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Unformatted text preview: [ Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2008, vol. 34, no. 1] 2008 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0097-9740/2008/3401-0021$10.00 R . C l a i r e S n y d e r What Is Third-Wave Feminism? A New Directions Essay M any of my colleagues in women’s studies tell me they do not know how to react when copies of Bitch or BUST show up in their faculty mailboxes. They know that the magazines are examples of some- thing called third-wave feminism, but they are not exactly sure what that is or how it differs from second-wave feminism. Do young women have a genuinely different version of feminism? Do they have different issues, different solutions? Or are they just claiming they do as part of their rebellion against their “feminist mothers”? What exactly is third-wave feminism anyway? This essay explores a wide array of popular and academic literature on third-wave feminism in an attempt to make sense of a movement that on its face may seem like a confusing hodgepodge of personal anecdotes and individualistic claims, in which the whole is less than the sum of its parts. While third-wave feminists do not have an entirely different set of issues or solutions to long-standing dilemmas, the movement does constitute, I would argue, more than simply a rebellion against second-wave mothers. What really differentiates the third wave from the second is the tactical approach it offers to some of the impasses that developed within feminist theory in the 1980s. That is to say, third-wave feminism makes three important tactical moves that respond to a series of theoretical problems within the second wave. First, in response to the collapse of the category of “women,” the third wave foregrounds personal narratives that illustrate an intersectional and multiperspectival version of feminism. Second, as a consequence of the rise of postmodernism, third-wavers embrace multivocality over syn- thesis and action over theoretical justification. Finally, in response to the divisiveness of the sex wars, third-wave feminism emphasizes an inclusive and nonjudgmental approach that refuses to police the boundaries of the I would like to thank Jill Locke and the anonymous reviewers for very helpful comments on this article, as well as Mary Hawkesworth, Karen Alexander, Miranda Outman-Kramer, and Julie Ann Salthouse for all their help and support. 176 Snyder feminist political. In other words, third-wave feminism rejects grand nar- ratives for a feminism that operates as a hermeneutics of critique within a wide array of discursive locations, and replaces attempts at unity with a dynamic and welcoming politics of coalition. Moving beyond generational conflict The first step in understanding third-wave feminism involves an evaluation of the prima facie claims of its self-identified proponents. Seeking to pro- vide a comprehensive overview of the movement, Leslie L. Heywood has put together a two-volume set, The Women’s Movement Today: An En- cyclopedia of Third-Wave Feminism...
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- Fall '08
- Feminism, Feminist theory, Leslie L. Heywood