Third wave Feminists

Feminism Reimagined: The Third Wave: Year In Review 2007

feminism [Credit: David Wimsett—Photoshot/Landov]FeminismDavid Wimsett—Photoshot/LandovThe third wave of feminism emerged in the mid-1990s. Generation Xers, born in the 1960s and ‘70s in the developed world, came of age in a media-saturated, diverse world; they possessed significant legal rights and protections that had been obtained by first- and second-wave feminists. In some ways, however, third-wave feminism can be viewed as a reaction to the positions and unfinished work of second-wave feminism.


First-wave feminism (1848–1920) focused primarily on obtaining the full legal personhood and the political enfranchisement of women. Second-wave feminism (1963–1991) continued these struggles through the ultimately unsuccessful push for an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (introduced 1923, approved by the Senate 1972, failed ratification 1982) and the founding of durable political organizations such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) and NARAL Pro-Choice America (originally National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws; later the National Abortion Rights Action League). Activists sought the enforcement of antidiscrimination laws through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, established in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and sex equality through legislation such as Title IX of the Federal Education Amendments of 1972. The streets and the courts were common venues for spreading the word and seeking redress for inequities.

Feminism originated in critiques of the ways in which power and autonomy have historically been denied to women and to other people, purely on the basis of who they are. First-wave feminism focused on obtaining legal and political status—essentially personhood in the public sphere. As women became better educated and were accepted more fully as participants in the larger society, second-wave feminism focused on expanding women’s economic power. Although protecting women’s reproductive rights and expanding their educational and athletic opportunities were ends in themselves, second wavers also viewed them as the means to achieving greater economic power for women who were still largely absent from the upper echelons of power in business, government, and academia.


The third wave was made possible by the greater economic and professional power and status achieved by women of the second wave, the massive expansion in opportunities for the dissemination of ideas created by the information revolution of the late 20th century, and the coming of age of Generation X scholars and activists.

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