In the 1990s you could not move for stories about the death of feminism, the lack of politics in younger women and indeed the political disengagement of youth as a whole. Now though the media are busy suggesting that our social movement is in fact enjoying a third or even fourth wave; the precise number seems to change almost monthly. When it is commented on, this new visible resurgence of feminist activism is often attached particularly to younger women, furthering a generational narrative that tends to position older and younger women as opponents on a battlefield of feminist theory. This linear and simplistic explanation of the progress of feminism as a social movement suggests that across the Western world at least, feminism has moved from a recognisable first wave in the 1800s and 1900s, through to a second wave from the late 1960s into the 1980s and now, perhaps, a third wave appearing since the 1990s and arising ‘out of a critique of the second wave’.
In this chapter, I shall bring in the voices of feminist activists involved in the British Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) and outline how they themselves understand the third wave. In 2012 I interviewed and surveyed over one hundred activists of many different backgrounds, based all over England, UK. The research was cross-generational, the respondents were from all different age groups, from teens to sixties. For many of these activists, the term ‘third wave’ freights particular political ideologies, and is not used simply as a generational referent or chronological marker point. Radical feminists, in particular, voice strong opposition to the term, and refuse deterministic classification as third wave merely because of their age or because they are currently active in this latest resurgence of feminism. Several of the radical feminists I spoke to were aged in their twenties and thirties, technically they could be viewed as a ‘new generation’ of activists, as some of these third fourth or whatever wave of feminists, yet their feminism had more in common with the theory and activism associated with the second wave. For them, their feminism was nothing to do with their age, and everything to do with their politics.
I shall thus argue that the label of third wave should not be casually and simplistically applied to contemporary feminists, that the label is distinctly ideological and often wedded to several features which are antithetical to radical feminism, namely: the erasure of women-only space and a pro-sex industry and pro-pornography stance.
Mackay, F. (2015). Political not generational: Getting real about the Second Wave. In M. Kiraly, & M. Tyler (Eds.), Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism. Victoria, Australia: Connor Court Press