What is Third-Wave Feminism?

As a 21-year-old female, feminism is an inescapable topic in my daily life. Some women assume that I identify as a feminist and are eager to persuade me to become one. Others insist that I already am a feminist and simply do not know it yet or am too stubborn to admit it. Feminism is part of the news I listen to, the books I read, the music I hear, and the conversations around me having to do with anything from work and pay to immigration and bodily rights. As it is something brought to my attention so frequently, I determined to make a conscious effort, as I try to with any of my beliefs I profess or titles I ascribe to, to thoroughly understand what the modern-day feminist label means.

The first step was to discover the official definition of feminism. Easy, right?

Many feminists seek to prove the unveiled feminist identity of others by simply asking, “Do you believe in equality?” The answer is typically, “yes.” “Then you’re a feminist!” they will happily reply. This catch-all “gotcha” question seems simple and logical enough except for the fact that, upon closer scrutiny, the platform of feminism is so much more complex and detailed than that. This is where the research showed varied results.

Most movements, platforms, and institutions have a single mission statement to describe their purpose. Take Black Lives Matter, for instance. If one searches those three words, the first result is for blacklivesmatter.com, a thorough website which contains a page-long explanation under the “What We Believe” tab. It’s organized, clear, and consistent. Tracking down a definition or a mission statement of the feminist movement was not as easy. Here are some of the search results I found:

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the third wave of feminism “emerged in the mid-1990s…led by so-called Generation Xers,” and  in 1997, the Third Wave Direct Action Corporation became the Third Wave Foundation to support “groups and individuals working towards gender, racial, economic, and social justice civil rights for all” (Brunell para. 1).

That’s a much deeper and more encompassing definition than the answer to, “do you believe in equality?” Based on this definition, it seems that third-wave feminism is more of a civil rights movement rather than a gender rights movement alone. According to this source, the third-wave was founded by Rebecca Walker, daughter of Pulitzer Prize winning author, Alice Walker. One of her main objectives for the movement is to “fight patriarchy,” and to “[redefine] women and girls as assertive, powerful, and in control of their own sexuality” (Brunell para. 3 & 4).

Merriam Webster Dictionary offered two definitions of feminism: “The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” and “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”

I found that these definitions lacked clarity and specification. Wording about “the theory of equality” intrigued me and sparked hope that somewhere I would find a solid statement about which issues feminism wants to fix and how it aims to go about doing so. After all, a theory is a scientifically accepted principle aimed to explain a phenomena. The phenomena of feminism, presumably, is that not all people are treated equally. At this point in my research process, it was difficult to say whether or not this movement is concerned with equal treatment of all persons around the globe or if it is a national issue, if it is about rights and interests of all people or mainly women. I wanted more certainty, so I searched for it.

I thought perhaps there were feminists magazines, newspapers, or newsletters which had more clear information on the platform. There are countless popular articles about feminism, the first of which I found being from Elle Magazine. In an article titled, “How Beyoncé, Hillary, and 13 More of Our Favorite Women Define the Word ‘Feminist,'” I found a few definitions from famous women. (Kahn).

Hillary Clinton said, “I’m always a little bit puzzled when any woman of whatever age, but particularly a young woman, says something like, ‘Well, I believe in equal rights but I’m not a feminist.’ Well, a feminist is by definition someone who believes in equal rights…”

Amy Schumer said, “If I’m preaching for women’s equality, then sign me up. It’s so crazy that people don’t identify as feminists. I think it’s only people that don’t know the definition.”

Carly Fiorina said, “A feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses.”

Emma Watson said, “Men think it’s a women’s word. But what it means is that you believe in equality, and if you stand for equality, then you’re a feminist. Sorry to tell you. You’re a feminist. You’re a feminist. That’s it.”

Three out of four of these women used the, “by definition, you’re a feminist” argument, even though neither the article nor any of the women quoted said where the definition of feminism comes from. The general and yet vague consensus from many feminists including the ones in this Elle article leaves information to be desired for those seeking to learn more about what the movement means specifically.  Considering that many other feminists accept definitions far different from “living the life you choose” or “believing in equality,” I knew there was more to be learned.

When I stumbled upon EverydayFeminism Magazine, I breathed a sigh of relief. This online publication is clean cut, organized, and highly popular. Of all the sources I’d found, it seemed the most official and most likely to contain a formal definition of feminism. While no such mission statement was found, the first of 14 tabs titled Fem 101 seemed like a good place to start. There are over 49 pages of shared articles on the tab. The first page contains articles with the following titles: “Marriage Institutions Aren’t Just Sexist – They’re Ableist And Disrespectful to People with Disabilities,” “7 Amazing Environmental Justice Orgs we NEED to Support in 2018,” “10 Things Every Intersectional Feminist Should Ask On a First Date,” “Making Our Movements Stronger by Resisting Antisemitism,” and “How TV Teaches Us Toxic Monogamy,” to name a few. Based on the titles and contents of these articles, a few more defining terms and values arose as being part of the feminist movement. If this publication is an accurate representation of modern-day feminism, then being a feminist also includes advocating against ableism, racism, monogamy as the only way to have relationships, white/male/straight privilege, transphobia, shame of sex workers, and violence against minority groups (these issues are all addressed under the other 13 tabs on everydayfeminism.com).

As a Christian whose beliefs about God and the Bible are central and motivational to my worldview, I found the “religion” tab gripping, and I immediately sought to scour its contents. This site made me hopeful that feminism is as unbiased and all-encompassing as feminists suggest that it is. Up until this point, I had rarely found anything favorable about Christianity or Christian values from feminists or feminist sources, but I thought that this place might be kind about it.

I read every single article from the religion tab. Every religion mentioned was defended and portrayed in a positive fashion except for Christianity. Here are all of the titles from articles about Christianity:

“How We Know ‘Pro-Life’ People Don’t Actually Care About Reducing Abortions,” “My Ex-Husband Used Religion As an Excuse to Abuse Me,” “Don’t Believe in Christian Privilege? These 15 Examples Will Leave No Doubt,” “5 Ways Christian Privilege Shows Up During the Winter Holiday Season,” “9 of the Biggest Lies Christianity Tells Us About Sex and Marriage,” “So Your Friend Believes Gay Marriage is Sinful,” and this final one which is truly flabbergasting after encountering the previous articles, “Why We Really Need to Stop Rejecting Religious Feminists from the Movement.”

The articles about Christian privilege are pretty harmless. It’s true that people are more inclined to say, “Merry Christmas!” rather than “Happy Hanukkah” or “Have a good Ramadan.” I can’t disagree that Christianity in America is the dominant religion and that comes with some perks. However, the others are just plain biased against Christianity, and the article about rejecting religious feminists felt hurtful and hypocritical when I was unable to find anything favorable about my religion from a highly influential magazine which claims to care about all religions. EverydayFeminism positively addressed all religions including atheism and wicka. The lack of support or even polite concede to the idea that Christianity isn’t toxic feels intentional and leaves me feeling that the feminist movement does not support me. Never mind all that, I still wanted to discover more about modern-day feminism. That’s when I came across womensmarch.com, a site containing both an “About” and an “Our Mission” section.

Let the heavens rejoice!

This is exactly what I had been searching for. And with the annual Women’s March in New York attracting over 200,000 participants in 2018 alone, not to mention the thousands of women from other major cities across the country who marched, it seems that this website would be a pretty solid indicator of what a lot of current feminists believe about feminism.

Rather than copying the Mission Statement here, I’m getting straight into their “Guiding Vision and Definition of Principles” PDF which can be found under “Unity Principles.” There are almost four full pages of bullet points summarizing their values and principles; a refreshing find after previously jumbled results. Here is a summarized list of their values and issues:

  • Safe and healthy environments for all women
  • No violence of any kind against women
  • No police brutality and racial profiling
  • No racial and gender inequities in the justice system, example, the rate of imprisonment has grown faster for women than men
  • School-to-prison pipeline disruption
  • No rollbacks or restrictions on birth control and abortion
  • No gender norms, expectations, or stereotypes
  • Full rights for LGBTQUIA members
  • Increased benefits pertaining to paid family leave, healthcare, and vacation time to reduce workplace discrimination against women
  • Equal pay for all women
  • Rights for both paid and unpaid caregivers
  • Higher minimum wages
  • Voting rights, worshiping without fear, freedom of speech, and protection of all citizens
  • Rights for indigenous women to access, own, develop, and control land and its resources
  • Inclusion for all disabled women
  • Immigrant and refugee rights including the rejection of mass deportation, family detention or violations of due process
  • Recognition that no human being is illegal
  • Right to clean water, clean air, and access to public lands
  • The end of war
  • End of concentration of power in the “hands of the wealthy elite”

I see now why it is difficult to find a single definition of feminism. Its values are extensive and its platform is broad, too broad, perhaps, to be well-defined in a 2-3 sentence mission statement.  After discovering these sources, I feel confident in understanding which issues feminism advocates for, and along the way, I found several manifestations of those beliefs in the forms of newspapers, magazines, and discussions from famous feminists.

What do you think?

Do the above contents accurately summarize what feminism means? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section!



1 Comment

  1. Graeme Taylor
    July 21, 2018 / 5:17 am

    I think this is a really wonderful summary of third wave feminism, and it tackles a really important thing: feminism isn’t simply viewing men and women as equal.

    Clearly, it takes a lot of ink to explain it, but I think you did it in the most concise and clear way that one could. This is an awesome article!

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