Second and Third wave feminists: the battle of generations By: Jeanne-Marie Joubert

I get rowdy about a lot of things I learn in my gender studies classes, and it’s usually directed at, I don’t know, the patriarchy and its various minions.  This time, however, my anger is directed toward feminists.  It is difficult to learn about amazing, powerful women throughout feminist history who are holding the cause back, because they cannot breach a generational gap.  I will quickly compare and contrast the two feminist waves, the disputes they have, and then explain how and why they need to get over it.

Beginning in the 1960’s, second wave feminists laid out a pretty solid foundation for future generations of feminists.  During the civil rights era, many women were inspired by the mobilizaiton of other disenfranchised groups, and a political movement was born.  The major goal of second wave feminism was to challenge and change the patriarchy proactively through organizations such as the National Organization for Women (NOW), which still exist today.  The second wave however proved to be a harmfully exclusive model of feminism.  The uniformity this generation had was effective, whilst being ineffective in the sense that a lot of women were excluded from feminism and saw it as “white feminism.”  The largely white, cissexual, and upper-middle class female members of the cause tried to apply their ideas to women who were not in the same situation as them, which proved to be more regressive than progressive.

Third wave feminism came about in the early 90’s. Rebecca Walker, daughter of pioneering second wave voice Alice Walker, explains that third wave feminists “grew up with the expectation of achievement and examples of female success as well as an awareness of the barriers presented by sexism, racism, and classism.”[1]  So they took the ideas of the second wavers and made a more open and inclusive feminism.  They’ve used the Internet as a resource to spread the words of feminism far and wide with sites like Jezebel and Feministing – not to mention Wetlands.  The goal of redefining the patriarchy is still the same, but they focus further on deconstructing sex and gender.

In her article, “American Electra,” Susan Faludi discusses the divide between the two waves.  Third wavers’ use of the Internet is seen as a lazy feminism to second wavers, while third wavers tell them to get with the times. Second wavers criticize third wavers for making feminism more encompassing and therefore lacking a core list of values, while third wavers say second wavers weren’t inclusive enough. Third wavers believe women should be exactly the way they themselves want to be, while second wavers think that we should all be consistently and avidly resisting gender norms. This has brought light to the difference in the ideas of sexual liberation between second and third wavers.

This divide comes at the expense of a more unified front, and the potential stronger force of feminism.  Sure, not any type of feminism is going to be perfect, and each has its pros and cons, but that cannot be the focus of the movement. Second wave feminists should look at third wavers’ ideas as a progression of their own, and third wave feminists should realize where their foundation came from.  In that way and that way only can we transcend our inevitable differences to fight the bigger fight.


[1] Brunell, Laura, Ed. “Third Wave, Continued | Rebecca Walker.” Third Wave, Continued. Rebecca Walker, n.d. Web. 23 Sept. 2013. <http://www.rebeccawalker.com/third-wave-continued&gt;.

4 thoughts on “Second and Third wave feminists: the battle of generations By: Jeanne-Marie Joubert

  1. Good rant. I hope that you will read your own rant 2 or 3 times before you finish reading this comment.
    “The largely white, cissexual, and upper-middle class female members of the cause tried to apply their ideas to women who were not in the same situation as them, which proved to be more regressive than progressive.”
    You got this part very correct. 2nd wave Feminism was largely white, sis, upper-middle class white urban females.
    Then the third wave
    ” So they took the ideas of the second wavers and made a more open and inclusive feminism”
    The third wave was more inclusive of women of lower social class, women of minority groups, non-cis women, rural women. Third wave feminism is failing because they failed to be inclusive of a very important demographic. Do you see who this demographic is?

  2. Besides the belittling/trivializing of this blog post by proclaiming it a “rant,” I find it problematic that you ask which demographic is missing from third wave feminism today. I’m assuming you mean the demographic I did not mention is men, because you emphasize the word “women” in your own personal categories. Do you truly believe that men are flocking to the feminist movement, yet feminists are pushing them away?

    1. Men are not flocking to the feminist movement. This is because third wave feminism is exclusionary to men.
      http://poisonedwell.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/so-where-is-the-outrage-over-this/
      Feminism is “Equality for Women”. Gender equality is “Equality between Women and Men”.
      Men are flocking to other movements that claim equality, and are explicitly inclusive of men. MRA’s and sites like AVFM and The Spearhead are more popular than any feminist website. Men very much want to be a part of a gender equality movement, but have been excluded from feminism.

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