Homework to Do: A Review of Third Wave Values in a Fourth Wave World
Let’s talk about women supporting women, a value that garnered a new level of awareness in the Third Wave of Feminism. Specifically, how this value indefinitely decides the success or failure of the movement that keeps trying to move on without it.
“What is holding feminism back?” I wonder in the routine way that you read through a bus schedule. A quick google search will resound ubiquitously with “other feminists”. It sounds like a scathing critique by the fabled masochist that wants nothing more than to shit all over feminist values, struggles & lived experiences, but this truth has been bleeding through feminist literature since the Third Wave.
When it comes down to it, we are holding each other back, and therefore ourselves. Feminism cannot accomplish much when it does not come to the table as one cohesive movement with the same goals. Unfortunately, white feminists have a history of thwarting the progress & needs of intersectional feminists. Third Wave feminism sought to understand the “layers” of oppression that coat women of different races, classes, sexualities, etc. and the sum total force that such life-long influences have on the self-esteem, abilities and identity of a woman struggling for equality. The Womanist movement took a slight detour from this thought, actually turning it on its head, by stating that these cultural influences define the way that we understand our own ‘womanness’; the ways we relate to our perceived femininity.
In lieu of these evolving definitions of what it is to be a woman, and that one woman’s definition very likely does not match her sisters’ definition, it is integral to the cause of feminism that we incorporate the needs of all incarnations of women into the efforts we collectively display. Judit Moschkovich breaks down the implications of this compartmentalized (and therefore weakened) feminist force: “Think of it in terms of men’s and women’s cultures: women live in male systems, know male rules, speak male language when around men, etc. But what do men really know about women?
Only screwed up myths concocted to perpetuate the power imbalance” (“But I Know You American Woman,” 1981) . When this lack of real knowledge is applied amongst women of different cultures, classes or sexualities, the entire movement suffers because of it. If women cannot accept the struggles of their sisters - from trans-women to poverty line to Asian American to black lesbian - as their own, the collective force of feminist action will be continually stunted and unable to accomplish much.
The Problem with Separationists
Mirtha Quintantales in I Come with No Illusions (1981) laments “What are the implications of separating myself from American women and creating a separate community with women I identify as my counterparts? It means for one thing that I am admitting failure. Failure to adjust, adapt, change, transcend cultural differences. Yet this is not only a personal failure. It is one which I share with millions.” By refusing to relate, by refusing to involve ourselves in the diverse struggles of feminists with backgrounds different to our own, we continue to condemn our chances for progress. Especially in the isolationist culture of America where even those privileged enough to have the resources to examine the unique struggle of her intersectional sisters continually chooses to leave such important work on the back burner, feminism continues to be crippled by the impotent force of exclusionary action. This goes specifically toward middle-class white women who remain largely blind to the nuances of intersectional experiences. Moschkovich iterates “I believe that lack of knowledge about other cultures is one of the bases for cultural oppression…How can one feel guilt about screwing over someone/some country she knows nothing about?”
Ignorance is Not Bliss
This issue expresses itself (across all races, classes, sexualities and gender entities within the feminist movement) as diversely as there are feminists to act. It comes when women debate who is more oppressed than who. Cheryl Clarke in “Lesbianism: An Act of Resistance” (1981) states blankly “So, all of us would do well to stop fighting each other for our space at the bottom, because there ain’t no more room. We have spent so much time hating ourselves. Time to love ourselves. And for that, … is the final resistance.” It comes when an English-speaking woman subjugates another woman’s concerns for her specific experience of oppression because she speaks a different language. It comes when we minimize the impact that race, class, gender identity and sexuality have on the immediate needs of women. It comes when we continually file down the focus of our cause to, ultimately, what serves immediately ourselves, rather than those in our coalition.
Call to Action
The first step is accepting the presence of these inbred, stereotyped faux-insights about other cultures, classes and gender or sex identities, and recognizing that the knowledge we think we have about marginalized peoples comes from the twisted lens of media and traditional supremacist values. The next step is seeking out education for ourselves, rather than expecting another marginalized person to do the footwork for us. These necessary actions are true for all feminists that want to elicit some change in the world she must continue to struggle in. Racism, classism and other forms of discrimination are present [though perhaps disproportionately] from all perspectives of the collective movement, and therefore need to be re-examined by all sides. Without compassionate action for each other, we can hardly expect to accomplish anything for the collective.