Third-wave feminism is the current chapter of the feminist movement. Beginning in the early 1990s, the third wave formed as a backlash to second-wave feminism ’s essentialist views on women and the realization that women are of "many colors, ethnicities, nationalities, religions, and cultural backgrounds" (Tong 284). This realization allows for a more inclusive community of feminists with a wide range and diversity of gender narratives .
“The origin off the third wave… is sometimes traced to Rebecca Walker’s article, ‘Becoming the Third Wave,’ in which she stated, ‘I am not a postfeminism feminist. I am the Third Wave’” (Foss Foss Dominico 49).
In addition to being known as the third wave of feminism, the movement has also adopted such names as “grrl power, riot-grrl feminism, lipstick feminism, transfeminism, and cybergrrl feminism” (Foss Foss Dominico 49).
There is no essentialist definition, no set characteristics or properties, of a third-wave feminist. Each feminist brings their own experiences, thoughts, actions, and gender stories to the table. An essentialist understanding of third-wave feminist’s standpoint “suppresses differences… in search of an elusive unity. Instead, it may be more accurate to say that a… collective standpoint does exist, one characterized by the tensions that accrue to different responses to common challenges” (Collins 32). The lack of a clear-cut definition for a third-wave feminist creates an interesting unification of the group through intersectionality.
Third-wave feminism embraces diversity and individuality.
The focus on individuality draws attention away from changing the political system, and more towards personal expression as a means of progress. Third-wave feminism possesses an understanding that the category of women, the subject of feminism, is “produced and restrained by the very structures of power through which emancipation is sought” (Butler 4). The current systems in place are rooted upon the oppression that feminists are trying to overturn. While third-wave feminists do not reject political activism, more stress is put upon one’s “personal empowerment as a starting point for societal change” (Rockler-Gladen). People who are empowered affect those around them, defying stereotypical gender identities and shattering the idea of gender norms. This effect does not directly instigate political change, but rather slowly creates changes in social norms.
According to Carol Pearson:
“…a feminist utopia meets two criteria. First, it criticizes patriarchy as an unnatural state of affairs, by revealing false assumptions about female nature that ground the misogyny inherent to patriarchal institutions… The second criterion calls for the depiction of a world that is good for women— a world in which women are free to achieve their full potential” (Little 15).
In Perkin Gilman’s Herland, a utopia is presented without men. The women have managed to perfect their society, which is consistently described as better off than the real world. Without the social constructions in place, the audience is shown a society that is void of the gender binary ’s social constructions, and forces them to think about their own beliefs. While Herland was written during the first wave of feminism, it was not rediscovered and published until the dawn of the third wave of feminism.
One potential critique of third-wave feminism is that the search for identity is one’s own personal privilege that is not to be specifically associated with the struggles and concerns of women. It has been called “a highly individualistic philosophy that generally values personal empowerment over activism”. This view of third-wave feminism draws criticism that the movement is “not political enough” and “ill equipped to foster social change” (Rockler-Gladen).
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge, 1999. Print.
Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought. London: Routledge, 2000. Print.
Foss, Sonja K., Karen A. Foss, and Mary E. Domenico. Gender Stories: Negotiating
Identity in a Binary World. Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 2013. Print.
Jacob, Krista. "Analyzing Third Wave Feminism." The Feminist EZine. Web. 10 Jan.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. Herland. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1998. Print.
Little, Judith A. Feminist Philosophy and Science Fiction: Utopias and Dystopias.
Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2007. Print.
Rockler-Gladen, Naomi. "Third Wave Feminism." Suite101.com Web. 10 Jan. 2013.
Tong, Rosemarie. Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction. 3rd ed.
Boulder, CO: Westview, 2009. Print.