Third-Wave feminism is a term identified with several diverse strains of feminist activity and study whose exact boundaries in the historiography of feminism are a subject of debate, but often marked as beginning in the 1980s and continuing to the present. The movement arose as a response to the perceived failures of and backlash against initiative
In a time when women were prohibited from wearing pants, donning “bloomers” to straddle a bicycle saddle was seen as a bold statement of protest, liberation, and freedom. As the bicycle’s popularity soared in the 1890’s, it became a symbol of mobility, and as women began moving out of the cloistered domestic realm, the bicycle became not only a symbol but a tool of activism.
Today, especially in Los Angeles’ Car Kingdom, the bicycle is still a symbol and a tool of activism. It’s a bold statement against oil consumption, traffic, and pollution, and like all other forms of activism, it’s not easy. Cyclists are often denied their rights to the road by motorists and law enforcement. Riding a bicycle can be dangerous and discouraging. It’s not too unlike confronting men with their sexism, suffering the humiliation of gendered condescension, or constantly wondering if people are seeing you or your sex.
The Third Wave is innately ambiguous due to the fact that there has yet to be a legal achievement or formalized goal associated with it, like voting rights with the First Wave and Roe vs. Wade with the Second Wave. Many of the outstanding goals seem to be relics of the Second Wave movement, such as striving to elect the first female president in the United States. The stigmatization of the feminist movement by the New Right during the 1980s damaged the pillars of the women's movement and allowed for many women to fall away from the feminist movement and claim to be part of a post-feminist era.
One moment that catalyzed the Third Wave was the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991, when the Senate Judiciary Commission suppressed information about Thomas' alleged sexual harassment of Anita Hill. The hearings brought into focus the intersection between race and gender, and this widely-viewed public controversy created an renewed awareness of the feminist movement, and that it had not yet ended and, in fact, a new generation of activists were just getting started.
Without the lens of history in front of us - showing us the connection between the victories of yesteryear and today's struggles - it is still difficult to truly define what the Third Wave is and what it means to women. But one purpose of the Third Wave has been made abundantly clear: to raise awareness of what discrimination still exists and who is out there, ready to face it.
There must be a widespread understanding that feminism does apply to men. Therefore, men who stand up for feminist issues may, and should, be identified as feminist. It is counterproductive and hypocritical to discuss gender equality while simultaneously creating a double standard towards males who share feminist values.
Applying make-up, nail polish, shaving legs, and most other sexist, cosmetic double standards are NOT antitheses to being a feminist – the motivation behind the products are. While these products are all derived from the sexist ideal of a “perfect” woman, many women (and men, for that matter) enjoy these items; there’s nothing wrong with that choice. However, there is an inherent problem when there is no choice involved. Feminists should be strongly encouraged to consider the motivations behind their habits but not castigated for living them out.
In 1994, Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia helped put the issue of teen girls on the national cultural agenda. Indicting our "media-saturated culture" for "poisoning" our girls, the book sold 1.6 million copies. In cinema, teen girl audiences emerged as one of the most powerful demographic factors of the late 1990s, creating surprise hits out of movies ranging from the low-budget romantic comedy Clueless (1995) to the slasher parody Scream (1996). In 1997, teen girls saved the romantic epic Titanic from financial disaster when groups of them flocked to theaters for repeat viewings of it.
Girls now control enough money to attract attention as a demographic group. This may or may not represent an advance in terms of girls' actual social power, but it does indicate that girls are being listened to by cultural producers who are taking them and their tastes very seriously. That hasn't necessarily been the case, however, for people with far more compelling personal and political stakes in understanding young women and what drives them: that is, their mothers, their teachers, and feminist thinkers in general.
The third phase of feminism began in the mid-90's and is informed by post-colonial and post-modern thinking. In this phase many constructs have been destabilized, including the notions of "universal womanhood," body, gender, sexuality and hetreronormativity. An aspect of third phase feminism that mystifies the mothers of the earlier feminist movement is the readoption by young feminists of the very lip-stick, high-heals, and cleavage proudly exposed by low cut necklines that the first two phases of the movement identified with male oppression.
The "grrls" of the third wave have stepped onto the stage as strong and empowered, eschewing victimization and defining feminine beauty for themselves as subjects, not as objects of a sexist patriarchy. They have developed a rhetoric of mimicry, which reappropriates derogatory terms like "slut" and "bitch" in order subvert sexist culture and deprive it of verbal weapons. The web is an important aspect of the new "girlie feminism." E-zines have provided "cybergrrls" and "netgrrls" another kind of women-only space.