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Re-presenting Feminisms: Past, Present, and Future

Catherine Harnois

NWSA Journal, Volume 20, Number 1, Spring 2008, pp. 120-145 (Article)

Published by Johns Hopkins University Press

For additional information about this article


https://muse.jhu.edu/article/236183

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Re-presenting Feminisms: Past, Present, and Future
CATHERINE HARNOIS

In this article I investigate what are thought to be generational differ-


ences within contemporary American feminism. I identify three domi-
nant approaches to understanding “third wave” feminism: cohort-based,
age-based, and theory-based, and then analyze empirical data to discern
the extent of difference within and across “waves” of American femi-
nism, using each of these approaches. Drawing from a combination of
qualitative and quantitative data, I argue that third wave feminism
might be better understood as an identity, rather than a distinct theoreti-
cal perspective, age group, or cohort. My findings suggest that feminists
of all ages share many important aspects of their gender and political
ideologies. Moreover, my analysis of “third wave” feminist texts and
those “second wave” texts that directly speak to generational differences
reveals that, in many cases, feminist scholarship itself reproduces the
very differences it aims to understand. To the extent that feminist schol-
arship has failed to question adequately dominant portrayals of “other”
feminist generations, and has failed to recognize the diversity of people
and perspectives within all feminist generations, feminist scholarship
has, in effect, reified distinct, static waves of feminism.

Keywords: third wave / generations / identity

Introduction1

Despite the recent publication of numerous “third wave” feminist anthol-


ogies (e.g., To Be Real, Third Wave Agenda, Listen Up! Voices from the
Next Feminist Generation, Colonize This! and The Fire this Time) and
a handful of articles that take a more representative approach to analyz-
ing generational differences (e.g., Huddy, Neely, and LaFay 2000; Peltola,
Milkie, and Presser 2004; Schnittker, Freese, and Powell 2004), there
remains a pressing need for more systematic analyses of the relationship
between “second-wave” and “third wave” feminisms. Indeed, a good deal
of confusion still remains concerning what is actually meant by second
wave and particularly third wave feminism. Using a combination of socio-
logical and feminist research tools, I problematize the notion of distinct
“waves” of American feminism. I identify three dominant approaches
to understanding “third wave” feminism—cohort-based, age-based, and
theory-based—and then analyze empirical data to discern the extent of
difference within and across these waves. Drawing from a combination of
qualitative and quantitative data, I argue that third wave feminism might

©2008 NWSA Journal, Vol. 20 No. 1 (Spring)


Re-presenting Feminisms 121

be better understood as an identity, rather than as a distinct theoretical


perspective, age group, or cohort. My findings suggest that feminists of all
ages share many important aspects of their gender and political ideologies.
Moreover, my analysis of third wave feminist texts and those second wave
texts that directly speak to generational differences reveals that, in many
cases, feminist scholarship itself (re)produces the very differences it aims
to understand.

Background

By most accounts, the term third wave feminism (as understood today)
was coined by Rebecca Walker, daughter of Alice Walker, cofounder of
the Third Wave Foundation and editor of the third wave anthology, To be
Real.2 In practice, “third wave feminism/t” is used in at least three ways:
to refer to an age group, a cohort, and a theoretical perspective.3 In the
case of the first, the term is used as a synonym for “young feminists.” The
Third Wave Foundation, for example, describes itself as an organization
working to support women aged 15 to 30; and Sexing the Political, “an
online journal of third wave feminists on sexuality” requires its contribu-
tors to be “20- or 30-something feminists” (with the exception of those
contributing to the “Baby Boomer column”). In the case of the second, the
term is generally used to describe a generational cohort of self-identified
feminists who were brought up in the 1970s (and some would include
those reared in the 1980s), and who, consequently, developed political con-
sciousness during or subsequent to the antifeminist backlash of the 1980s
(Baumgardner and Richards 2000; Heywood and Drake 1997; Rasmusson
2003). Rather than relying on a birth-year-based cohort, Aikau, Erikson,
and Pierce (2005) suggest that feminist generations might be better under-
stood in terms of graduate-school cohorts. “[T]hose who entered graduate
school in the late 1960’s and 1970’s,” they suggest, represent the “second
generation;” those who entered in the 1980s are said to represent the
“2.5 generation;” and those who began in the 1990s represent the “third
generation.”4
Those who define third wave feminism in terms of a theoretical per-
spective routinely point to the crucial influence of postmodernism and
multiracial feminist theory on the development of third wave feminism
(Heywood and Drake 1997; Mann and Huffman 2005). In addition, third
wave feminists frequently define the “third wave” by contrasting it to
“second wave” feminism—the feminism associated with those women
who were active in the American Women’s Movement of the 1960s
and 1970s (Labaton and Martin 2004, xxv). Rasmusson (2004, 429), for
example, defines third wave feminism by distinguishing it from second
wave feminism, arguing that “a central tenet of third wave feminism is
122 Catherine Harnois

to include women who have previously been excluded from social move-
ments [read second wave feminism] due to race, class, and sexual orien-
tation prejudice.” This distinction between a perceived whitewashed,
privileged second wave feminism and a more diverse, multicultural,
postmodern third wave feminism is among the most popular themes of
third wave feminist literature.
Despite the popularity of third wave feminism and the “third wave”
label, the wave metaphor more generally has come under increasing criti-
cism by feminists who feel that it inaccurately represents the history and
present of the American women’s movement. Three criticisms stand out.5
First, as Springer (2002) and Morgan (2003) have argued, by focusing our
attention on large-scale public activism, the wave metaphor contributes
to the erasure of the rich history of American women’s struggle for equal-
ity. Poor women and women of color, whose goals and strategies often
differ from those of middle- and upper-class white feminists, remain mar-
ginalized in wave rhetoric, where attention is focused on white women’s
suffrage in the late nineteenth century and white women’s right to equal
opportunity in the 1960s and 1970s. As Springer (2002) says, “the more
we learn about women of color’s feminist activism, the less tenable the
wave analogy becomes” and that “the idea of a first wave beginning with
suffrage excludes the fact that Black women resisted gendered oppression
during the ante-bellum period” (1062). Bailey (1997), Orr (1997), and Henry
(2003) further argue that, by continually drawing what are thought to be
very clear distinctions between second wave feminism and third wave
feminism, continuity between the three waves of American feminism is
forgotten and the diversity of feminist ideology and activism within these
categories is lost, as popular images of 1970s bra-burning feminists come
to represent what would be better understood as a movement with a range
of ideologies, strategies, and participants.
A third problem with the wave metaphor, or perhaps more accurately,
with the way it is used, is that wave rhetoric does not sufficiently allow for
the growth, development, and revisions of feminist theories and theorists.
In third wave rhetoric, second wave feminism is typically depicted as some-
thing static, as if the multiracial feminist critique of white bourgeois femi-
nism, the rise of postmodernism, the development of new technologies,
a changing global political environment, and the institutionalization of
Women’s Studies left the second wave completely unaffected. In comparing
third wave feminism to second wave feminism, third wave feminists gener-
ally draw on those second wave works published in the 1960s and 1970s,
giving insufficient attention to the arguably better developed and more
inclusive second wave feminism of the 1990s and twenty-first century.
The third wave metaphor then, is a site of both ambiguity and contro-
versy. While some might argue that the lack of a clear definition of third
wave feminism fits comfortably with a postmodern third wave feminism,
Re-presenting Feminisms 123

which embraces contradiction and plurality, I suggest here, following


Kinser (2004), that the continued use of the wave metaphor, combined
with a the lack of consensus concerning the actual meaning of third
wave and second wave feminism, contributes to misunderstandings and
tension among feminists of all ages and theoretical perspectives. I begin
this paper by broadly sketching previous research on feminist waves and
generations. While this research has emerged from a number of different
sources, including a number of academic disciplines and sources outside
of the academy as well, for ease of presentation, I divide this research into
two categories: quantitative feminist research and qualitative feminist
analyses.

Quantitative and Qualitative Feminist Analyses

Recent quantitative social science research that addresses waves of femi-


nism has, for the most part, done so by investigating the relationship
between age (or in some cases cohort) and feminist identification (e.g.,
Huddy, Neely, and LaFay 2000; Peltola, Milkie, and Presser 2004; Schnitt-
ker, Freese, and Powell 2003; Whittier 1995). For our purposes, perhaps the
most important finding to emerge from this research is that the propor-
tion of American women who identify as feminist has remained largely
unchanged over the past several decades (Huddy, Neely, and LaFay 2000).
Though some studies (e.g., Peltola, Milkie, and Presser 2004; Schnittker,
Freese, and Powell 2003) suggest that, when “controlling for background
characteristics,” age or generation does affect the likelihood that an
individual will identify as feminist, these studies are largely limited by
research designs that assume the effect of background characteristics on
women’s feminism is identical for women of different cohorts and for
women of different class, racial, and ethnic groups (Harnois 2005b).
While this line of research may indeed be helpful for those interested
in predicting feminist self-identification, I want to suggest here that
debates concerning waves of American feminism would benefit more
from descriptive statistical analyses rather than predictive models. While
predictive models seek to tease out or “control for” the effects of a number
of different sociodemographic factors (e.g., If we control for race, class, sex,
and marital status, how does age affect feminist identity?), descriptive
analyses make fewer cause-effect assumptions and instead aim to give us
a picture of what a particular groups looks like (e.g., What percentage of
women born between 1945 and 1969 identify as feminist? What percentage
of these women identify as nonwhite? What percentage of women born
between 1970 and 1981 identify as feminist? What percentage of these
women identify as nonwhite?). I present such descriptive analyses later
in this article.
124 Catherine Harnois

In contrast to quantitative social research on feminism, gender and


women’s studies scholars who have recently addressed feminist waves
have relied primarily on textual analysis of third wave (and in some cases
“postfeminist”) writing. Though theoretically much more nuanced when
compared to quantitative sociological studies of feminist generations,
previous gender and women’s studies research has been limited to the
extent that it has relied on a small number of texts (particularly, Findlen’s
Listen Up!, Walker’s To Be Real, Baumgardner and Richard’s Manifesta!,
and Heywood and Drake’s Third Wave Agenda) to represent third wave
feminism (see, for example, Drake 1997 and Bailey 1997). While the larger
volume of literature associated with second wave feminism might allow
for more diverse representations of the second wave in third wave cri-
tiques, in practice it seldom does. Rather, representations of second wave
feminism generally consist of a few white, upper-middle-class, prudish yet
bra-burning, man-hating, caricature-like women (Bailey 1997; Cox et al.
1997; Davis 1995, Orr 1996; Pollitt and Baumgardner 2003; Schriefer 2004;
Siegel 1997a). Clearly there is more to both of these waves of feminisms
than these representations would have us believe.6
Previous gender and women’s studies research on feminist waves has
also been limited to the extent that it has failed to question sufficiently
what has become media’s prime message about feminism—namely, that
it is dead (see, for example, Time magazine’s infamous cover story on
June 29, 1998). When addressing the issue of feminist generations, many
feminist scholars have started from either the assumption that (a) younger
women today are relatively less likely to identify as feminists (e.g., Dent
1995; Karlyn 2003; Walker 1995), or (b) the feminism associated with the
younger generation is underdeveloped theoretically. From the latter per-
spective, it seems that the rigorous academic and activist feminist work of
the 1970s has been replaced by a materialistic and uncritical, ahistorical,
individualistic writing calling itself (inappropriately) feminism (e.g., Davis
1995; Guy-Sheftall 2002; Karlyn 2003; Orr 1997; Pollitt and Baumgardner
2003, 313). I argue here that both of these assumptions must be challenged.
As mentioned previously, the quantitative research on feminism in the
United States has found that women of all generations continue both to
advocate feminist ideals and to identify as feminists.
In this article, I deliberately draw from analyses of United States
feminism emerging from the social sciences and humanities, as well
as from nonacademic sources, in order to lay the foundation for a more
informed and consequently more productive discussion of feminism in
the United States. For the sake of clarity, I employ Peltola, Milkie, and
Presser’s (2004) use of the terms “pre-Baby-Boom,” “Baby-Boom,” and
“Baby-Bust” feminists to indicate feminist generations with birth years
1900–1944, 1945–1969, and 1970–1981 respectively.7 I use the term “third
Re-presenting Feminisms 125

wave feminist” to refer specifically to authors contributing to a body of


literature that invokes the third wave label. I begin my textual analysis by
asking, how do third wave feminists differentiate themselves from second
wave, or more broadly speaking, non-third wave feminists? Drawing from
both quantitative and qualitative data, I then investigate what evidence
there is to substantiate these claims of difference. Building on this analy-
sis, I conclude by examining how and to what extent the dominant wave
rhetoric itself might elucidate or obfuscate feminist differences.

Age/Cohort-Based Differences

One important way in which third wave feminists distinguish themselves


from previous generations of feminists is in terms of composition. As
Rasmusson (2004) writes, “If one word were to sum up the goals of the
third wave it would be diversity. A central tenet of third wave feminism
is to include women who have previously been excluded from social
movements due to race, class, and sexual orientation prejudice” (429).
Indeed, third wave feminists pride themselves on hearing and responding
to the multiracial feminist critiques of feminism in the early 1980s, and
third wave feminists frequently incorporate elements of this critique into
their anti-identity, pro-multiplicity arguments. A prime example of this
is Heywood and Drake’s introduction to Third Wave Agenda, where they
describe the third wave as “young feminists who . . . got gender feminism
in college, along with poststructuralism, and are now hard at work on a
feminism that strategically combines elements of these feminisms, along
with black feminism, women-of-color feminism, working-class feminism,
pro-sex feminism, and so on” (1997, 3). They go on to argue:
A third wave goal that comes directly out of learning from these histories
and . . . traditions is the development of modes of thinking that can come to
terms with the multiple, constantly shifting bases of oppression in relation to
the multiple interpenetrating axes of identity, and the creation of a coalition
politics based on these understandings. (1997, 3)

Despite the third wave’s rhetorical commitment to diversity and its


record of creating diverse feminist organizations (e.g., The Third Wave
Foundation), third wave feminism has not escaped charges of racial,
ethnic, and class bias. Focusing on the works of Naomi Wolf, Katie
Roiphie, and Rene Denfeld, Siegel argues:
Though they indeed dissent from some of their (mainstream, white) feminist
forebears in the content of their various arguments, a close reading [of these
third wave texts] . . . reveals the extent to which this next generation of feminist
historiographers make some of the same problematic assumptions as did their
126 Catherine Harnois

predecessors. Like Steinem, these authors position themselves as harbingers of


a new order, a new order, that is, for middle-class, heterosexual, white women.
(1997b, 64)

Young women of color in pursuit of gender equality have also taken issue
with the continued presence of racial, class, and ethnic bias in third wave
feminism (see, for example, Hernández and Rehman 2002). While some
third wave texts successfully reflect the differences of race, ethnicity, and
class among women (e.g., Walker’s To Be Real 1995 and Hernández and
Rehman’s Colonize This! 2002), others (e.g., Baumgardner and Richards’
Manifesta! 2000) read as if the racial and class biases that once plagued
many feminist theories and practices are no longer of concern.
The question remains, then, how does the younger generation of femi-
nists compare to older generations of feminists in terms of racial, ethnic,
and class diversity? To answer this question I draw on data from the 1999
Gallup poll, “Century of the Woman,” which is a modified probability
sample of English-speaking women living in the United States who are
eighteen years of age and older.8 In addition to a number of ideological and
sociodemographic questions, respondents were asked whether they con-
sider themselves to be feminist or not. Responses were coded into three
categories: “yes,” “no,” and “sometimes/depends.” For purposes of this
paper, I combined the “sometimes/depends” with the “yes” responses. Of
the 923 women surveyed, only 43 (4.7%) answered “sometimes/depends”;
my decision to combine these two groups operates under the assumption
that women who “sometimes” considers themselves to be feminists prob-
ably have more in common in terms of identity and ideologically with
those who generally consider themselves to be feminists than those who
under no circumstances consider themselves to be feminists.
Table 1 summarizes the sociodemographic characteristics of three
generations of feminists. Odds ratio values lower than one indicate that
generation in question (Baby-Bust in the left column or Pre-Baby-Boom in
the right column) have, on average, significantly lower values on the socio-
demographic characteristic in question. The comparison of averages indi-
cates that self-identified feminists of the Baby-Bust generation were sig-
nificantly less likely than their counterparts in the Baby-Boom generation
to identify themselves as white, were more likely to identify themselves
as Black or Hispanic, were on average less well educated, and on average
reported lower household income levels than their older counterparts.
Fewer differences are seen between the Baby-Boom and Pre-Baby-Boom
generation, although women in the Pre-Baby-Boom generation reported
lower household income, and were less likely to work full-time.
While a significant portion of these educational and income differences
is most likely explained by differences in age, these differences have
important implications for the claims about ideological similarities and
Re-presenting Feminisms 127

Table 1.
Bivariate Relationship between Sociodemographic
Characteristics and Feminist Generations: 1999 Gallup Poll
“Century of the Woman” (N=316)
Means Odds Ratios1:
(Comparison to
Baby-Boom)
Baby-Bust Baby-Boom Pre-Baby- Pre-Baby-
Baby-Bust
(N=101) (N=93) Boom (N=98) Boom
White 0.583 0.878 0.864 0.195*** 0.884
(0.495) (.329) (0.345) (0.071) (0.367)
Hispanic 0.111 0.041 0.009 2.938+ 0.216
(0.316) (0.199) (.0953) (1.749) (0.243)
Black 0.148 0.061 0.045 2.667* 0.730
(0.357) (0.241) (0.209) (1.336) (0.454)
H.S. Education 0.343 0.184 0.245 2.316* 1.446
(0.477) (0.389) (0.432) (0.765) (0.495)
College
0.241 0.449 0.245 0.389** 0.399**
graduate
(0.430) (0.500) (0.432) (0.118) (0.120)
Income1 4.300 5.484 4.640 0.258*** 0.383***
(1.614) (1.672) (1.848) (0.262) (0.273)
Not Currently
0.241 0.214 0.100 1.163 0.407*
Working
(0.430) (0.412) (0.301) (0.388) (0.164)
Working full
0.565 0.480 0.100 1.408 0.201***
time
(0.498) (0.502) (0.301) (0.395) (0.045)
Working part
0.157 0.184 0.082 0.830 0.396*
time
(0.366) (0.389) (0.275) (0.308) (0.172)
Child 0.361 0.898 0.927 0.064*** 1.449
(0.483) (0.304) (0.261) (0.025) (0.719)
Single 0.639 0.122 0.027 12.679*** 0.201*
(0.483) (0.329) (0.164) (4.660) (0.133)
Divorced/
0.019 0.133 0.127 0.123* 0.954
Separated
(0.135) (0.341) (0.335) (0.095) (0.394)
Note: Standard deviations of means and standard errors of odds ratio appear in parentheses.
* significant at 5%;** significant at 1%; *** significant at 0.1% (two-tailed tests)
+
significant at 5% (one-tailed test)
1
Income is measured as a seven category variable; the coefficients presented for this
variable are obtained by exponentiating the ordered logit coefficient.
128 Catherine Harnois

differences between the “Baby-Bust” generation and the earlier feminist


generations. I turn now to an examination of these ideological differences.
As mentioned before, much of third wave feminism has come under fire
by older feminists who argue that third wave feminists are “ambivalent
about feminism” (Guy-Sheftall 2002) and historically misinformed (Davis
1995, Orr 1997). I proceed here to evaluate the validity of these claims
and others like them by comparing how feminist generations differ with
regard to their beliefs about the past successes and future relevance of the
women’s movement.
For purposes of this paper, what is most interesting is that, compared
with earlier generations of feminists, the Baby-Bust generation (i.e., the
youngest generation) is indeed shown to be much more diverse. While
there is no statistical difference between the racial/ethnic composition
of the Baby-Boom and Pre-Baby-Boom generations, feminist-identified
women of the Baby-Bust generation are significantly less likely than femi-
nist-identified women of earlier generations to identify as white; members
of the younger feminist generation are approximately three times as likely
as older feminists to identify as Hispanic, and more than twice as likely to
identify as black. Not only is the Baby-Bust generation more diverse with
respect to race and ethnicity, but it is also shown to be considerably more
representative of education and income. Compared with the Baby-Boom
generation, younger feminists are more than twice as likely as to have only
a high-school education, are less likely to have graduated from college, and
on average have lower household income levels compared with second
wave feminists (although a significant portion of these educational and
income differences is most likely explained by differences in age).
Having established that the Baby-Bust feminist generation appears to
be more diverse with respect to race, ethnicity, income, and education
than earlier feminist generations, I now turn to examine the ideological
similarities and differences between this generation and earlier feminist
generations. As mentioned before, much of third wave feminism has
come under fire by older feminists who argue that third wave feminists
are “ambivalent about feminism” (Guy-Sheftall 2002) and historically
misinformed (Davis 1995, Orr 1997). I proceed here to evaluate the validity
of these claims and others like them by comparing how feminist genera-
tions differ with regard to their beliefs about the past successes and future
relevance of the women’s movement.
The 1999 “Century of the Woman” poll provides unique and previously
unexplored insights into generational differences in feminism by asking
women of all ages a series of questions concerning the past, present, and
future of the American Women’s Movement. Tables 2 and 3 summarize
the generational differences in women’s responses to questions about the
past and future of the women’s movement, respectively. Table 2 presents
the means and odds ratios of feminist generations on several indicators of
Re-presenting Feminisms 129

Table 2.
Relationship between Historical Feminism and Feminist Generations:
1999 Gallup Poll “Century of the Woman” (N=316)
Odds Ratio:
Means Comparison to
Baby-Boom
Baby-Bust Baby-Boom Pre-Baby- Baby- Pre-Baby-
(N=101) (N=93) Boom (N=98) Bust Boom
How important has
the women’s move- 1.889 2.020 2.045 0.832 1.164
ment been in the
past century? (0.824) (0.995) (0.882) (0.257) (0.258)
Compared with men, how much progress have women made in the past 50
years:
At home 3.822 3.526 3.495 1.621 0.950
(0.998) (1.128) (1.067) (0.257) (0.255)
At work 3.741 3.443 3.364 1.813* 0.849
(0.951) (0.866) (1.047) (0.253) (0.257)
In School 4.065 3.840 3.741 1.576 0.820
(0.889) (.954) (0.980) (0.259) (0.259)
In Government & 3.368 3.112 3.411 1.711 1.840
Politics (0.876) (0.823) (1.037) (0.252) (0.261)
In athletics 3.935 3.621 3.726 1.846* 1.160
(0.930) (1.012) (0.900) (0.260) (0.258)
The extent to which
1.710 1.783 1.648 0.833 0.704
women are seen as
sex objects (0 .813) (0.807) (0.813) (0.262) (0.265)
Note: Standard deviations of means and standard errors of odds ratio appear in parentheses.
* significant at 5%; ** significant at 1%; *** significant at 0.1% (two-tailed tests)

women’s evaluation of the success of the women’s movement over the past
century. Women were asked to evaluate the following: “How important do
you think the women’s movement has been in helping women to obtain
greater equality with men?”, “Compared with men, how much progress
have women made over the past fifty years at home, at work, in school,
in government and politics, and in athletics?”, and “Compared to the way
women were viewed fifty years ago, do you think the view of women today
as sex objects has increased, stayed the same, or decreased?”
What is perhaps the most interesting aspect of this table is the extent
to which feminists of all generations share beliefs concerning the past suc-
cesses and current state of the women’s movement in the United States.
130 Catherine Harnois

On almost all of the above questions, feminists of all three generations


were statistically indistinguishable on their evaluation of the successes
of the American women’s movement. On average, Pre-Baby-Boom, Baby-
Boom, and Baby-Bust feminists all believe that the women’s movement
has been “very important” in helping women to obtain greater equality
with men, with the middle generation having the greatest variation in
response. Feminists of all three generations responded, on average, that
women are more likely now (that is, in 1999) than they were fifty years ago
to be seen as sex objects, and each generation believes that society contin-
ues to treat men better than women. The youngest generation of feminists
differed from the older two generations only in their more positive evalu-
ations of the women’s movement’s accomplishments in the areas of work
and athletics. Compared with earlier feminist generations, feminists of the
younger generation were more likely to believe that women have made
more progress concerning gender equality in these areas.
Table 3 presents the means and odds ratios of feminist generations on
several indicators of women’s beliefs concerning the future importance of
the women’s movement and the time needed to achieve gender equality.
Like Table 2, what is most noticeable about the results is not the extent
to which feminist generations differ, but rather, the extent to which their
beliefs are shared. Baby-Boom and Baby-Bust feminists show statistically
similar beliefs concerning how society generally treats men compared with
women, the extent to which men and women remain unequal with respect
to education, responsibilities for childrearing, society’s (including men’s
and women’s) attitudes women, about how long it will be before women
and men are treated equally, and how important the women’s movement
will be in the next century. Of the eleven questions analyzed concern-
ing the present extent of gender equality and the future of the Women’s
Movement, Baby-Boom and Baby-Bust feminists gave significantly dif-
ferent answers on only three: how much change is needed before women
and men are equal with respect to (a) legal protections and (b) responsi-
bilities running the household, and how long it will be before the United
States elects a woman president. With regard to the first two questions,
younger feminists are more likely to believe that less change is required
before men and women are equal.10 However, compared with Baby-Boom
feminists, feminists of the Baby-Bust generation think it will take much
longer before a woman is elected president in the United States. Younger
feminists, on average, believe that it will take between twenty-five and
one hundred years, while the older two generations of feminists believe a
woman will be elected president within the next quarter century.
The descriptive statistics presented in these three tables already suggest
that some discussions of third wave feminism and its relation to earlier
generations have been misguided. Whether due more to the success of
the third wave’s incorporation of multiracial feminist theory, or to the
Re-presenting Feminisms 131

Table 3.
Relationship between the Present and Future of Feminism and Feminist
Generations: 1999 Gallup Poll “Century of the Woman” (N=316)
Odds Ratio:
Means Comparison
to Baby-Boom
Baby-Bust Baby-Boom Pre-Baby- Baby- Pre-Baby-
(N=101) (N=93) Boom (N=98) Bust Boom
Who does society
treat better, women 2.660 2.765 2.755 0.676 1.014
or men?
(0.567) (0.500) (0.492) (0.321) (0.333)
How much change is needed before women and men are equal with regard to:
Legal protections 1.916 1.588 1.769 2.006** 1.462
(0.870) (0.641) (0.791) (0.267) (0.266)
Education 2.287 2.173 2.073 1.281 0.776
(0.897) (0.800) (0.906) (0.256) (0.258)
Responsibilities
running the 2.157 1.724 1.963 2.250** 1.613
household
(1.034) (0.809) (0.910) (0.264) (0.259)
Responsibilities for
1.972 1.711 1.807 1.639 1.301
child-rearing
(1.000) (0.841) (0.822) (0.266) (0.260)
Society’s attitudes
1.787 1.663 1.778 1.313 1.368
about women
(0.798) (0.703) (0.715) (0.268) (0.264)
Men’s attitudes
1.463 1.571 1.752 0.649 1.486
about women
(0.729) (0.689) (0.818) (0.278) (0.266)
Women’s attitudes
2.102 2.103 2.048 0.906 0.825
about women
(0.927) (0.729) (0.764) (0.267) (0.260)
How long until
women are treated 2.613 2.608 2.325 0.949 0.679
as well as men?
(1.488) (1.383) (1.326) (0.295) (0.286)

How important will


the women’s move-
2.028 2.237 1.945 0.654 0.578*
ment be in the next
century?
(0.971) (0.977) (0.911) (0.254) (0.256)
132 Catherine Harnois

Table 3., continued


Relationship between the Present and Future of Feminism and Feminist
Generations: 1999 Gallup Poll “Century of the Woman” (N=316)
Odds Ratio:
Means Comparison
to Baby-Boom
Baby-Bust Baby-Boom Pre-Baby- Baby- Pre-Baby-
(N=101) (N=93) Boom (N=98) Bust Boom
How long will it be
until a woman is 2.389 1.939 1.917 1.654* 0.770
elected resident?
(1.400) (1.003) (1.195) (0.256) (0.257)
Note: Standard deviations of means and standard errors of odds ratio appear in parentheses.
* significant at 5%; ** significant at 1%; *** significant at 0.1% (two-tailed tests)

success of multiracial feminists of earlier generations, younger genera-


tions of feminists are shown to be a much more diverse group compared
with older feminist generations. What this analysis also makes clear is
that, although younger and older generations do, to some extent, differ in
their beliefs about gender inequality, there are a great number of issues on
which these feminist generations agree. On average, younger feminists do
not, as some have argued, have an understanding of feminist history that is
completely unlike that of older generations, and younger feminists do not
appear to have a naïve understanding of the time it takes to achieve gender
equality (at least no more naïve than older generations of feminists). In
short, not only do younger women identify as feminists at similar rates
compared with older generations of women, but the gender ideologies of
younger feminists are in many important ways similar to those of older
feminist generations.
Taken as a whole, the degree of similarity found in the above analysis
suggests that conceptions of waves of feminisms based on age and birth-
year cohort differences are at best limited in their ability to clarify differ-
ences in contemporary feminism. While the younger feminist generation
does appear to include a more diverse group of women with respect to
race, ethnicity, and education, young women’s feminism in most respects
seems very similar to the feminism of comparatively older women.
As I have presented above, however, many have argued against equat-
ing third wave feminism with a particular age group or cohort, insisting
instead that third wave feminism be understood as a distinct theoretical
perspective. At this point, then, I turn my attention to the growing body of
literature that comes out of, or directly addresses third wave feminism. As
I approach this literature, my question now concerns the extent to which
understanding third wave feminism as a distinct theoretical perspective
Re-presenting Feminisms 133

helps us to understand American feminist differences. I focus my analysis


on third wave texts that address issues of perfection, plurality, and power,
because for many third and second wave feminists, these issues seem best
to capture the differences between second and third wave perspectives.

Theoretical Differences: Perfection, Plurality and Power

For many feminists, at the heart of the debate between second and third
wave feminisms lie issues of perfection, plurality, and power. By perfec-
tion I mean what constitutes legitimate feminist theories and practices;
by plurality I mean to suggest complex identities, systems of oppression,
and feminisms; and by power I mean to suggest how systems of dominance
are created, maintained, and disrupted, and which actors and institutions
are involved in these processes. However accurate or inaccurate they
may be, many third wave feminists understand second wave feminism
as something that has assumed its entitlement to defining feminism and
to demanding that anyone choosing to call her/himself feminist live in
accordance with that particular ideology. In response, third wave feminists
have emphasized the “messiness” of their own lives in terms of identities,
beliefs, and actions, and have repeatedly called for feminisms that address
the complexity of real lives. Central to this call is the demand for recogni-
tion of the ever-changing and always multiple routes to gender equality
and the realization that a completely pure feminism, untarnished by any
hint of oppression, does not exist. In the following section, I provide a
more substantive discussion of these issues and what they reveal about
the feminist production of intergenerational difference. I use the issue of
erotic power to illustrate how these issues play out in practice.

Perfection & Plurality

The perception on the part of third wave feminists of a unified second


wave feminism that demands that people (especially those calling them-
selves feminists) live a life completely consistent with arbitrarily circum-
scribed feminist ideals is found in much of third wave feminist literature.
In a particularly clear example of this, Janis Cortese (1997) writes, “I feel
like just by being born after you [second wave feminists], I’ve somehow
signed some contract . . . that says that I have to do everything you say, live
up to your expectations, achieve what you wanted to achieve, or else it’s a
betrayal of some sort.” Or, as Walker (1995) writes, “Constantly measuring
up to some cohesive fully down-for-the-feminist-cause identity without
contradictions and messiness and lusts for power and luxury items is not
a fun or easy task” (xxxi).11 While some might respond to these writers by
134 Catherine Harnois

reminding us that social movements for equality are meant to be neither


“fun” nor “easy” (e.g., Dicker and Piepmeier 2003, 18), others might argue
third wave feminists’ characterization of second wave feminists is unfair.
Analyzing the ways in which individual people (feminists included) may
be contributing to gender inequality is not the same as demanding that
everyone live in complete consistency with a particular branch of second
wave feminism.
Justified or not, many third wave feminists have responded to these
perceived demands for perfection by emphasizing the “messiness” of
women and men’s “real lives” (Dicker and Piepmeier 2003, 16); third wave
feminists contrast themselves with second wave feminists by positioning
themselves as the first to be “real” and to tell “the truth” about feminism,
women and desire. In her introduction to To Be Real, Rebecca Walker
(1995) differentiates third wave feminism from previous feminisms by
suggesting that, in the past, feminists have felt obligated to maintain a
feminist party line, despite its tenuous connection to the real lives of most
girls and women.12 In contrast, it is third wave feminists who “have done
the difficult work of being real (refusing to be bound by a feminist ideal
not of their own making) and telling the truth (honoring the complexity
and contradiction in their lives by adding their experience to the feminist
dialogue)” (Walker 1995, xxxiv). This third wave project involves grap-
pling with the reality that women do not necessarily share experiences
and perspectives, that the lines between oppressed and oppressor are not
always clear, and that some women do, in fact, enjoy their positions in
what others see as a patriarchal society. As Joan Morgan (1999) writes,
“only when we’ve told the truth about ourselves—when we’ve faced the
fact that we are often complicit in our oppression—will we be able to
take full responsibility for our lives” (23). While some third wave femi-
nists might concede that the characterization of second wave feminism
as demanding a singular perfection at best only describes a portion of all
second wave feminism, many third wave feminists maintain that the third
wave’s emphasis on multiplicity distinguishes it from previous feminist
perspectives. The very ideas that there is one best way to be feminist
(even if that is unattainable) and that there is one best feminism (even if
it is yet to be discovered) are said to sit uncomfortably with third wave
feminism. As Baumgardner explains, third wave feminism is about “get-
ting in touch with your own desires—whether it’s your ambition or your
sexuality or your maternity” (Pollitt and Baumgardner 2003, 316–317), not
relearning your desires so that they are entirely consistent with someone
else’s feminist ideals.
Re-presenting Feminisms 135

Power

Related to issues of perfection and plurality are issues of power. Specifi-


cally, third wave feminists tend to view themselves as effective agents of
change in ways that they believe are different from those of second wave
feminists. While feminists of both “waves” acknowledge that the power
to maintain and change systems of oppression is situated at both the
micro and macro levels, and while feminists associated with both waves
to some extent see cultural, political, and economic realms as important
sites for social change, third wave texts tend to privilege the micro-level
and the cultural spheres over others. Influenced by poststructuralism and
queer theory, third wave feminists see the cultural realm as a key site of
political change; for third wave feminists, feminist theory/activism often
involves individuals destabilizing categories, performing parodies, and
reinterpreting identities and signs (e.g., Baumgardner and Richards 2000,
52; herrup 1995; Payette 2002), in addition to more traditional forms of
feminist collective action (e.g., Baumgardner and Richards 2000; Labaton
and Martin 2004).
Third wave feminists’ belief in the power of reinterpretation and parody,
combined with their focus on microlevel cultural change, helps us to
understand what is among the most controversial issues in intergenera-
tional feminism: the (ab)uses of women’s sexuality. With regard to this
issue, many third wave feminists want to change the belief that the mas-
ter’s tools can never dismantle the master’s house to the master’s tools can
sometimes help to dismantle the master’s house, provided they are used in
subversive ways. In third wave feminism the hammer that was once used
to pound the nails into place is used to pound through windows; the saw
is now used to cut through the walls; and the screwdriver is now turned
counterclockwise, freeing all that had been previously screwed tightly
into place. Or, at least that is the hope. As Baumgardner and Richards
(2000) write, “The point is that the cultural and social weapons that had
been identified (rightly so) in the second wave as instruments of oppres-
sion—women as sex objects, fascist fashion, pornographic materials—are
no longer being exclusively wielded against women and are sometimes
wielded by [and for] women” (141). While third wave feminists continue to
see significant gender differences in power and privilege, third wave texts
openly discuss the advantages that can be gained from women’s exercising
their erotic power.13
Third wave feminism has justified women’s manipulation of erotic
power in two ways. First, some third wave feminism maintains that
women today, while still disadvantaged compared with men, are in a
better position to exercise power compared with women several decades
ago. As Morgan (1999) writes, “Most of us can’t imagine our lives without
136 Catherine Harnois

access to birth control, legalized abortions, the right to vote, or many


of the same educational and job opportunities available to men” (59).14
While older generations most likely agree with this point, third wave
feminists frequently take this a step further, arguing that because of their
more empowered position, women today are, at least in some cases, able
to wield effectively the “tools of patriarchy” to their own advantage (e.g.,
Baumgardner and Richards 2001, 141; Cortese 1997; Cox et al. 1997;
Morgan 1999),15 and this is the point at which third wave feminism views
itself as breaking with much of the feminism that precedes it. As Morgan
(1999) writes:
In the past, feminists were understandably loath to condone utilizing erotic
power as a means of battling sexism. Many remembered all too vividly a time
when erotic power was all women had—and it was rarely enough to circumvent
abuse and exploitation. But while women today still experience sexism, we do
so in markedly different ways. Many of us are empowered enough to combine
our erotic power with resources that were unimaginable to our mothers—
money, education, talent, drive ambition, confidence, and the freedom to just
“go for ours.” (221)

Leaving aside the implication that second wave feminists lacked talent,
drive, ambition, and confidence, here Morgan, like many other third wave
feminists, takes the position that contemporary women are better able to
use their erotic power (also called “pretty power” and “pussy power”) to
advance their own position in society in large part because of the successes
of previous generations of feminists.
A second defense of women’s use of erotic power (also voiced by Joan
Morgan) argues that because women lack power, they should be entitled
to use what power they do have without ridicule from women (particularly
feminist women, who supposedly acknowledge women’s lack of power
and resources). As Veronica Webb (1995) relates, “if you are a woman, any
way that you can amass power and money you have to do it as long as it’s
ethical, because it’s just something that we don’t have . . . [P]eople say [‘]
well, women trading off their looks strips them of their power,[’] but it has
empowered a lot of women” (215). In her essays, “Femme-Inism: Lessons
of my Mother” and “I learned from the Best,” for example, Paula Austin
(a self-described black femme) describes how her mother, a “high-femme
whore” with very limited resources, was able to “feel accomplished,
adequate, of use to her family, sending her sister, Lucille, to school and
feeding Lucille’s children as well as her own” through strategic use her
sexuality (2002b, 158). She then describes how she and her butch white
lover strategically used their own sexuality when they found themselves
stranded in rural North Carolina. Scared to be an interracial lesbian couple
in a region with a reputation for intolerance, Austin consciously “play-
acts” her femininity for the car-shop audience and, in so doing, finds “a
Re-presenting Feminisms 137

sense of control” as they respond predictably to her femininity. As Morgan


(1999) writes, “In a world of limited resources, trickin’—using sex (or the
suggestion of it) to gain protection, wealth, and power—is a viable means
of elevating one’s game” (215).
Erotic power, then, is seen by third wave feminists simultaneously as
something that women should be able to use when either they lack other
resources or when they are in a position powerful enough to “control
the tools of patriarchy.” While Morgan and other third wave feminists
(e.g., Baumgardner and Richards 2000; Cox, Johnson, Newitz and Sandell
1997) note the limitations of relying solely on women’s erotic power, (e.g.,
that “by itself erotic power is not all that powerful,” that it is “easily
replaceable and inexhaustible in supply,” that all women do not have the
same access to erotic power, and that the exercise of erotic power does
not do much to challenge the social structure of gender inequality and
in some cases even reinforces gender stereotypes), in some situations, it
remains for them a means through which individual women can express
sexual desires, advance their economic and social positions in society, and
empower themselves.

Re-Presenting Feminisms

While it is true that many third wave texts approach the issue of erotic
power from a position that is different from many “second wave” femi-
nists, the claim that the third wave can be distinguished from other
feminisms on the basis of its theoretical uniqueness is problematic for at
least three reasons. First, to the extent that third wave feminists call for
a feminism that emphasizes “messiness” and “multiplicity,” third wave
feminists are, in effect, privileging a particular feminist perspective over
other feminist perspectives. Second, and more importantly, third wave
feminists were clearly not the first to have objected to a singular notion
of feminism, nor are they the first to make multiplicity central to their
critique (see, for example, Collins 1990; Lorde 1984; Moraga and Anzaldúa
1981). Multiracial feminist histories reveal that calls for multiplicity were
expressed well before the late 1970s and early 1980s, but only in the late
1970s were white women “forced kicking and screaming” to notice the
negative consequences of feminism’s fictionally unified subject “woman”
(Haraway 1991, 157). Only when the women’s movement had achieved
public recognition, when Women’s Studies had been institutionalized in
university, government, and community settings, and when people of
color had been recognized by the dominant white society as important
political actors, were women of color feminists widely recognized by
established (i.e., upper-middle-class white) feminists as having legiti-
mate, although different, feminist perspectives. The rhetoric that bases
138 Catherine Harnois

the uniqueness of third wave feminism on its centralizing of multiplicity


in effect contributes to the erasure of multiracial feminist theorists and
theorizing in feminist histories.
Third, claims concerning the theoretical uniqueness of third wave
feminism are inherently problematic to the extent that they fail to address
the process by which “third wave feminism” is produced. When making
claims about “third wave feminism” or “younger women’s feminisms”
it must be remembered that third wave anthologies, like all anthologies,
are strategically produced. They do not constitute a representative sample
of “third wave” or “younger women’s” feminism; at best, they capture
what a handful of feminists (e.g., Rebecca Walker, Barbara Findlen, Leslie
Heywood, and Jennifer Drake) understand third wave feminism to be, or
perhaps more accurately, what it should be.
Two examples are particularly illustrative of the third wave production
process: In Rebecca Walker’s preface to To Be Real, she describes the pro-
cess through which she solicited and edited essays to be included in her
now heavily cited volume. She writes:
When I initially met with contributors, I told them I was editing an anthology
on feminism and female empowerment in the 90’s and asked if they had been
thinking about any topic or theme or experience that seemed appropriate. Gen-
erally, people offered almost generic experiences of being a woman in a sexist
society. When I explained further that I was looking for essays that explored
contradiction and ambiguity, that explored female empowerment from the
perspective of what in your life has been empowering for you—as opposed to
what has been disempowering, and irrespective of what it is supposed to be
empowering—then the small voices, the quiet, never-said-this-out-loud voices,
began to speak. (xxxvi, my emphasis)

Soliciting submissions for a proposed edited collection in 2004, We Want


It Now! Third Wave Manifestos, editor Elizabeth Berila sent the following
e-mail guidelines to would-be contributors:
Each manifesto—or rant—should clearly identify a specific political issue of
concern as well as your demands for change. We Want It Now! is intended
for a general audience as well as for the classroom and should therefore avoid
heavy academese or specialized language. We are interested in submissions
from students, activists, thinkers, artists, and academics. Manifestos may
be pragmatic, provocative, outrageous, serious, funny, fresh, or in-your-face.
Unafraid of contradictions, these third wave manifestos may embody several
of these qualities at once.

The call for papers then goes on to suggest possible topics and even pos-
sible titles for submitted pieces, including “How Come Feminists Give
Sex Work a Dirty Name?” and “FUCK! Manifesto: Radical Feminists for
a Future Under the Control of Kindness.”
Re-presenting Feminisms 139

Providing guidelines for potential contributors is, of course, a necessary


step in publishing an anthology, and in no way do I mean to suggest that
the aforementioned editors have erred by soliciting particular types of
manuscripts. What I do want to suggest is that the strategy employed by
these particular editors (among others) is one that seeks both to present
a coherent third wave feminism and to contrast this wave with all that
came before. The editors in the above two examples clearly approach their
projects with particular understandings of third wave feminism. Both are
looking for contradiction: Berila is clearly seeking nonacademic, personal
writing, and Walker is hoping for essays that challenge what is “supposed
to be empowering.” The fact that Walker originally received essays that
reflected “almost generic experiences of being a woman in a sexist soci-
ety,” and the fact that Berila (and I suspect other editors as well) feel it
necessary to emphasize that essays should take a particular form (ranting,
manifesto-like, no jargon) suggests to me that third wave feminism, and/
or younger women’s feminism might be both more diverse and more simi-
lar to second wave feminism than these anthologies suggest.16 My point,
again, is not to minimize the importance of these anthologies, but rather
to encourage feminist scholars and activists to see these anthologies for
what they are: insightful, thought provoking, and empowering (to both
authors and readers) essays, that have no doubt fostered feminist debate
and feminist activism. They are not, however, representative of young
women’s feminism in any generalizable sense.
Though third wave feminists’ (ab)uses of erotic power, combined with
their critiques of perfection and their insistence on plurality have indeed
been the site of numerous controversies in contemporary American femi-
nism, controversy in itself does not denote a new “wave” of feminism.
Indeed, every moment of American feminism has been marked by con-
troversy and difference. The American “Women’s Suffrage Movement” or
“first wave” of feminism was marked by differences in whether women
should have the right to the vote, which women should have the right to
the vote, and how women should proceed in fighting for suffrage; and the
“second” wave was similarly marked by multiple controversies, including
the “sex wars,” and theoretical debates between and among cultural, radi-
cal, liberal, and Marxist feminists (see for example Hirsch and Keller 1990
and Tong 1998). While debates concerning the (ab)uses of erotic power and
women’s sexuality may be particularly divisive, it is misleading at best,
and damaging at worst, to force the complexity of this debate to map onto
a predetermined “wave” timeline. What do we risk when we lump “older”
feminists including Patricia Hill Collins, Iris Marion Young, Mary Daly,
Gayle Rubin, Catherine McKinnon, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Adrienne Rich
into the “second wave”?
Having compared the wave rhetoric with the available quantitative and
qualitative data that speak to feminist differences, I want to suggest here
140 Catherine Harnois

that we may do better to understand third wave feminism as an identity,


constantly in process, rather than a distinct feminist perspective, cohort,
or age group. Given that the third wave label is used at varying times to
invoke an age group, a cohort, and a theoretical framework, and given
that none of these usages appears to denote a particularly distinct femi-
nist group, it may be that uncritical use of the wave analogy does more to
obfuscate than to elucidate the diversity of historical and contemporary
feminisms. While the wave analogy may have at first been used to empha-
size the connection between American feminism in the 1960s and 1970s
and the American movement for women’s suffrage, as Marsha Lear (1968)
has suggested, reliance on this framework for understanding American
feminism undoubtedly contributed to the marginalization of continuous,
less publicized, struggles of working-class women and women of color
throughout the past centuries (Morgan 2003; Springer 2002).
Representing feminisms’ past, present, and future as a series of waves
may help some to see connections between large-scale public feminist
movements of the past centuries, but lumping hundreds of thousands of
women under the term “second wave” and others under the label “third
wave” feminists certainly contributes to the homogenization within and
the erasure of similarities across these groups as well. Such labels might
be acceptable if, in fact, clear distinctions between these groups existed,
but the evidence reviewed here suggests just the opposite. Rather than
representing American feminism as three (semi-)distinct waves, however,
a more productive presentation of feminist history might emphasize
continuity over time, while simultaneously highlighting the constant
diversity of thought, movement, and actors at each historical moment. It
may be that future representations of American feminisms may be able
to recognize such continuity and diversity while simultaneously invoking
the third wave label, but this will require a drastic shift from the current
use of the wave rhetoric. A poststructuralist use of third wave identity will
require first and foremost a recognition that this identity category, and
those which it creates by means of opposing, “are never merely descrip-
tive, but always normative, and as such, exclusionary” (Butler 1995, 50).

Catherine E. Harnois is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Soci-


ology at Wake Forest University. Her research seeks to bridge feminist
theories and quantitative social research methods. Send correspondence
to harnoice@wfu.edu.

Notes
1. An earlier version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of
the American Sociological Association in August 2005 in Philadelphia,
Re-presenting Feminisms 141

Pennsylvania. The author would like to thank Andrew Perrin, Judith Blau,
Barbara Risman, Karolyn Tyson, Susan Bickford, Tanya Golash-Boza, and Joe
Harrington for their helpful comments regarding the manuscript.

2. Catherine Orr (1997) has argued that the term “Third Wave” was used by a
multicultural group of women who collectively created an anthology, The
Third Wave: Feminist Perspectives on Racism in the mid-1980s.

3. This theoretical approach to describing the “third wave” is in some cases


intertwined with the cohort approach, as many point to how the sociopo-
litical context in which third wave feminism emerged has changed feminist
politics for a particular generation of women. Garrison (2000) and Dicker and
Piepmeier (2003), for example, explain how coming of political age under
the influence of modern communication technology, late global-capitalism,
postmodernism and “postfeminism” has affected the goals, ideologies, and
political strategies of younger feminists. Kinser (2004, 133) combines these
cohort and theory based definitions by defining the third wave as a “current
era political body whose constituents practice a multiplicity of feminist
ideologies and praxes while generally sharing the following characteristics:
(1) They came to young adulthood as feminists; (2) They practice feminism
in a schizophrenic cultural milieu . . .; (3) They embrace pluralistic thinking
within feminism . . . and (4) They live in feminism in constant tension with
postfeminism.”

4. I do not directly investigate the appropriateness of using academic cohorts


to understand waves of American feminism in this article. I suggest here,
however, that this approach to understanding feminist waves is equally, if not
more problematic, compared with other frameworks. Graduate-school cohort
undoubtedly contributes to how scholars understand feminism, but feminist
frameworks that rely solely on academic training (1) marginalize feminists
outside of the academy, (2) perpetuate the theory/practice dichotomy, and (3)
imply that academic cohort is (one of?) the most important features of one’s
feminist perspective.

5. As I argue in Harnois 2005a, an additional problem surrounding the “wave”


metaphor is that the waves of American feminism are rarely presented in a
global context.

6. See Aronson (2003) for an excellent discussion of the diversity of young


women’s attitudes toward feminism and gender relations.

7. In this study, the average age of feminists in the Baby-Bust generation is 23.4,
those in the Baby-Boom generation average 41.7 years of age, and the mean
age for the Pre-Baby-Boom generation is 68.5 years.

8. The random sample was stratified with respect to age so that there were
at least 300 women in each of the following age categories: 18–29, 30–53,
and >54.
142 Catherine Harnois

9. White is a dichotomous variable where self-identification as white=1 and


nonwhite=0. Hispanic is a dichotomous variable where self-identification as
Hispanic=1 and non-Hispanic=0. Black is a dichotomous variable where self-
identification as black=1 and nonblack=0. H.S. Education is a dichotomous
variable where having graduated from high school, but not having attended
college=1 and having either more or less formal education=0. College graduate
is a dichotomous variable where having graduate from a college or university
is coded 1 and not having graduated from a college or university is coded 0.
Income is a seven category variable where higher value represents a higher
household income. Not currently working is a dichotomous variable where
those not currently in the paid labor force are coded 1 and those currently work-
ing are coded 0. Working full time and Working part time are both dichotomous
variables coded in the same way. Child is a dichotomous variable where having
at least one child is coded 1 and not having had any children is coded 0. Single
and Divorced/Separated are both dichotomous variables where membership in
the specified category is coded 1 and non-membership is coded 0.

10. It should be emphasized that on average Third Wavers believed “a moderate


amount of change” was still needed in both of these areas.

11. This perceived demand for perfection is further complicated by the catch-22
that many young feminists find themselves presented with: on the one hand,
young feminist activists feel they are being pressured to follow in the footsteps
of older feminist generations, using similar strategies (perhaps because these
are the ones that the media is likely to recognize) to achieve similar goals;
on the other hand, young feminists often find there is a shortage of space to
thrive in these positions, as older feminists occupy most of the top positions.
Two quotations capture this dynamic well: Third Wave feminist Madelyn
Detloff (1997, 78) writes, “I sense a reluctance on the part of second wavers
to pass the torch to the next generation of leaders;” and Second Wave feminist
Robin Morgan (2003, 578) retaliates, “Speaking for myself, I’m hanging on to
my torch, thank you. Get your own damned torch,” to which Pollitt (2003,
311) agrees.

12. See also Payette (2002, 141).

13. Note that this use of “erotic power” is qualitatively different from Lorde’s
(1984) use of “erotic power.”

14. For similar sentiments, see also Findlen (1995) and Baumgardner and Richards
(2000).

15. It is important to mention that many third wave feminists note that there are
situations in which women believe themselves to be in control of the ‘tools
of patriarchy’ while they are “in fact” not in control. In other words, women’s
and girls’ beliefs that they are in control is not the most important criteria
for determining whether they are being exploited (Baumgardner and Richards
2000; Byrd 2004; Frank 2002).
Re-presenting Feminisms 143

16. While all anthologies are strategically produced, there are a variety of strate-
gies that editors use to produce anthologies. If we compare these editorial
strategies to that of Obioma Nnaemeka’s in Sisterhood, Feminisms, and
Power: From Africa to the Diaspora, the differences become clear immedi-
ately. While Walker and Berila seek to produce a coherent body of Third Wave
feminist writing, Nnaemeka uses her introduction to emphasize the diversity
of feminist perspectives within Africa and the African diaspora. She highlights
where contributors agree and disagree and she explicitly resists the temptation
to define African feminism in opposition to Western/white feminism. Hers is
an anthology that seems to emerge from the bottom-up, where Walker’s and
Berila’s appear to emerge more from the top-down.

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