Welcome to third wave.
First wave feminism occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when our feminist foremothers advocated for voting rights and political clout. The second wave coincided during the Civil Rights Movement, when the nascent of Black rights and anti-war protests transformed the socio-political landscape of America. Second wave feminists promoted pro-choice legislation, while empowering women to gain substantial employment and higher educational credentials.
The third wave is a bit harder to define because we’re currently in the midst of it. Women are faring well in the workplace, and more women are attaining Bachelors and Masters degrees. A plethora of comprehensive services are addressing the physical, emotional, psychological, and reproductive health needs of women, and more men are accepting women as their equals and not their enemies.
Feminists are debating where feminism is headed in this globalized world. As the feminist community grows, no definition of third wave feminism will be concrete.
I don’t have the answers, but from my observations, it’s clear that the third wave is characterized by the following elements: social media, diversity and inclusion, globalism, and sexual expression.
Feminist platforms are blossoming on a range of social media outlets. The burgeon of feminist blogs (like Jezebel, Feministing, and For Harriet) are fueled by submissions from ordinary people who wish to share their perceptions about female expression. More celebrities are embracing feminism, adding a glitzy overcast to the fight for gender equity.
Social media creates an intangible meeting space where opinions are expressed, communities are formed, and ideas are shared. Most significant is how social media exposes an unknowing populace about the intricate workings of feminism.
On the flip side, social media is softening the potent impact of feminism as an ideology. An open space, any and everyone with internet access can share content about women, and then brand it as “feminism.” All too often, I read shallow stories about female expression, only to be frustrated with the lack of depth.
Regardless, social media is a staple within third wave feminism, adding invaluable levels to how we communicate with one another, craft campaigns, and translate our e-activism to actual change.
Unlike our racist feminist foremothers, third wave feminism (on the whole) disavows racial segregation, and enables women of color to advocate for our unique needs. Words like “intersectionality” and “colorism” are creeping into feminist vernacular. More women of color are vocal about the oppression we face, even from other feminists. The dynamics of diversity and inclusion within the larger feminist context still need to be figured out; but with more knowledge surrounding institutional slavery and systematic racism, third wave feminism not only explores diversity and inclusion… it thrives on it.
Third wave feminism embraces globalism. Historically, feminists narrowed in on the plight of American women (rightfully so). But considering that American women are advancing in so many sectors, third wave feminists are turning their attention to the third world. As more information is shared from the most remote corners of the earth, we’re learning more about gender-based violence in the third world; child brides, sex slavery, rape camps, and FGM. International non profits and global coalitions advocate for educational, political, and social opportunities for the most deprived women.
Furthermore, feminists around the world are communicating with one another thanks to the burgeon of social media and other advancements in technology. We’re sharing experiences and anecdotes, and are connecting with each other in ways never before seen
Still, globalism within the third wave brings an onslaught of allegations ranging from neo-colonialism to the twisted ivory savior complex. Although meritorious, with the inclusion of people of color within the feminist context, third wave feminists are checking their privilege and are careful about how such privilege is utilized when fighting against global GBV.
The most contentious aspect of third wave feminism is how to position sexual expression within the larger feminist construct. Feminists are debating how to promote sexual expression, while still empowering young girls to value their sexual identities against patriarchy. Hell, feminists are debating whether sexual expression should be promoted at all! Feminists decry the hyper-sexualization of women in the media, yet applaud female figures who have been thoroughly hyper-sexualized (Beyoncé and Rhianna being the most glaring examples).
It comes down to ownership. Feminists believe that women must own her sexual expression. Yet, how do we own sexual expression when, at its core, sexual expression is owned by patriarchy?
By and large, third wave feminism is immensely comprehensive. Feminists understand that issues pertaining to women are complicated and comprehensive. We know that we can’t help female rape survivors without talking about adequate access to health care and education. We know that we can’t talk about sexual expression without addressing body image.
And that’s what’s most remarkable about the third wave. There are no definite answers or solutions. There are no guidelines, rules, or playbook. It’s a fluid infrastructure that thrives on its own ambiguity.