated a movement that was exclusively white, straight and cisgender, leading to the inception of intersectional feminism and more celebration of the beauty in diversity. This has led to conflict between the ideals of second-wave feminism – which still exists, living and breathing in the realm of academia – and those of the newer movement.
Some people argue that the third wave has ended and we’re now in the fourth or possibly even fifth wave of feminism. Personally, I like Caitlin Moran’s analogy more – a truly feminist society sometimes feels like an oncoming inevitability for me, as though one day the straw will break the camel’s back (i.e. we’ll break the patriarchy) and we’ll be free. I know that’s idealistic and downright silly, so, on other occasions, I feel as though we’ll never achieve that.
This is why I object to condemnation of so-called third-wave feminism. Third-wave feminism is improving the movement. Imagine that the first wave of feminists have planted a seed, the second wave have cultivated and felled the tree for their daughters and granddaughters to make use of, and the third wave are whittling the wood into something beautiful – a chair or a table or a massive wooden vulva.
To be honest, with all the overlap and uncertainty in the waves system, I think a more accurate way of dividing up feminism is to look at the different strains that have emerged. From womanism to chicanisma, from lesbian feminism to ecofeminism, there’s a branch on the feminist tree for everyone to sit on (yes, I’m sticking with this metaphor, shut up). If you – assuming you are an anti-feminist – have beef with a particular aspect of feminism, why not take it up with the group within the wider feminist community who actually uphold that belief? We’re not a hive mind; we don’t all think the same way.
I don’t describe myself as a third-wave feminist, by the way, although I probably technically am. At some point, I want to write another article talking about the labels I apply to myself and why, as well as a bit of musing about which feminist variant fits most closely with my own activism.
If you’re curious about how we analyse the waves of feminism, this article from Pacific University, Oregon, was really interesting. The PSA (Political Studies Association) also have a great article exploring whether we have entered a fourth wave, due to the influence of the internet on feminist activism. The quote from Caitlin Moran came from her fabulous book How To Be A Woman, which you can peruse on Amazon here, should you wish to! It’s naughty, but it’s utterly hilarious and I adored it. My copy is thoroughly thumbed to pieces.
So there you go, that’s all my thoughts on this particular issue – hope you enjoyed! Please like and share on Facebook/Twitter/Google+, and help me to spread the word about feminism!