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The 68th Carnival of Feminists went up last week at Fourth Wave. Highlights for me include a brief retrospective of the life of Olympe de Gourges, who in 1791 wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Woman as a counterpoint and protest to the male-centric French revolutionary Declaration of the Rights of Man, and a frank and moving rape narrative (may trigger) from little light which highlights the prejudice and appalling treatment that trans women suffer as both trans people and women. The piece also appears in the 59th Carnival Against Sexual Violence at abyss2hope.

The name of the blog currently hosting the carnival reminds me of my concerns surrounding this concept of different feminist waves. While I can see a distinction between the first wave, which focused on women’s right to vote, and the second wave, which pushed for women’s full liberation, a third or even a fourth wave seems more difficult to define. After all, we still haven’t achieved many of the aims of the second wave, perhaps best summed up by the Seven Demands of the British Women’s Liberation Movement:

1. Equal Pay

2. Equal Educational and Job Opportunities

3. Free Contraception and Abortion on Demand

4. Free 24-hour Nurseries

5. Legal and Financial Independence for All Women

6. The Right to a Self Defined Sexuality. An End to Discrimination Against Lesbians.

7. Freedom for all women from intimidation by the threat or use of violence or sexual coercion regardless of marital status; and an end to the laws, assumptions and institutions which perpetuate male dominance and aggression to women.

In the UK at least we have free contraception, but no equal pay, no free nurseries, no abortion on demand, continued discrimination against lesbians and attitudes and institutions which help perpetuate male violence. Where the third wave concept comes in is with the recognition that while white, able bodied, cis gendered, middle class women may have equal or close to equal educational and job opportunities with men (and even that’s highly debatable), women who do not fall into these privileged categories do not. Third wave feminism, then, should be about discarding the second wave’s perceived focus on white, middle class, Western women. But do we need a new term in order to do that? Why separate ourselves from women who have so much experience and have worked so hard to achieve the rights many of us enjoy today? What do we achieve by splitting feminists along generational fault lines?

Reading the Third Wave bible, Manifesta, I was completely underwhelmed by the focus on pop culture and young women’s right to paint our fingernails and be girly (and if we don’t want to? if we make a political decision to reject stereotypical femininity?). There are so many more pressing issues, most of which would be much better addressed by working with the women who have began tackling them long before I was born. I just don’t feel the need to symbolically renounce my connection to these women by referring to myself as part of a third – or fourth – wave. In fact, it seems rather disrespectful. I may not agree with Greer’s transphobia, or Jeffreys’ take on BDSM, but there are feminists my age who are transphobic or think my sexual practices encourage violence against women, so to separate along generational lines makes little sense to me.

What do other people think? Maybe I’ve just been reading too much American theory…

Photo by crl!, shared under a Creative Commons License