Oh Shit, Am I a Third Wave Feminist?

In 1968 feminist activists protested against the Miss America Pageant, throwing the accoutrements of oppressive femininity–including false eye lashes, girdles, cosmetics, and maybe even a bra–into trash cans. They refrained from setting fire to them, however, because of the bylaws designed to protect Atlantic City’s wooden boardwalks. Nevertheless the representation of feminists as crazed bra-burners was promoted in the media, and it lives on in popular culture to this day. This essentially false image of feminism trivializes its political message. Of course, there is no one single kind of feminism, and it has developed differently in various parts of the world. The idea that women are intelligent beings deserving of legal rights is by no means a new one, dating from at least the fourteenth century in the western world. Yet news reports continue to present a partial view, focusing on the criticism of the all-male policies of Augusta National Golf Course, for example, while ignoring, among many other things, the feminist construction of rape crisis centres, shelters for abused women and children, and insistence on pay equity.

I don’t want to define feminism and thus participate in caricaturing it, but for me it is a ‘political commitment to girls and women.’ I understand politics in a progressive manner: they should enhance opportunities for girls and women while decreasing the limitations on how they can live in the world. My understanding of feminism, which is by no means unusual, does not promote one correct way to exist or make judgements about women’s different choices. It does, however, require action. My commitment has involved defending reproductive rights by escorting women and their families into abortion clinics in Canada and the United States, protecting them from anti-abortion harrassment. I have also been–a continue to be, albeit long distance–a Big Sister with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization. Baking cookies, watching animated movies, and talking openly about sex ed with great kids is much more fun than dodging bearded old men who wear sandals and carry gigantic plastic fetus models around in a pizza box. I have always been matched with 10 year olds for that is when kids are at their most fabulous. Not yet embarrassed to be seen with nerdy white women at the mall, they are nevertheless old enough to be unique and strange and inquisitive. I am not doing these kids a favour, like some benevolent nineteenth-century lady who makes home visits to ensure the domestic hygiene is up to snuff. These girls and young women (my current little sister is now 17 if you can believe it) have helped me in so many ways. I view them, not as victims of abuse and neglect, but as survivors with amazing life skills who are better equipped for the future than those middle-class shits who have always been given everything and have so much self-esteem that they cannot function within hierarchical institutions. They actually believe that happiness is a right rather than a privilege. God forbid when honest and somewhat snarky university professors reveal to the pampered princes and princesses that they cannot write a complete sentence, and the spoiled kids balk, having never received a word of criticism before. You are the fourth winner! You are a wonderful person with special talents! Bollocks. And codswallop.

These days I spend most of my time at the gym, looking in the mirror as I attempt to do preacher curls without hyper-extending my elbow. Tips most welcome! Hardly activism per se, Feminist Figure Girl is about performing a limited gender role and it seems pretty self-indulgent. Oh shit, am I a third wave feminist? According to Naomi Rockler-Gladen, third wave feminism is ‘a philosophy that emerged in the 1990s. Like all feminism, [it] focuses on the economic, political, social, and personal empowerment of women. This newer form of feminism focuses more on the individual empowerment of women and less on activism. It celebrates women’s journeys to build meaningful identities in the complex contemporary world.’ Oh crap. The author continues that most women who are drawn to this form of feminism are relatively young, having been born after 1966 and that they celebrate women’s multiple and sometimes contradictory identities, unapologetically celebrating such roles as soccer mom, career woman, lover, wife, lesbian, activist, consumer, girly girl, tomboy, sweetheart, bitch, good girl, princess, or sex symbol. Wife? Ugh, no thanks, but still kind of what I am doing right now. I wonder how a feminist can be less interested in activism and an activist at the same time? That is indeed my current dilemma.

So maybe I am a reluctant part of the third wave but I have a few bones to pick with it. I do not like how it is defined as other than the second wave, but then again the very idea of waves is too restrictive. First of all, it is primarily based on western forms of feminism, ignoring all international kinds. Even more than that, the waves as currently defined reflect American versions of liberal feminism. That irks me. So when younger feminists critique the second wave for excluding lesbians and trans people, or for reinforcing racism, they are not exactly wrong, but they are highlighting certain narrow types of American feminism for the most part. Second wave feminists kicked ass in many ways, especially in Canada. Go abortion caravan! And Canadian feminism was more inclusive, at least according to Judy Rebick.

Well, I am glad that I got that out of my system. Now I have to spray my hair with an expensive French product and put on my lip stain. Just doing what I can for the cause.

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About feministfiguregirl

I am a 51-year-old professor named Lianne McTavish who receives as much satisfaction from working out at the gym as from publishing my academic research. About eight years ago, I decided to combine my two primary identities (scholar/gym rat) to create "Feminist Figure Girl," a fictional character who both analyzes and participates in bodybuilding. I competed in my first figure show in June of 2011, and then wrote a book inspired by the process, published by SUNY Press in February 2015. In this blog I will write about and consider my ongoing research on the body, while regularly making fun of myself. I recommend that you start reading my first post from August 2010 (available on the home page), instead of backwards from the most recent one, in order to get the full FFG effect.

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