Monday, January 17, 2005

Surfing the Waves

In the most recent issue of Ms. Magazine, the cofounder of Bitch Magazine (my favoritely named magazine ever) declares that the third wave of feminism is dead. The whole theory of the different waves of feminism is a little messy, since what's in each "wave" can vary slightly depending on who you're talking to and what discipline you're in. The way I learned it, 1st wave feminism, or liberal feminism, emphasized legal and social equality with men (think of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the suffragists), 2nd wave feminism emphasized men and women's essential differences, with the corollary that women are basically better/more caring/ what-have-you (think radical separatist feminists or essentialist feminism), while 3rd wave feminism focused more on class, economic, and cultural issues (think Marxist feminism and postmodernist feminism). But author Lisa Jervis makes an interesting case for moving beyond the third wave on generational grounds.

The rap goes something like this: Older women drained their movement of sexuality; younger women are uncritically sexualized. Older women won’t recognize the importance of pop culture; younger women are obsessed with media representation. Older women have too narrow a definition of what makes a feminist issue; younger women are scattered and don’t know what’s important. [snip]

When feminists engage in this kind of nuance-deprived conflation of age and ideology, we’re doing little more than reinscribing the thoroughly debunked notion that we need to agree with each other all the time.

As we all know, feminism has always held within it multitudes of ideologies, tactics and priorities. The movement’s two current generations have come to be painted as internally monolithic, but they are each as diverse philosophically as feminism itself — they have to be; they are feminism itself.

I still think the waves can be a useful way of talking about different ideologies in feminism, but it's certainly true that the generational griping doesn't get us anywhere. Perhaps it's time for a new marine metaphor ... Hot-tub feminism, anyone? No?