When I found out the headline for this interview was going to be “Fourth Wave Feminism,” I instinctively made a face. (Not unlike the faux-pensive mess of a pose that I had going on in the accompanying picture.)
You see, I’ve never been a fan of the “wave” model for feminism. In addition to contributing to generational tension, it just doesn’t seem accurate to me. As I said in the interview, I know self-identified third-wavers who are much older than me, as well as those who are much younger. And the differences that feminists have aren’t age-related as much as they are disagreements of models of thought and action (though age influences that, as well).
I do think, though, that feminists today do things differently than feminists in the 60s, or the 90s, or shit ““ even two or three years ago. That’s the incredible thing about feminism ““ it’s constantly evolving. After all, we kind of have to; the world and sexism and patriarchy aren’t stagnant things, so we can’t be either.
I also think there’s something to the idea that there’s a new model for feminism being built online. For better or worse, the internet has changed feminist organizing, writing and networking forever.
Women no longer have to seek out feminist communities in their towns – an impossible task for some. (One young woman I met at a conference told me she was literally the only feminist she knew.) Now, feminists can find support and community online. Real life activism is being organized through email, Facebook and Twitter. And the ability to have a strong presence in the feminist movement has been somewhat democratized, as well ““ it used to be if you wanted power in the feminism, you had to live in DC or NY and be tapped into the established feminist elite. Now all you need (at least to start) is an internet connection.
That’s not to say that online spaces are some sort of feminist utopia ““ far from it. Women’s voices are marginalized in larger political and social spheres online just as they are offline; U.S. feminism runs the risk of recreating the same paradigms of power and privilege that taints its history with racism, classism and homophobia; and online harassment, a problem that just seems to grow exponentially, serves as constant reminder that even though feminism is online, the backlash is there too.
So maybe the work we’re doing is the fourth wave. But it’s probably more accurate to describe what’s going on online as fourth waves. Because there’s not one cohesive movement, or one feminist platform, or one feminist leader. There are multiple online feminisms and feminist communities. To some, those who feel a social justice movement needs a monolithic center, the idea of “waves” may seem disorganized or odd. But really, it’s perfect.
For too long feminists believed women had a common cause simply by being women (and understanding “woman’ to mean one particular thing). Waves is a more truthful representation of women’s lives and the way they do feminism ““ because we don’t all have the same priorities, the same hopes and dreams, the same immediate needs and concerns, the same experiences or the same lives. (Hello, intersectionality!)
And while some worry that abandoning the idea of an all-encompassing feminism (if one ever truly existed) means giving up political power or that it muddles what feminism actually is, the truth is that intersectionality and multiple waves is inherently feminist. Because it gives room for us to organize based on our lives and experiences, and to do feminism from the ground up and the margins in.
And the terrific thing is ““ all of these different waves do constitute a movement. They’re all moving in the same direction, sometimes overlapping, sometimes pushing each other, but always making room for different entry points along the way.
So perhaps I was wrong; maybe the wave model is useful after all – if we use it to honor the complexity and nuance that is feminism, instead of relying on a strict framework that homogenizes what is, in its essence, wonderfully complicated.