There never was a third wave

I’ve used the phrase “Second Wave” as it is often understood: a time, centered around the 60’s-80’s,  when women revived the (as old as patriarchy) idea of feminism, and organized for change. In that sense the Second Wave existed, and I was a part of it.

One of the surprising discoveries for us young Second Wave feminists happened when we looked past the patriarchal ridicule and trivialization and dug into what First Wave feminists really said. They had said nearly the same things that we thought we had invented, even the “radical” and “separatist” ideas. But when you think about it, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Feminism is the tension between female existence and male violence. It is shaped by what it is that we have to fight.

The victories of the First Wave are not my battles: thanks to them I am not property, I can own property, I can testify in court, and I can, for what little it’s worth, hold office and vote. But what I fight against is essentially identical. Of course their deepest analysis rings true then. Of course it is still relevant today. It’s impossible to avoid the elephant in the room. Men oppress women. Men are violent, much more violent than most women. Men enforce their dominance of women with that violence, and that same dominance and violence poisons their interaction with each other and the planet itself.

Given that feminist theory is a response to male violence, you would think the so-called Third Wave would have looked at First and Second Wave thinkers and discovered themselves in what came before. Tellingly, that’s not what they did. Instead they looked towards pornography and sadomasochism for their ideas of liberation — about as plausible a force for the liberation of women as the KKK is a force for the liberation of people of color. Eventually, they were absorbed in the flagrantly male-identified Queer Theory.

That’s not a Third Wave. That’s the Fifth Column of the Second Backlash. Appropriating a label doesn’t make you one, postmodern bullshit notwithstanding.

There really wasn’t a Second Wave either. There was only a First Backlash (which of course is not the first, but the umpteenth, going back as far as women have resisted their oppression, won a bit, then been pushed back only to get up again, and again, and again, because we have no other choice). There’s just The One Wave — the same wave to which all feminists throughout all time have belonged, and will belong.

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11 thoughts on “There never was a third wave

  1. Miep says:

    Calling what passes for feminism in most places today, “third wave,” unjustifiedly validates it. The second wave isn’t over, it’s just suffering some horrible backlash, as you note.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. sallieparker says:

    That was an intriguing post. I had somewhat similar, though differing, observations. The trouble with 3rd Wave is it got mired in distractions and then ‘intersectionality.’ The pro-porn attitude was really just an early manifestation of this. (“You’re oppressed? Well porn workers are oppressed too, so let’s march in favor of pornography.”) It lost the plot early on.

    Like

  3. joannadeadwinter says:

    I love this. It’s true and it’s something that I’ve always felt but never put into words the way you did just now. I especially love your comment about the One Wave that all feminists belong to, have always belonged, and will always belong to. It’s distressing to look at modern popular feminism and see how utterly misunderstood, forgotten, and demeaned the feminists of old are by these people. Every now and then, they make a cursory mention or show of appreciation for people like the suffragettes (who are long dead and therefore cannot defend themselves) but fail to identify with them, see the deeper connection or radical nature of who they were or what they stood for. Nor do they see the similarities between misogynists back then and anti-feminist backlash today.

    Btw, I find it deeply disturbing that auto-correct doesn’t recognise the word “suffragette” or “suffragist”. Auto cucumber is sexist, who knew?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. unilantern says:

    Queer theory should be easy to destroy because technically its as anti trans as any radfem idea, because butler has stated gender is only performance and no underlying gender identity exists. So really she says trans women are not women, and no one says anything because she says no women are women and sex is a construct.

    Reality is most of those male libfems dont give a dam about trans women and will support other theories that erase them. They are invested in destroying the second wave and the reason why is down to their views on porn and prostitution. Most of these males who are politically genderqueer etc would throw trans women under the bus just as easy as they defend the cause. Im convinced the changes radfem could make to sex roles would serve trans people better in the long term then what queer theory does because to it a trans person with dysphoria is just an identity box with a different name, no different to someone who has fun playing out a role.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Militant Mama says:

    Yes, the idea of waves always dismisses all the feminist work that occurs during the interim period– feminists are always active, sometimes there is an upswelling when our work becomes a mass movement and we make bigger leaps forward. But then the backlash tames it or a partial victory is followed by the drop off– of rightfully tired– activists. Some of my older feminist friends call the supposed third “wave” just a trickle. I love your phrase that the third wave is really the 5th column, their embrace of porn and prostitution certainly earns them that description.

    But I find it troubling to think of male supremacy only in terms of male violence… I guess the defense of male privilege can be summarized as violence in the same sense that whites in the U.S. are more violent than blacks. But I feel like privilege is bigger than that, more on the mark is your observation that violence is how that privilege is enforced and maintained.

    Also, I think we need to be mindful of forces that generated the “sex positive” backlash. The anti-porn movement of the mid 70s and early 80s was embraced by rightwingers who really were sex-negative, they are against heterosexual sex for fun (don’t even mention homosexuality!!), they are against birth control and abortion. This is not what feminists were supporting, of course, but feminists didn’t differentiate ourselves from the rightwing well enough. We never solved, came to agreement, on the issue of censorship of porn. Good feminists still disagree on prostitution. We still have work to do!

    Liked by 1 person

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