Second and Third Wave Feminists

If anything typifies the modern young woman it is her ability to take her rights as a woman for granted. This is even true of young feminists. They may acknowledge, if pressed, that there are still issues that need to be addressed, but they don’t seem to have any personal misgivings about whether or not they will be. If anything, they are critical of earlier incarnations of feminists (usually the Second Wave feminists) for being too pessimistic about society. They feel that SW fems are trying to make a tempest in a teapot. Women’s problems have largely been solved. Society has seen the error of its ways. End of story.

When I took Women’s Studies courses a year ago, I was struck by the past tense status of SW feminism. It was as if we were merely an entry in a history book. I suppose to young people we are. But I usually don’t think of someone’s life as “history” until she’s dead. I’m not dead yet, although I may seem to be ancient to the 20 and 30-year-olds of today.

I’m not exactly sure where the lines of demarcation are for Second and Third Wave feminists, but surely anyone born after the ’60s would qualify for Third Wave status. That puts all my daughters in that category. I think they would all identify themselves as feminists, but they don’t talk about it much. Maybe that’s one difference between Second and Third Wave feminists. SW feminists talked, wrote, and protested openly and constantly. Third Wave feminism is almost an underground movement. There are leaders out there, but they don’t have the visibility that leaders in SW feminism had.

That could be a mistaken perception on my part. There is the generation gap to consider. I may not see the leaders and the things that are being done for the sake of feminism today because I’m out of touch with the younger generation. But I don’t think that accounts for all of it. During the Democratic campaign for presidential candidate, whenever there was a discussion about feminist principles, it was always SW feminists who were quoted and reported on. Whenever the discussion came up, it was about SW feminists who were for Clinton. I never heard a young woman say, “I’m for Obama because I’m a feminist.” I’m not saying that no young woman ever said that, but it certainly didn’t seem to be newsworthy. Is that because TW feminists are so low-key about their feminism?

It seems to me that TW feminists treat their feminism the way many people treat their religion. They say that they’re religious but they never go to church, synagogue, or mosque. They don’t read and write and speak about their religions. And they certainly don’t go out and protest as representatives of their religions. It’s as if feminism is a personal decision which has nothing to do with society and the world at large. And yet I realize that it does have to be personal first, just as religious belief should be (ideally). Institutionalized feminism just isn’t going to be as passionate as the grassroots movement was during the 60s and 70s.

What do I mean by institutionalized feminism? More about that in a later post.