The search for a unified identity of the younger women's movement is no new topic of discussion. Early on in the New Millenium several young feminist scholars organized to begin planning a conference to raise questions on the future of the women's movement. In fact, this future was so uncertain that they acknowledged they were unsure of what questions even needed to be raised, but that someone must begin asking questions. (1) So, they began preliminary plans for a conference in which the main agenda was to decide on determining a theme for the future of feminism.
This type of struggle to identify and maintain focus in what is now more popularly called third wave feminism is not unique to this conference. Since the early suffragists began calling for equal rights for women to be educated and to vote, the exact identity of women's rights has had an ebb and flow over the centuries. Most scholars identify this fluidity with gender equality movements as coming in "waves." (2) The first wave began in the eighteenth century with women such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Susan B. Anthony, and Sojourner Truth calling for the right to education and to vote for women. The second wave emerged in the middle twentieth century in the United States with the leadership of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. During this second wave, women's political rights were questioned again: the private becoming political as a theme and a rallying point for the movement. However, the beginning and focus of the third wave is exactly the place of concern in this paper.
Some scholars today do not recognize this description of the three waves of feminism. (3) The question of the identity of the latest form of feminism is nuanced in reason and manifestation. Some thinkers attribute this to the reluctance of younger women today to identify themselves as feminist, while holding to the ideas of and enjoying the privileges of the women's movement. Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, prominent third wave feminists, compare issues of the second wave of feminism with fluoride in the water. Feminism has become such a common part of Western thinking and identity that it is simply in the water, we scarcely notice its existence. (4)
There also are a variety of forms and names of newer types of feminisms. Eco-feminists exist for those primarily concerned with the environment. (5) Marxist feminists, Muslim feminists, Chicana feminists, and womanists are all various forms of feminism with unique concerns and strategies. (6) There also is the issue of feminists who hold diverse places in society. During the second wave, women who contributed to the formation of feminist thought were largely in the academy. (7) With third wave feminism, however, this is no longer the case. All young women, no matter their job or social status are encouraged to take action and live out their feminism through daily activism.
The quandary for these women, however, is the focus for their activism. Should they defend the rights of religious freedom; lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender sexuality; AIDS/HIV awareness; universal healthcare; abortion; access to education; and the list goes on and on. (8) Some have suggested that this plurality of issues and concerns for third wavers is related to the problems and concerns of mass culture today. Anxieties related to terrorism, natural disasters, technology, and globalization alone give rise to questions pertaining to individual identity as well as cultural identity. Therefore, the reasoning for the lack of identity and focus for third wave feminism is complex on many levels.
There is one concern that spans the three waves, however. It is the right to equal opportunities for education for girls and boys. When Mary Wollstonecraft wrote her Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792, she formed her argument for education around the basic human right to learn and to think. Today, the right to equal education in developing countries is still one of the foremost needs of women. …