Against Generational Thinking, or, Some Things That 'Third Wave' Feminism Isn't

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Editor: Janet Witalec
Date: 2004
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 6,257 words

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[(essay date spring 2001) In the following essay, Hogeland identifies three distinct phases of feminist writing from the 1960s to the present, noting that the different generations of feminists suffer more from an evasion of dialogue than overt disagreement.]

In the 1980s and 1990s, feminists began to worry about "the next generation" of feminism. In 1983, Ms. Magazine published a "Special Issue on Young Feminists," and the first of the several books and anthologies asserting a "third wave" of U.S. feminism uniquely the province of young women appeared in 1991 (Kamen, 1991; Wolf, 1993; Findlen, 1995; Walker, 1995; Heywood & Drake, 1997; Baumgardner & Richards 2000). In this essay, I offer two stories about my own history with generational rhetoric in order to illuminate some of the ways that it can be inflammatory and divisive. More importantly, as I will argue, the rhetoric of generational differences in feminism works to mask real political differences--fundamental differences in our visions of feminism's tasks and accomplishments. Given the uneven successes of the movement, the unevenness of change in women's lives and circumstances, the unevenness of change in institutions, such fundamental differences are inevitable. Feminists are differently situated in relation to what feminist movement has (and has not) accomplished, and generation is perhaps the least powerful explanatory factor for our different situations.

I want to locate these different visions of feminism not in relation to generation, then, or in relation to the naïve vision of the history of feminist movement that names young women's feminism a distinct and separate "wave," but rather in relation to the most important and undertheorized issue in contemporary feminism: the relationship between consciousness and social change. I trace three understandings of that relationship in early second wave feminism, locating them in feminist work on the practice of consciousness raising (CR). I then explore the distinct political meanings of CR in each of these understandings: CR as recruitment device for a mass movement, CR as personal transformation, and CR as a mid-point between theory and action. Each of these points to a distinct vision of feminist movement, and these contrasting visions are the real political differences in feminism.

Each of the three kinds of feminism I identify has been claimed as the province of a particular feminist "generation." Mass-movement feminism has been claimed both as a specific hunger on the part of young(er) women, and as a kind of feminist orthodoxy against which young(er) women rebel. Personal-transformation feminism has been claimed both as the particular vantage point of old(er) feminists, and as a struggle specific to a later generation of feminists. Theory-building/zap-action feminism has been claimed for grrrl/girl feminism, though such a claim obscures its stylistic similarity (at least) to such second-wave activities as the 1968 Miss America Pageant demonstration and Redstockings' disruptions of the New York abortion hearings in 1969. There is, I argue, nothing specifically generational about any of these feminisms; they are political stances with particular histories in the movement. They may be differently nuanced for...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100053072