Third Wave Feminist Movement: Perspective And Practices

The third wave feminism is different than the previous two movements, and calls for giving women their right to be heard and removing inequalities against them in all spheres of life.

Feminists see female oppression as a political link as women are subjugated in almost all societies, not just a few. Feminist ideology is driven by two overarching beliefs. Firstly, women are a disadvantageous group because of their sex. Secondly, this discrimination can and must be done away with. In the write up that follows, I look at the third wave of feminism as it has evolved over the years from the developments, following the first and second wave.

First Wave Feminism

It was started mainly by the middle or upper middle class women in the West and was centered round suffrage and political equality for women. It was characterised by the demands of women for equal legal and political rights. Women’s movement was strongest in the countries which had democracy, for example, in the US in 1840s, the women’s movement started mainly for the abolition of slavery. This movement culminated in the Declaration of Sentiments, (modeled on the Declaration of Independence) which called for female suffrage and was written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Second Wave Feminism

Second wave feminism tried to fight social and cultural inequalities and this time, women of color and developing countries also joined hands in the movement. This movement was launched, mainly inspired by Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique, which centered round the theme. After 1960, with the rise of radical feminism, feminism came to be recognised as a cross-cutting ideology distinct from liberalism and socialism. Since 1980, new trends emerged in feminism, which mainly focused on the following themes:

  1. a) The public / private life divide.

  2. c) Distinction between sex and gender.

  3. d) Focus on equality and difference.

Third Wave: Main Threads

Third wave feminism is what we are experiencing now. Some researchers term the modern era as post feminism (which will be discussed later in the article). It’s a broad line of feminist activity and scholarship, which continues to address the social as well as socio-political, cultural and financial inequalities women encounter in their daily lives. It calls for greater participation of women in politics and media, besides fighting for women’s reproductive rights, such as the right to abortion.

The third wave feminists criticised earlier feminists, and pointed out the flaws in their movements mainly due to the marginalisation of various minority communities within the movement itself. They felt that feminist movements earlier had mainly focused on white middle-class women, largely ignoring black women. Third wave feminists adopted an inter-sectional approach towards oppression, bringing in discussion the issues of race and class. A major rift was also witnessed within the groups of feminist; pro and anti pornography. Those in favor of pornography believed in sexual liberation as a significant component of feminist struggles, whereas those against it regarded it as sexual exploitation of women. This movement has arisen out of the understanding that women are of many colors, ethnicities, nationalities, religions and cultural background and that the category ‘woman’ does not refer to a single homogenous set of individuals.

Third wave feminism focuses less on laws and the political causes than on individual identity. Being visible is a common theme in this wave. Visibility stands for the act of being seen as well as heard. Being visible is a common strategy among the marginalised factions of the society. It’s rather a political act. To make oneself visible in socio- political discourse is the key step towards seeking equal rights and social justice. Therefore, the third wave makes an attempt to enlarge the spaces and increase mobility for greater visibility.

Third wave feminists are critical of gendered practices in media, which promote gender stereotypical representation of women. They believe that language has by and large been used against women as it promotes binary positions such as male/female dichotomy. These dichotomies render women powerless in the face of myriad kinds of oppression they face in their everyday lives. Hence, started roughly around the 90s, third wave feminism has grown into diverse directions, such as eco-feminism, trans-feminism etc. The socio-political battles of third wave feminists continue as they strive for education and mutual respect and to create respect for diverse sexual orientations.

To sum up, feminist scholarship encompasses a wide range of theoretical stances, which are linked together by a shared concern with inequality and injustice, based on gender. It offers a critique of modern society and the outcomes of present social arrangements in the form of institutions and cultural norms. Feminists tend to uncover the epistemology through which people justify the prevalent conditions.

Although feminism is best known for its urge for protest and social action, today we have an extensive body of social, political and academic research which connects the subordination of women to various conceptual frameworks. Hence, the struggle for women’s liberation has been transferred from the world of action to the world of ideas by feminist scholars. The present work fits in this very frame.