Desire - Third Wave Feminism, Budgeon.docx

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Western University
Women's Studies
Women's Studies 2283F/G
Andrea Allen

INTRODUCTION: DEFINING THE THIRD WAVE – BUDGEON  In this literature the case is often made that feminism has reached a key turning point in its development and that questions must be asked about its applicability to contemporary gender relations and transformed late modern social conditions  Is now accepted that feminism itself is characterized by diversity, fragmentation and a series of internal contestations  Debates have waged around which aims and objectives ought to be pursued within a context where greater levels of gender equality have been achieved and women’s autonomy has been enhanced  Feminism asserts that women suffer discrimination because of their sex  At times analyses of the contemporary state of feminism reveal a desire for a return to authenticity and coherence – ideals often projected onto a mythical feminist past, associated with the women’s movement  Attempts to define feminism ought to give way to the acceptance that contemporary feminist practice features by a substantial degree of ambiguity and disagreement  Claims made on behalf of the third wave feminism are far from uncontroversial and indeed the significance of the phrase third wave feminism is the subject of a debate yet to be resolved  Third wave feminism is born out of contradictions, complications and a lack of predictability; and it carries these features into its self definition  Third wave functions as an essentially contestable signifier that may be taken up and used by feminist academics and activists in a plurality of different ways  Despite conflicts over definitional issues and inconsistencies in usage, the phrase third wave is meaningful insofar as several dimensions are repeatedly associated with it and these cohere to the extent that it is feasible to regard them as constituting a distinct form of feminism  Third wave feminism is defined as a new body of thought, characterized by notions of identity, difference, contradictions and embodiment  This emphasis on difference translates into a set of key concerns around which third wave perspectives unify  A commitment to affirm difference complicates feminist analysis by replacing universalizing categories of identity with a conceptual framework that emphasizes fluidity, multiplicity over singularity and contradictions over consistency  Third wave feminism is motivated by the need to develop a feminist theory and politics that is able to honour the contradictions that constitute women’s identities; and achieving this necessitates embracing ambiguity while maintaining a commitment to work inclusively with those particular differences  Waves suggest a relationship of both continuity and discontinuity with a greater whole  Women who advanced the politics and scholarship now designated as part of the second wave of feminism continue to identify with those practices and to advocate their significance  Strategies used to define the third wave often involve perpetuating the idea that older feminists have distorted the truth about difficult issues, either through ignorance or narrowness  Diversity within feminism has more to do with variations in climate than with inherent differences in politics  Third wave feminism is thereby invoked as a political delineation, and not as an inevitable phase in the evolutionary progression of feminism  In other words, the lack of any natural or obvious boundaries makes the motivations for asserting the beginning of a new wave more clearly political ones  Third wave feminism therefore, is rooted in the questions raised by feminists of colour and lesbian and queer theorists about the nature of identity, the meaning of gender and working through some of the contradictions elicited by such questions  Challenging the foundational assumptions of existing feminist frameworks – such as a unified feminist subject – has resulted in a form of feminism that focuses more upon how individual women understand and claim their own feminist identities  Themes of self expression and self determination run through the literature, and this dimension of third wave feminism is one of its defining features  Third wave feminism lacks sufficient coherence to have any political force  This individualism therefore imparts a sense of entitlement and confidence that is owned to the establishment of feminism, although it is not always harness in the service of aims associated with earlier waves  The mainstreaming of many basic feminist aims has converted gender equality into a recognized social good, and yet this phenomenon is taken by some to mean that gender relations no longer constitute an area of concern  Third wave feminism has been made possible through the establishment of feminism and its widespread social
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