Communicating Third-Wave Feminism and New Social Movements: Challenges for the Next Century of Feminist Endeavor

Article excerpt

Abstract: This' article explores the various definitions of third-wave feminism emerging in the U.S. in an effort to facilitate feminist theoretical engagement with theories and strategies characteristic of this area of thought. The article distinguishes key differences among ideas labeled "third-wave "feminism, arguing that some are more useful for feminist theory building than others'. The article also considers' how third-wave feminist ideas may be understood as distinctive of new social movement organization. I argue that feminists must not be mislead by simplistic popular media constructions of third-wave feminism, but should consider uses emerging in other national contexts for more productive theory building.

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"Feminism: It's All About Me/ Want to know what today's chic young feminist thinkers care about? Their bodies! Themselves!" (Bellafante, 1998, p. 54)

Being completely invested in my work as a feminist media scholar means that reading the extended headline noted above, and the complete article published in Time in 1998 produced a palpable and visceral reaction. I found the article, complete with the now infamous "Who Stole Feminism--Ally McBeal?" cover page, while sitting in the waiting room at the dentist. As I read on, I could feel my blood pressure rising, and it was all I could do not to yell back at the columnist, or hurl the magazine across the room (both activities I'd have been comfortable with at home, but such an outburst was not likely to be understood by the other dental patients). At the time, I had been reading and writing about third-wave feminism and postfeminism for a few years, and the outspoken, yet under-informed Ms. Bellafante hadn't bothered tracking down any of the academics or the writings that composed the center of this emerging theoretical terrain. Physically spent from my waiting room fit and cavity filling, I emitted a resigned sigh on the drive home; what else could I expect from an article on feminism in a mainstream media outlet? What I have been far less prepared for is the frequency with which academic scholars have afforded third-wave/postfeminism a similarly limited interrogation, even reproducing Bellafante's assumptions as indicative of third-wave theory.

More than an average amount of confusion over terminology surrounds contemporary feminisms. Many modifiers now appear before feminism--anti-, post-, postmodern-, third-wave-, power--without more specific definition, and often in a manner indicating interchangeability. There is good cause for feminists to seriously and critically engage and deliberate emerging feminist theories, but such discussions are frequently short-circuited by the confused and contradictory

understandings of various versions of third-wave feminism. Additionally, one version of third-wave theory, classified as postfeminism, has oppositional meanings depending on the national context of the theorist, which brings me to the complicated nature of situating this article in a special issue on global feminisms. On one hand, the discussion of various definitions of third-wave feminism has important global dimensions. Indeed, theory building in this area is simultaneously emerging from various national contexts and situations. Ideas are being shared first locally and regionally, and gradually coming into conversation across national contexts. On the other hand, the space of a single article can only adequately encompass a single national context. The discussion here is admittedly U.S.-centric, and attempts to explain the negotiation of various third-wave perspectives within U.S. mass media and the American academic and activist communities.

This history and the struggle for understanding in this context are not useless for considering the emergence of third-wave thinking elsewhere; I believe valuable connections can be made, particularly in countries with similar social and media contexts such as Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. …