I’ve written before about the three waves of feminism. But is there a fourth?
To recap (and simplify):
- First wave – women advocating for the vote (turn of the 20th century)
- Second wave – ‘women’s liberation’ movement, including equal pay in the workplace and sexual independence (60s and 70s)
- Third wave – a backlash against the rigidity of the second wave; expressing ‘my sort of femininity’, whether it be hyper-sexualised behaviour, blurring gender distinctions and/or the return of the Stay At Home Mum. (90s and noughties)
The first and second waves were organised and had specific goals. The third is more individualised, personal and portable. The fourth wave is the third wave in public space – often online. It takes the personal choices of the third wave and advocates for them. Think of it as Third Wave, with an agenda.
Take the issue of reproductive rights. One perplexing issue for Christians has been why feminists are creating space to talk about how they feel about their abortions, even offering counselling services. On one hand, conservatives claim victory – feminists themselves are experiencing the horror of abortion. But then, they ask, why do they still advocate for a woman’s right to choose right alongside offering counselling services? Wouldn’t it be better to just ban this damage in the first place?
Welcome to the fourth wave. Note the progression: women have choice (second wave), it doesn’t have to be a good choice (third wave), and that is lived out in public space and it has a right to be there (fourth wave).
Feminism hasn’t been this communal since the second wave. (I wonder whether this is why many Christians have failed to interact with the Third Wave.) It’s brought the opportunity for men to consider themselves feminists as well and to join the discussion. However, as Clem Bastow points out, there’s a temptation there for the discussion to shift to what feminism means for men:
Sure, patriarchal ideals of masculinity are problematic, as is war. But for the most part, the patriarchy is still spectacularly good for men (it’s why they earn more than us for the same work, to begin with). The more time we spend discussing men’s issues as feminist issues, the less space there is for the discussion of issues – many of them life-or-death – that plague women.
Note that she’s not against men advocating for women: “If men want to fight the good fight alongside us, good for them.” She’s just asking that feminism doesn’t get side-tracked.
I enjoy the corporate aspects of the fourth wave. I’m looking forward to continuing to be a part of it!
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.