I’ve been reading a bit about “Fourth Wave” feminism, which I would categorize as Third Wave on steroids, estrogen and T. I wonder why anyone needs to stop saying Second Wave, except to redefine feminism to justify some choices which reflect male domination while presenting them as hip and progressive.
The First Wave of feminism had some clearly defined goals, which by the 1920s had been largely but not perfectly achieved. “The Vote” was tantamount, but other goals included access to education, entry into the professions, and, especially, access to divorce. During the years between the First and Second Wave, some of the problems still surrounding these issues, such as securing the vote for African and Native American women, were addressed (though not always by self-defined feminists). There were other issues on the First Wave agenda, such as the Equal Rights Amendment and reform of religious institutions, which were not even partially achieved. Still, for me the First Wave was characterized by women recognizing a set of problems they faced, formulating goals to address them, and achieving a significant level of success in achieving those goals.
The Second Wave took up the goals of the First and addressed some of their imperfections, in such ways as passing more laws combatting discrimination in the workplace and giving female students greater access to sports. After taking another hard look at their situation, early Second Wave feminists formulated another set of priority goals to focus energies around, goals such as ending violence against women (including the violence of the sex industry), ending compulsive heterosexuality, gaining control over all aspects of our reproduction, and eliminating the poverty gap between men and women. Have we achieved those goals? Not even close.
I won’t say Second Wave feminism hasn’t done any good—it’s precipitated a number of very positive changes. The major goals have not been reached, though. Why are people talking about having moved on to another wave? To me it sounds like a smokescreen, a way for pornographers and transgenderists to
emasculate masculate our movement, using thinly disguised ageism to characterize those working toward the still non-achieved goals as a “dinosaurs” and their own agenda as new and progressive. (It neither new nor progressive, but it is popular.)
The First Wave experienced its own ebbs and lulls in energy and achievement. It lasted over 70 years. I imagine that at times the situation looked hopeless to everyone but Susan B. The Second Wave is following the same pattern. I think the biggest thing that would get us unstuck right now is for more women to embrace the term Second Wave Feminist. It would be like acknowleging reality.