Fourth wave of feminism

is there a fourth wave?

Is There a Fourth Wave? Does It Matter?
by Jennifer Baumgardner

From the book by Jennifer Baumgardner. Excerpted by arrangement with Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2011.

The people who were part of what is often called the First Wave of feminism in the United States didn’t identify as “First Wavers.” That designation was applied to the suffragists retroactively after a second swell of activism by American women occurred, in the 1960s and 1970s. Martha Lear, a journalist, is credited with coining the term “ second feminist wave” in her 1968 article about the women’s liberation movement for The New York Times Sunday Magazine. Active feminists at the time considered themselves part of that movement, preferring that association to the term “feminist.”

After the backlash of the 1980s, women my age got interested in and active in women’s rights on their own behalf. In 1990, writer Rebecca Walker—daughter of poet Alice Walker and exactly my age—wrote that our generation was not full of postfeminist feminists (the slur that had appeared in another article); we were “the Third Wave.” Her term sounded good to the several cofounders of the Third Wave Foundation (Walker included) and to scads of younger academics, activists, and feminists, and it sounded good to me. It was both connected to and different from what had come before, I thought—and still think.

Of course, not everyone agrees. Within feminism, many find the concept of waves deeply flawed and annoying. “I don’t know who Martha Lear is, ” Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, a professor and cofounder of the Boston separatist feminist group Cell 16 in the late 1960s, told me, “but I’d like to give her a piece of my mind for inventing that ahistorical and politically reactionary moniker.” The journalist Susan Faludi pointed out that she is chronologically between the two waves but temperamentally skews toward the Second Wave. Eve Ensler, who is chronologically Second Wave and came of age in that movement, calls her sensibility Third Wave because she’s committed to being funny and sexy and she uses art and pop culture to create her movement. Certainly, Eve’s most profound contributions to feminism— The Vagina Monologues and V-Day—are powered by Third Wave feminists who have performed her play on college campuses and around the world for the last decade. Feminists twenty years younger than I am don’t fit easily into my era’s identification with Nirvana, Riot Grrrls, and abortion rights marches in spite of the fact that no backlash has corrupted our wave. Meanwhile, I don’t understand an adolescence with abstinence-only education, purity rings, and Livejournal. And where to put bell hooks, the 1970s feminist who is also the most significant influence on Third Wave college students and Riot Grrrls?

If you think too hard about the criteria for each label, the integrity of the waves disintegrates rapidly and they eddy into one another, the way ocean waves do. But if anyone is going to resist a new wave, it is the previous wave, populated by...

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