Friday Facts: Feminism in America: Part 4

In Sexual Assault Awareness on July 22, 2011 at 6:00 am

Activism and the third-wave agenda

Reproductive rights

One of feminism’s primary concerns is reproductive rights, such as access to contraception and abortion. According to Baumgardner and Richards, “It is not feminism’s goal to control any woman’s fertility, only to free each woman to control her own”.South Dakota’s 2006 attempt to ban abortion in all cases, except when necessary to protect the mother’s life, and the US Supreme Court’s recent vote to uphold the partial birth abortion ban are viewed by many feminists as restrictions on women’s civil and reproductive rights. Restrictions on the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States, are becoming more common in states around the country; such restrictions include mandatory waiting periods, parental-consent laws, and spousal-consent laws.


Reclaiming derogatory terms

Words such as spinsterbitchwhore, and cunt continue to be used in derogatory ways about women. Inga Muscio writes, “I posit that we’re free to seize a word that was kidnapped and co-opted in a pain-filled, distant, past, with a ransom that cost our grandmothers’ freedom, children, traditions, pride, and land.” Third-wave feminists believe it is better to change the connotation of a sexist word than to censor it from speech.

Part of taking back the word bitch was fueled by the 1992 single, “All Women Are Bitches” by the all woman band Fifth Column, and, later, by the 1999 book Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel. In the successful declaration of the word bitch, Wurtzel introduces her philosophy: “I intend to scream, shout, race the engine, call when I feel like it, throw tantrums in Bloomingdale’s if I feel like it and confess intimate details about my life to complete strangers. I intend to do what I want to do and be whom I want to be and answer only to myself: that is, quite simply, the bitch philosophy.”[19]

Recently, the utility of the reclamation strategy has been a hot topic among third-wave feminists with the advent of SlutWalks. The first SlutWalk took place in Toronto on April 3rd, 2011 in response to a Toronto police officer’s statement that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”[20] Additional SlutWalks sprung up rapidly in cities all over the world, with marchers reclaiming the word “slut” to make the point that if victimized women are sluts, then all women must be, since anyone can be victimized regardless of what they are wearing. Third-wave feminist bloggers have both praised and criticized the Slutwalks, with the reclamation of the word “slut” being questioned for its possible exclusion of some cultural groups.




1993: A New Generation

Photo: © 2003 David Fenton. All rights reserved.

The 1980s were a depressing period for the American feminist movement. The Equal Rights Amendment was dead. The conservative and hypermasculine rhetoric of the Reagan years dominated national discourse. The Supreme Court began to drift incrementally to the right on important women’s rights issues. And an aging generation of predominantly white, upper-class activists largely failed to address issues impacting women of color, low-income women, and women living outside of the United States.

In 1993, feminist author Rebecca Walker–herself young, Southern, African-American, Jewish, and bisexual–coined the term “third-wave feminism” to describe a new generation of young feminists working to create a more inclusive and comprehensive movement.

2004: This is What 1.4 Million Feminists Look Like

Photo: © 2005 D.B. King. Licensed under Creative Commons.

When NOW organized a March for Women’s Lives in 1992, Roe was in danger. The march on DC, with 750,000 present, took place on April 5th. Casey v. Planned Parenthood, the Supreme Court case that most observers believed would lead to a 5-4 majority striking down Roe, was scheduled for oral arguments on April 22nd. (Justice Anthony Kennedy later defected from the expected 5-4 majority and savedRoe.)

When a second March for Women’s Lives was organized, it was led by a broader coalition that included LGBT rights groups and groups specifically focusing on the needs of immigrant women, indigenous women, and women of color. The turnout, 1.4 million, set a DC protest record–and showed the power of the new, more comprehensive women’s movement.


The riot grrrl movement

Riot grrrl is an underground feminist punk movement that started in the 1990s and is often associated with third-wave feminism. It was grounded in the DIY philosophy of punk values, riot grrls took an anti-corporate stance of self-sufficiency and self-reliance.Riot grrrl’s emphasis on universal female identity and separatism often appears more closely allied with second-wave feminism than with the third wave.[30] Riot grrrl bands often address issues such as rape, domestic abuse, sexuality, and female empowerment. Some bands associated with the movement are: Bikini Kill, Hole, Bratmobile, Excuse 17, Babes In Toyland, Jack Off Jill, Free Kitten, Heavens to Betsy, Huggy Bear, L7, Fifth Column and Team Dresch. In addition to a music scene, riot grrrl is also a subculture: zines, the DIY ethic, art, political action, and activism are part of the movement. Riot grrrls hold meetings, start chapters, and support and organize women in music. The term Riot Grrl uses a “growling” double or triple r, placing it in the word girl as an appropriation of the perceived derogatory use of the term.

The movement sprang out of Olympia, Washington and Washington, D.C. in the early 1990s. It sought to give women the power to control their voices and artistic expressions. Its links to social and political issues are where the beginning rumblings of the third-wave feminism can be seen. The music and zine writings produced are strong examples of “cultural politics in action, with strong women giving voice to important social issues though an empowered, female oriented community, many people link the emergence of the third-wave feminism to this time”.[29] The movement encouraged and made “adolescent girls’ standpoints central”, allowing them to express themselves fully.


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