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.
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.