The Feminist Movement in the 20th Century: Third-Wave Feminism

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SOURCE: Hogeland, Lisa Maria. "Against Generational Thinking, or, Some Things That 'Third Wave' Feminism Isn't." Women's Studies in Communication 24, no. 1 (spring 2001): 107-21.

In the following essay, Hogeland explores disagreements between older feminists and third-wave feminists, asserting that their differences are political, not generational.

In the 1980s and 1990s, feminists began to worry about "the next generation" of feminism. In 1983, Ms. Magazine published a "Special Issue on Young Feminists," and the first of the several books and anthologies asserting a "third wave" of U.S. feminism uniquely the province of young women appeared in 1991 (Kamen, 1991; Wolf, 1993; Findlen, 1995; Walker, 1995; Heywood & Drake, 1997; Baumgardner & Richards 2000). In this essay, I offer two stories about my own history with generational rhetoric in order to illuminate some of the ways that it can be inflammatory and divisive. More importantly, as I will argue, the rhetoric of generational differences in feminism works to mask real political differences—fundamental differences in our visions of feminism's tasks and accomplishments. Given the uneven successes of the movement, the unevenness of change in women's lives and circumstances, the unevenness of change in institutions, such fundamental differences are inevitable. Feminists are differently situated in relation to what feminist movement has (and has not) accomplished, and generation is perhaps the least powerful explanatory factor for our different situations.

I want to locate these different visions of feminism not in relation to generation, then, or in relation to the naïve vision of the history of feminist movement that names young women's feminism a distinct and separate "wave," but rather in relation to the most important and undertheorized issue in contemporary feminism: the relationship between consciousness and social change. I trace three understandings of that relationship in early second wave feminism, locating them in feminist work on the practice of consciousness raising (CR). I then explore the distinct political meanings of CR in each of these understandings: CR as recruitment device for a mass movement, CR as personal transformation, and CR as a mid-point between theory and action. Each of these points to a distinct vision of feminist movement, and these contrasting visions are the real political differences in feminism.

Each of the three kinds of feminism I identify has been claimed as the province of a particular feminist "generation." Mass-movement feminism has been claimed both as a specific hunger on the part of young(er) women, and as a kind of feminist orthodoxy against which young(er) women rebel. Personal-transformation feminism has been claimed both as the particular vantage point of old(er) feminists, and as a struggle specific to a later generation of feminists. Theory-building/zap-action feminism has been claimed for grrrl/girl feminism, though such a claim obscures its stylistic similarity (at least) to such second-wave activities as the 1968 Miss America Pageant demonstration and Redstockings' disruptions of the New York abortion hearings in 1969. There is, I argue, nothing specifically generational about any of these feminisms; they are political stances with particular histories in the movement. They may be differently nuanced for women of various age groups, historical experiences, and geographical or institutional locations—but these differences in nuance do not add up to generational difference, not least because the nuances themselves are so uneven. The effect of using claims of generational difference to stand in for political difference is to reify ageism in the movement—on both sides of a putative generational divide. Here, then, are some things that "third wave" feminism isn't.

Generational Stories, Political Theories

Both of my stories about generational rhetoric in feminism involve Ms. Magazine. In April 1983, during my first year of graduate school, Ms. (not then at its best as a feminist magazine) published a "Special Issue on Young Feminists." The women interviewed and discussed were largely my age, early twenties, and nearly all were in college or graduate school.1 The general tone of the issue was how much feminism had accomplished to make the writers' lives better and freer, and how much they felt able to take for granted some kinds of feminist gains.

My life did not feel to me so settled, and reading these accounts of "my" generation of feminists infuriated me. I was particularly outraged by one young woman's account of her relationship with her woman Chaucer professor at Yale, far too cozily for my tastes describing how feminism had made it possible for "us" to study such Dead White Men as Chaucer (Wolf, 1983). My knee jerked: I had only a few years before been thrown out of the office of my Chaucer professor at Stanford, because I suggested to him that his telling rape jokes in lecture did not help me to learn about the Wife of Bath. Feminists of "my" generation were done with this kind of struggle, the writer seemed to me to be asserting, and I most assuredly was not done. In any case, I wrote—and Ms. printed—a very cranky letter insisting that "we" were not done with the issues of an earlier generation. Interestingly, the young woman happily reading Dead White Men was Naomi Wolf.

In 1994, I published an essay called "Fear of Feminism" in the new Ms., describing some of the reasons I saw that young women did not identify themselves as feminists (Hogeland, 1994). I wrote about the difficulties of being a radical in a conservative political climate, the institutional opposition to feminist movement, and the burden for young women in particular of our culture's overreliance on romance as an arena for the self. I thought I had implied—and I had certainly meant to imply—that young women today who do identify as feminists and do feminist work, do so under very difficult conditions, conditions in some ways more difficult than for women of "my" generation.

The letter-writers to Ms. read the essay quite differently. They were insulted by my arguing that feminism for them was tricky and dangerous, just as I had been insulted more than a decade earlier by the magazine's suggestion that feminism was easy for women my age. More importantly, the letter writers felt that I was criticizing them for not being "feminist enough" by comparison to "my" generation—and, implicitly, that I was using a certain kind of age privilege to denigrate their experience. Some of the writers clearly thought I was old enough to have been a pioneering second-waver, overstating both our age difference and my age-related feminist authority.2 A similar misidentification occurred in Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards's response to a 2000 review of their "third wave" book, Manifesta, in The Nation; "I am their cultural contemporary," rather than "an unreconstructed second waver," Michelle Jensen insists in reply (Jensen, 2001, p. 2).

What these stories suggest—aside from my nice personal lesson about karma—is that generational thinking pushes emotional buttons, the more so for young and younger women, who are too often described and too infrequently given voice in accounts of "their" generation (a failing to which I confess: "Fear of Feminism" is about young women, but does not give them voice). Generational thinking is always unspeakably generalizing: one reason we react so vehemently to accounts of "our" generation is that changes in feminist ideas, and the social, political, and institutional impact of feminism itself have been so uneven. No account can be sufficiently inclusive, and to feel ourselves excluded from or marginalized within "our" generation causes pain.3

More importantly, the unevenness of whatever changes we might identify in feminism or in its effects suggests that generational thinking may not be at all useful in accounting for real political differences in feminism. These differences are more usefully accounted for by getting to the heart of them—and the heart of these differences is, I believe, in the different ways we see the relationship between consciousness and change, between individuals and social movements. We have in feminism radically different understandings of how change happens, of what constitutes social change, and thus of the goals and purposes of feminism itself. But these differences are not generational: they are political and theoretical, and they have roots in second-wave theories and practices of consciousness raising (CR).

To trace out these understandings, I will lay out an abbreviated and rather schematic account of the history of CR in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the early years of Women's Liberation, the place, purpose, and function of CR was hotly contested. There are three different conceptions of CR that stand in for three different kinds of politics:

  1. CR as recruitment strategy: in which CR is a point of entry into a politics based on a mass movement;
  2. CR as personal transformation: in which personal life is a critical site for social change;
  3. CR as theory-building: in which CR helps a particular group of women focus on a specific problem they will address, turning from theory to activism based on implementing the insights gained from CR.


NAOMI WOLF (1962-)

A provocative author and commentator on women's issues, Naomi Wolf emerged as one of the most powerful new voices of American feminism during the early 1990s. Though often at odds with the beliefs and issues that structured the nascent feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Wolf has developed pointed criticisms regarding the culturally dominant notions of beauty, power, sexuality, and motherhood, which she feels continue to prevent women from gaining full equality with men at all levels of society. Wolf offers extended considerations of each of these themes in several best-selling books, including The Beauty Myth (1990), Fire with Fire (1993), Promiscuities (1997), and Misconceptions (2001). Born in San Francisco, California, Wolf grew up in the city's Haight-Ashbury district, the center of the social and sexual revolutions of the 1960s and early 1970s. She graduated from Yale University in 1984, received a Rhodes scholarship, and pursued graduate studies at New College, Oxford University. Her first book, The Beauty Myth, is based on research she initially conducted for her dissertation at Oxford. Following the popular success of this work, Wolf left Oxford and returned to the United States, continuing to research and write about feminist issues. The Beauty Myth examines the use of traditional ideas about beauty as a political weapon against women's claims for equality. Tracing ideas of feminine beauty throughout the centuries, Wolf argues that obsessive and unrealistic expectations of beauty help men defend their power by encouraging women to destroy themselves physically, draining their psychological and emotional energy and thereby slowly eroding the initial gains of feminism. Wolf encourages women to seek other images of female beauty in places such as women's films, novels, and art, and suggests that younger women draw upon the work of second-wave feminists to form an intergenerational alliance to advocate for alternative notions of beauty that are more faithful to the needs of feminine desires and the female body.

In an early, complex theorization of CR, Kathie Sarachild included all of these processes: the CR group was to assemble and interrogate women's experience, to train its members to start other groups, to unlearn strategies of submission to patriarchy, and to shift its focus at the close of CR to a specific political activity.4 In The Politics of Women's Liberation, Jo Freeman argued that CR groups were logical places from which to publish feminist material, to found feminist institutions such as rape crisis centers, and to begin study groups (Freeman, 1975, pp. 118-19). As the decade wore on, and especially as CR was taken up as a practice by thousands of women who came into Women's Liberation with no previous experience in radical politics, a different kind of CR practice emerged. Anita Shreve describes the practice of her group, "The rules were simple: Each woman could speak for as long as she liked. When she was finished, no one could comment or criticize" (Shreve, 1989, p. 21; see also pp. 44-46).5 This version of CR, called "soft" CR by Claudia Dreifus and others, turned the interrogation of women's experience into the simple affirmation of it (Williams, 1975). "Soft" CR was the version forwarded by the guides to CR put out by Los Angeles NOW in 1974 (Ann, 1974; Gosier, Gardel, and Alrich, 1974), and by Ms. in 1975 (Redstockings, 1975; Willis, 1978). Over the course of the 1970s, CR became less theoretical as a practice and less directly connected to Movement recruitment, and the three different understandings of the practice became increasingly separable.

Each of these visions of CR accompanies a specific theory of social change, as I argue below. I use the vague term "accompanies" quite deliberately, because chicken-and-egging the question of whether one's theory of social change derives from or constructs one's vision of CR is, for me, a non-issue; how we see CR and how we understand social change are mutually constitutive.

CR as Recruitment Strategy

Mass-movement feminism has conventionally been understood as liberal feminism, but its politics are more complicated than a simple liberal/radical divide can address. Mass-movement feminism is a politics of numbers, of media pressure, of persuasion and rhetoric. The strategy of organizing massive numbers of women (and perhaps men) need not assume that institutions are democratic, but only that they are responsive to pressure, especially the pressure of numbers. Mass actions can serve as recruitment events and as radicalizing experiences for women who participate in them; alternatively, they may simply be fun. Most feminists of whatever persuasion have participated in such actions as a strategy at some time, but not all feminists believe such actions to be the centerpiece of feminist political work.

There is in fact considerable debate in contemporary feminism about the importance and efficacy of mass-action, mass-movement politics, just as there was in the 1970s. In a 1976 article in off our backs, for example, Brooke Williams and Hannah Darby critiqued the rhetoric of recruitment that justified the emergence of feminist-oriented businesses; such businesses recruited women into the movement for what purpose? they asked, because in their thinking, simply increasing the number of women who identified with the Movement without attending to real political education and specific political goals and analyses was an insufficient, even misguided, strategy.

More recently, we can see the call for a mass-movement feminism in works such as Naomi Wolf's Fire with Fire, which argues that feminists should eliminate their focus on divisive issues like abortion, the better to mobilize a majoritarian mass movement. "A feminism worthy of its name," Wolf argues, "will fit every woman, and every man who cares about women, comfortably"; rather than "a specific agenda," she suggests, feminism should constitute itself as "a conviction of female worth" so that the movement need not be "of the minority, by the minority" (Wolf, 1993, pp. 132, 126). As Bonnie J. Dow points out in critiquing Wolf's position, "Some aspects of feminist ideology—antiracism, antihomophobia, commitment to economic justice for women of all classes—are perceived by many women as against their interests. Such women may be very committed to improving their own lives, but that does not make them feminists" (Dow, 1996, pp. 216-17; see also pp. 212-13). Individual women's self-interest may not be identical with feminist politics, as Dow suggests, and it is not entirely clear what a mass movement "for women" might mean without a more focused political agenda.

Another way of seeing this debate over the efficacy of mass-movement oriented feminism, and one that returns us to its relationship to CR, is to see it in terms of ways that feminists understand mass-media coverage of feminist issues. In Fire with Fire, Wolf argues that "the balance of power around gender changed, possibly forever" because of the Thomas - Hill hearings; women watched the white guys in ties on the Judiciary Committee "not get it," and went into the 1992 elections looking for "retaliation" (Wolf, 1993, pp. 5-6). Of course, if we are willing to accept the election of Bill Clinton as a crucial political achievement of feminist movement, then Wolf's account of the "genderquake" might be accurate (though let's not forget that Thomas was confirmed; that Clinton was, at best, a mixed bag for feminists; and that George W. Bush promises to appoint more justices just like Thomas).

As Dow and I have argued elsewhere, media coverage of feminist issues such as sexual harassment and domestic violence does not constitute CR. Instead, media coverage promotes a certain level of basic awareness of feminist issues—and may, as in the case of the Thomas - Hill hearings, motivate large numbers of women to move toward feminist organizations—but it may also do so without attending directly to feminist analyses. Such media coverage means, we argue, "that surprising numbers of women know the nuclear family can be a dangerous place for women, that the second shift is unfair to women, that beauty standards are oppressive to women, that divorce is the fast track to poverty for women, and that U.S. society does nothing to facilitate women's combining waged work with childrearing" (Dow and Hogeland, 1997, p. 13). But media coverage of feminist issues rarely addresses the politics of such knowledge, presenting instead a view of the world as a dangerous place for individual women to negotiate individually—or with the right partner. Knowledge may not always equal power, just as putting large numbers of bodies in one place may not always equal change.

CR as Personal Transformation

The politics of personal transformation depends ultimately on a model of social change as a slow, even generational, process, based on a kind of "ripple effect": personal changes affect individuals, who in turn affect other individuals. At some point (somehow), there will be a critical mass of small changes, that will lead to (or will constitute) large-scale social change. In many instances, such a personal-transformation approach to feminism has tended to be anti-materialist (feminist therapy, feminist spirituality), though we can see more materialist versions of it in "consumer feminisms"—in consumer boycotts most notably, where individual acts of (non)consumption add up to large-scale political action. The danger, of course, of such a comparison lies in the ways that consumer boycotts can turn over into consuming feminism-as-lifestyle. That is, "consumer feminism" too easily creates a temptation to substitute buying stuff for political action. How we spend our money is certainly about politics (politically conditioned, like self-esteem—what we might think of as para-political), and can be an important political strategy, especially in the forms of targeted non-consumption and targeted small-business support. But the tendency to see all spending decisions as political is too easily cooptable by advertisers and others into the belief that "lifestyle" decisions are politics (Radner, 1994; S. J. Douglas, 1994; and Goldman, Heath, & Smith, 1991).

The view that politics are based in personal transformations is often theorized sequentially: personal change precedes political change; change yourself first, and then change the world. At base, such a theory of social change is sentimental—think of Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Concluding Remarks" to Uncle Tom's Cabin, where she suggests that her readers have two important powers for change: "There is one thing that every individual can do,—they can see to it they feel right" and "you can pray!" (Stowe, 1852, pp. 624-25, emphases original). Jane Tompkins's important chapter on Uncle Tom's Cabin in her Sensational Designs (1985) establishes ways this model of social change has historically been associated with women. In many respects, the critical-mass theory of social change is simply a more modern version of earlier understandings of women's influence, replacing the civic morality women were supposed to inculcate in husbands and sons with a kind of civic feminism. If such nineteenth-century notions of women's influence constituted a kind of domestic feminism, we might understand the parallel late-twentieth-century notions as feminism domesticated.

To be fair, though, the problem of belief is central here: if you believe in Stowe's vision of social-change-through-prayer (which is to say, if you believe in a deity Who, when sufficiently entreated, will intervene in systems of domination), then prayer (or its equivalent practices) is the logical political response to your theory of how the world works. If you don't believe in social change ex machina or in the deus behind it, this vision of how change happens is likely to be the more frustrating because its religious underpinnings can be so difficult to tease out.

CR as personal transformation necessarily prioritizes those aspects of patriarchy that are attributable to men's sexism (and women's internalized sexism), rather than to the structures of institutions. An unfortunate by-product of this understanding of social change, and one we can see writ large in the US political landscape, is that it establishes hypocrisy as a worse fault than inaction. If we must purge ourselves of sexism before we can combat it in the social or political arenas, then action can always be postponed until we ourselves are somehow liberated—as if individual liberation were possible inside oppressive social structures. As Naomi Wolf put in Fire with Fire, "Feminism means freedom, and freedom must exist inside our own heads before it can exist anywhere else" (1993, p. 120). In practice, this vision entails CR that leads to more CR, based on a notion of human perfectibility (which is, of course, unattainable), and ultimately on notions of political "purity" (a religious, not a political concept). Because of the hypocrisy question, this vision of social change also mires us in lifestyle litmus tests (how can you be a feminist if you eat meat? wear make-up?), and a notion of feminism-as-identity, rather than feminism as practice. Let me be clear: I do believe that personal transformations are politically relevant, just as they are politically (and historically) conditioned. But the personal is political was meant to argue that politics construct our lives at home, as a way of breaking the public/private barrier in our theorizing—it was never meant to argue that our lives at home were our politics. (see Dow, 1996, pp. 209-212).

Implicitly or explicitly, personal transformation theories of social change tend to rely on metaphors of organic-changes-over-time, which makes them particularly amenable to generational rhetoric. Both old(er) and young(er) feminists have laid claim to personal transformation as their uniquely available mode—old(er) feminists have claimed it as a specific reward for having lived through feminist political struggle, and young(er) feminists have claimed it as their specific legacy from previous generations of struggle.6 There is nothing generational about the politics of personal transformation: it's an understanding of how social change works that dates back to the first wave of US feminism, a consistent thread in feminist movement today, and a political stance within the movement.

CR as Theory-Building

The politics of theory-building sets out CR as a practice that enables feminists to find a specific target for feminist activity, a specific point of intervention into that amorphous thing called patriarchy. It is not "freedom" the group discovers or creates in the CR process, but some shared and particular oppression. In this model, the CR group uses its experience of CR to move toward a strategy for resistance, an agenda for action, and possibly toward the creation of a feminist institution.

These CR-based interventions need not be on the scale of the 1970 Women's Strike for Equality March on 5th Avenue, nor the 1992 abortion rights march on Washington. They tend, instead, to be either small-group theatrics or institutionally-oriented. The 1968 Miss America Pageant demonstration and the 1969 Redstockings disruption of the New York abortion hearings exemplify the former tendency ("No More Miss America!" 1970, pp. 586-88; Echols, 1989, pp. 140-43), as do the organizing strategies of Lesbian Avengers (Schulman, 1994). CR groups based in universities exemplify the latter tendency, as they have sometimes moved to found or support Women's Studies programs, to encourage the hiring of women faculty members, to combat sexism in its various forms on campus, and to engage in coalition work with other groups.

Theory-building CR in the 1970s is perhaps best exemplified by the Combahee River Collective, whose 1977 "A Black Feminist Statement" has played an important role in making the intersections of race, class, and sexuality, as well as gender, central to feminist analyses. The Collective describes some of the insights generated from its CR practices, and draws links between these insights, the group's political engagements, and its politico-theoretical stances on issues such as separatism. The Collective's manifesto, one of the most important contributions to feminist theory in the latter part of the decade, charts the group's movement through a broad range of activities: it operated as a study group, did CR, held retreats, met with other groups, and was, in 1977, on the verge of compiling a collection of Black feminist writing.

Theory-building CR is the basis for some kinds of feminist service-provision, and for the creation of feminist-alternative institutions. Feminist service-provision—rape-crisis centers, battered women's shelters, and the like—was designed not only to respond to women's needs in ways patriarchal institutions could (or would) not, but also to provide homes for feminist political analyses of these issues.7 As these institutions became "professionalized"—often in concert with their receiving funding from local, state, or federal governments—a different kind of struggle and a different kind of analysis emerged. As is also the case in Women's Studies programs, for instance, feminist service-provision organizations struggle with questions of the extent to which their analyses and, indeed, their missions, can be compromised by their relationships to funding sources, certification processes, institutional locations, and so forth. Both the founding of these institutions and their continuation depend on feminist theorizing about strategies for intervening in patriarchy.

Accounts of CR in contemporary feminism that ignore its theory-building component work to disconnect CR from its foundational importance to many important feminist practices. Theory-building is by no means a specific practice of the early second wave, as anyone who reads young(er) women's zines can testify. Setting theory as the mid-point between personal experience and political action is not generational or generation-specific; it is, rather, a specific understanding of social change and a specific political stance in the movement.


One of the claims some young(er) feminists make to generational specificity is in the style of post-punk, DIY (Do It Yourself), youth-culture grounded rock music, zines, and political activity (see, e.g., Klein, 1997). The in-your-face activist style of Riot Grrrls and other young(er) feminists is, however, neither unique nor specific to a younger generation of feminists; it bears, in fact, quite marked similarities to some early second-wave activities. But young(er) feminists too often simply don't know much about the zap-actions, the mimeographed flyers, the materiality of early second-wave protest. Too, we can see a stylistic similarity in the rhetorical and discursive strategies of (some of) the essays collected in Barbara Findlen's Listen Up and in Sisterhood Is Powerful; think of the struggle for intimacy between writer and reader, the studied informality, the sense of urgency—these are not generationally different.

My point here is not that young(er) feminists have nothing new to say—quite the contrary, in fact—but rather that notions of generational rupture or divides work effectively to prevent us from seeing the powerful persistence of political beliefs, of specific women's issues, and of strategies for change. And, of course, if we cannot see what persists, neither can we see what is new. Young(er) and old(er) feminists have much to say to each other about their specific historical locations, about the effects of ageism on their efforts, about how women's experiences in patriarchy differ because of age. But the false belief that political differences are generational differences make these and other crucial conversations impossible.

That we can see young(er) and old(er) feminists claiming each of my three analyses of how social change works as specifically available to their generation evidences something important about contemporary feminist movement. First, the construction of putative generational divide is easier than confronting real political difference, real disagreements about the goals of feminist movement, real divides among different ways we see the world. Second, it is easier to construct these differences as generational because of the persistence of ageism, and, more benignly, simple age-stratification, in and outside of feminist movement. Our friendship networks are rarely integrated by age, and too often form the core of our sense of feminist identity and practice; our issues rarely assemble us in truly multi-generational movement or organizations. Our sense of "our" generation is too often too simply our friendship network, our institutional location, our geographic situation, our own lives and the lives of a few other folks significant to us.

This age stratification is further overdetermined by ways that the history of second-wave feminism is little taught and poorly understood, even in Women's Studies. It's become a truism that the second wave was racist, for instance, no matter that such a blanket argument writes out of our history the enormous and important contributions of women of color in the 1970s. A more nuanced view must account for both what women of color did in the decade and for the necessary critiques of movement racism (King, 1994, p. 13). Likewise, it's become a truism that second-wave feminism enshrined middle-class women's experience as universal, which allows us to ignore the stunning numbers of working-class women enmeshed in educational upward mobility who were central to feminist movement in the decade (see Rosen, 1995, pp. 325-26). The absolutism of both these views reinforces young(er) feminists' sense of themselves and their politics as distinct from earlier feminist movement, and from old(er) feminists as well; to explore continuities would be to admit to racism and classism, and, in some sense, the refusal of such continuities may serve to work for white feminists as a kind of inoculation against confronting the persistence of these forces.8

If our daily lives, our political practices, and our sense of history all work to reconfirm our too-easy sense of generational divide, it is perhaps the less surprising that feminists manage not to engage in serious and sustained debates about political differences. Attributing our differences to generation rather than to politics sets us firmly into psychologized thinking, and into versions of mother/daughter relations—somehow, we are never sisters who might have things to teach each other across our differences and despite our rivalries. We neither agree to disagree nor do we disagree; instead, we agree to evade. We foreclose the real conversations feminists must have about politics, conversations that could help us clarify our positions, conversations that could help us work more effectively both together and separately.


  1. The interviews included two men, the sons of Alix Kates Shulman and Audre Lorde, and two non-student activists (Van Gelder, 1983); the four essayists included a woman who described her college experience and two who identify themselves in their author notes by their educational affiliations. The notable exception in the issue is the article by a working-class woman, Deborah Branscum, whose essay concludes by calling for feminists to organize in and transform the labor movement. In the context of essays and mini-interviews by students at and graduates of institutions such as Yale, Vassar, Smith, and University of California at Santa Barbara, Branscum's essay on union organizing is clearly intended to remind us that not all young women are as privileged as these; because it is the sole exception, I'm not sure that it succeeded in doing so.
  2. One letter writer responded: "please understand that my generation is incredibly thankful for your courage, and recognizes that we would never be where we are without you" (Kaplan, 1995, p. 8). I don't think so: my pioneering second wave feminist activity was in 1971, when I circulated a petition at my elementary school to force the dress code to include trousers for girls. It wasn't exactly Redstockings. Naomi Wolf and I are roughly the same age, and certainly the same "generation" in any demographic reckoning, yet at this moment in Ms., I was clearly being identified as a second-waver, and Wolf (whose spending-money-as-feminism strategies were invoked by Kaplan) was as clearly being identified as a third-waver.
  3. Clearly, the category "generation" has enormous affective power, even when its explanatory power is limited. This power derives in no small part from the relentless "generationalizing" strategies of mass media and advertising, which identify us by generation (and generation-as-style looms large here) in order to construct us as consumers.
  4. See the abbreviated version of her outline as Robin Morgan (1970, pp. xxvi-xxviii) describes it for a sense of the broad range of activities a CR group was supposed to undertake. Sarachild's outline is remarkable precisely for its inclusiveness and tough-mindedness: in the group as she outlines it, individual narratives are crossquestioned, resistances confronted, feminist theory studied and written, organizers trained, and CR actions planned. Sarachild's version is, I suggest, CR in its ideal state, rather than CR as it was most often practiced.
  5. Shreve's book, Women Together, Women Alone: The Legacy of the Consciousness-Raising Movement describes CR as specifically important to white, middle-class, suburban women who never otherwise joined the Movement: the CR that emphasized personal transformation and de-emphasized social change was particularly well-suited for such women. Shreve's analysis, though, is highly colored by her sense that CR was a phenomenon separable from the women's movement, indeed, a parallel movement unto itself.
  6. By the late 1970s, this position was being asserted in Ms., as Susan Dworkin's (1978) and Lynne Sharon Schwartz's (1978, p. 41) reviews of Some Do and Burning Questions (respectively) asserted what they saw as the movement's shift to "a quieter, more individualized search for fulfillment" in contrast to the novels' more activist-oriented visions of feminism. At the other end of the generational spectrum, one might pick up the special issue of Lighthouse, the Radcliffe women's magazine, devoted to "Feminism—A Personal Perspective" (many thanks to Cally Waite for sending it to me). The writers in Lighthouse describe their particular brand of feminism, "personal feminism," as "characterized by individuals in all parts of the world who are slowly incorporating equality into their particular world views" (Crapo, 1996, p. 4). Such a "personal feminism," moreover, is specifically designed to help people see "more readily" that "feminism [is] a movement which is productive rather than threatening" (Funk, 1996, p. 22). Both "generations" of writers are holding out for a kind of feminism that is non-confrontational and non-ideological—a thoroughly depoliticized feminism, in effect.
  7. Carol Ann Douglas (in Douglas, E. B., and Dejanikus, 1976, p. 23) argues that "providing support for [women in difficulties] is a political message" that there are alternatives to patriarchy. This is an argument that has largely disappeared from U.S. feminism, as feminist service provision has become so thoroughly professionalized; indeed, Baumgardner and Richards (2000, p. 296) make quite the opposite argument in their very smart discussion of volunteering vs. activism, arguing that feminist women volunteers "often execute work the government should be funding" in the guise of political activism.
  8. Patricia Hill Collins suggested the term "inoculation" to me in a somewhat different context. For old(er) white feminists, the inoculative gesture may take the form of "I used to be a racist but now I know better" apologia; see DuCille (1994, pp. 612-17), for a brilliant critique of this gesture.


Ann (1974, July). NOW: a new perspective? off our backs, 9.

Baumgardner, J. and A. Richards. (2000). Manifesta: Young women, feminism, and the future. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Branscum, D. (1983, April). Young feminists III. Ms., 46, 89.

Combahee River Collective. (1977, 1983). A black feminist statement. C. Moraga and G. Anzaldúa, Eds. This bridge called my back: Writings by radical women of color, 2nd ed. (pp. 210-218). New York: Kitchen Table.

Crapo, A. (1996, Jan.). Reflections on feminism: The role we ask it to play. Lighthouse 6, 3-5.

Douglas, C. A., E. B., and T. Dejanikus. (1976, Sept.). how feminist is therapy? off our backs, 2-3, 22-23.

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The Feminist Movement in the 20th Century: Third-Wave Feminism

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