Friday, September 23, 2011

Feminism & Happy Homemakers...Mutually Exclusive? What 3rd Wave Feminism brings to the table.

I was cooking dinner the other night and I don't remember how it came up or exactly what was said but I made a crack about some statement from one of my children not being very "feminist" and all my kids looked at me weird.  And then my daughter said "'re not a feminist are you?"  and she eyed me very suspiciously as she said this. 

This bothered me on multiple levels. 

I felt it was a "given" that I'm a feminist.  And I felt it was a given that I shouldn't have to explain why.  These kids grew up in my house and they know how I feel about pretty much any particular topic and yet somehow my thoughts and feelings - who I am and feminism did not seem particularly compatible to them.  It also bugged me a little that my 14 year old daughter seemed to have this very out-dated idea of what feminism represents.  Show me pretty much any teenage girl and I'll show you a feminist (okay, not all of them, but an overwhelming majority I think are feminists without even knowing it). 

So here I am "bandanamom" - clearly a pretty feminist mother, explaining my feminism in case anyone cares to understand.  Really, I'm explaining it so that my daughter might understand.  If you already know all about this stuff just skip this post.  I'll get back to pretty paint colors shortly.  But if even you aren't sure what you think about feminism, stick with me for a minute. 

There are 3 "waves" of feminism throughout history.  The first wave was really about women's voting rights.  Think the women's suffragist movement. 

The 2nd "wave" started after World War II.  The Equal Pay act of 1963 being a big part of that wave, but as well there were other legislation which helped women gain equal footing with men, both in the work place and in their personal lives.  We could get into a whole debate about whether the world really was a happier place when women stayed home and baked and the men worked. 

But that's beside the point.  During World War II things began to shift - women in many cases were needed to assist in the war effort and many began working outside the home.  The question became do women have the right to work and be paid the same as a man when doing the same job.  Did women have equal educational rights?  Did women have a right to not be abused by their husbands?  (marital rape wasn't outlawed until 1978).  Although the Equal Rights Amendment failed to gain traction, many other areas of women's lives had rights granted through-out the second wave.  The Civil Rights act of 1964 barred discrimination on the basis of not only race, but sex as well. 

By the 1980s much had been achieved, and in-fighting among feminists began and feminism of the 2nd wave effectively ended by about 1990.  During this whole 2nd wave the perception of many people was very negative in regards to feminists.  I grew up listening to people say "those women's libbers" as though it was one of the worst things a person could be.  And yet...

My mother worked part time and later full time in a job traditionally held by a man, she belonged to a union and she received equal pay.  Weird.  So we benefited from feminism directly in my family and yet a feminist was a bad thing?  Confusing. 

You couldn't turn a conservative radio station on in the late 80s early 90s without listening to Rush Limbaugh call them "feminazi's".  (has he finally quit doing that?  I wouldn't know, I've avidly avoided Rush Limbaugh for at least a decade or more).  So much hate for the feminists. 

But what I suspect is that people actually didn't like a particular feminist.  They probably didn't stop to think too much about what the movement was really about.  Or they didn't like the stereo-typical feminist.  You know, the one who doesn't really exist, but embodies every negative thing you've ever heard about a particular group. 

Well, the old school feminists are kind of like dinosaurs now.  We see the remains, but that's about it. 

We're now on the 3rd wave.  2nd and 1st wave are so "over".  Because of the perceived failures of and backlash against the initiatives of the 2nd wave, the 3rd wave was born sometime in the 1980s.  The 3rd wave is my kind of feminism.  The 3rd wave embraces contradictions.  There is no all encompassing single feminist ideal.  Instead, it seeks to accommodate all women.  3rd wave feminism allows women to define feminism for themselves by incorporating their own perspective.  Being truly liberated means not having to copy what came before.  Girls today can embrace any aspect of the feminine that they would like in a way that's genuine to their own generation.  Many 3rd wave feminists would prefer to get rid of the term feminist.  The word itself can be seen as having negative connotations in regards to it's embrace of everyone - it can sound elitist and it can be misconstrued, and 3rd wave feminists are all about getting rid of that. 

In the 3rd wave, women seek to re-claim what was lost.  Bust magazine (which is pure awesome by the way) is a 3rd wave feminist perspective and many pages are often devoted to empowerment AND crafts. 

As a mormon woman I sometimes appreciate the group "feminist mormon housewives" tag line "angry activists with diapers to change".  :)  It embodies everything that third wave is all about. 

What would you like to be when you grow up little girl?  A lawyer?  Feminism is all about giving you that chance on equal footing with the boys.  Want to stay home and be a mom?  Okay you can do that too. 

I hope the fact that my daughter thought the idea of me being a feminist was ridiculous means that she just takes so much of this stuff for granted we don't even need feminism anymore.  She can be part of the 4th wave, and they will get to decide what that means on their own terms.  

 In the meantime, I'm thankful for all the gains made just in my lifetime, and I'm happy to be a 3rd wave feminist. 


I Am Boymom said...

Insightful post, Lezlee. I agree that the term feminist has such negative connotations. In my opinion, that was due to a few feminist zealots in the 60's and 70's who, in their desire to advance the movement, came across as vitriolic man-haters. There are always the extremes in any movement and those seem to be the ones society remembers. I am grateful that 3rd Wave has created an atmosphere that allows women to define who they are and what they want out of life without being labeled. More importantly, I think the movement in general finally evolved to the point where we as women spend much less time judging one another about life choices and focus more on how to uplift and support our "sister friends" as they pursue their own happiness. That's REAL progress.

Suzanne Barker said...

Lezlee, you are such a smartie pants. I love it. I love the way you have of being able to put into words what I think, but can't vocalize. Or I would think it if I bothered to spend anytime thinking.
Love you!

Mamie Coffey said...

Agree, Agree, Agree; with you; with "I Am Boymom"; with Suzanne! It is so nice to have like-minded, articulate friends. Gosh, this just sums it up. I hope the 4th wave takes the notion of supporting our "sister friends" (as I Am Boymom puts it) further. I think there is still a bit of contention and judgementality (I think I just made up this word) within "the ranks". When we as women can unite and support one another in our individual endeavors- AS WOMEN- that is truly empowering!


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