Second Wave Squared

Sunday, September 7th, 2008 · 32 Comments »

For the past few months I’ve been talking in bits and pieces about the new wave of feminism that Hillary Clinton’s campaign jump-started. The thrill of seeing a woman reach for the presidency, combined with the trauma of seeing that dream despoiled by the latent sexism and misogyny in our society, has sparked a feminist awareness more acute than anything we’ve experienced since the 1970s.

Events have moved so quickly that what seemed impossible six months ago is suddenly here. As recently as February of this year, I was reminiscing about the Second Wave, despairing over the Third Wave, and wondering if there would ever even be a Fourth Wave:

The feminist circles I was exposed to in the 70s were made up of women of all races and nationalities and backgrounds. What we talked about, what fascinated all of us, were the commonalities between us. A middle-class Jewish girl and a Lakota woman comparing notes. A privileged wife and a prostitute realizing that they were both fucking for their supper. Black women and white women talking urgently together about their menfolk, about the “race traitor” business and that whole godawful clusterfuck.

And through it all the realization that if women were ever going to be liberated, it would be because we’d done it ourselves, working together as women. That we couldn’t rely on any other justice movement to do it for us. Not humanism, not Marxism, not pacifism, not the civil rights movement — nothing. Because no matter how hard women worked or how much they threw their hearts into those other quests for liberation, at the end of the day it was mostly just the men who got free.

Yep, we knew all that then. And those days are gone. Gone, gone, gone. Gone, she said. Gone.

I have no idea how to bring them back. But I think we need to try. I think if feminism is going to have a fourth wave — if the dream of women as fully human is to survive into the permanent consciousness of the species instead of being embalmed as a quaint relic of the 20th century — then we’d better figure it out.

That was February. Much happened in the ensuing months, and by June of this amazing election year I was writing of a new wave of feminism in the land. Even women who hadn’t personally supported Hillary for president were nonetheless appalled by the way she’d been treated. The sexism and misogyny on display in the media was nauseating. The second-class treatment Hillary received from her own party was shocking.

The “Trashing of Hillary,” as I’ve called it, was the lit match — but there was already a pile of tender just waiting to catch fire. Women are sick of sexism, sick of the culture of misogyny that seems to be growing more callous by the day. They’re tired of the toothlessness of “establishment” feminism (NOW, NARAL). And they’re exasperated with the appeasement strategy that seems to be the stock-in-trade of so many Third Wave feminists. Both toothlessness and appeasement are the result of the backlash, of course; we all understand that feminism has had a hard row to hoe these past couple of decades. But a new day is dawning.

I like to refer to this growing Fourth Wave as the Second Wave Squared because it is, in so many respects, reminiscent of what happened in the 1970s. It isn’t academic feminism, it isn’t a politically pure ideology, and it isn’t restricted to a small homogeneous subset of women. It’s a big, messy, grassroots phenomenon that crosses all boundaries.

And that thrills me.

One of the projects I’m working on is emblematic of this renewed spirit of ecumenicism: The New Agenda, a non-partisan group that’s committed to increasing women’s power, status, and representation in every area of society. I’ll write about that more in my next post.

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32 Responses to “Second Wave Squared”

  1. ElleR says:

    Thanks, Violet, for this great post. I have been really depressed by recent events, but also energized — as I think it is now no longer possible for anyone to deny the existence of misogyny in our culture — although I am sure some will continue to try.

    I’m trying to come up with a new way to address misogyny/sexism which does not deny differences between men and women, but which seeks to define humanity in a way which does not position the human male as the standard for the species. If “Man” is no longer the standard, then being different from “Man” does not mean being inferior.

    I have been working on a post forever for my own blog trying to express and explain what I think needs to happen. It is tentatively titled “Are Women Human? Do We Want to Be?” But, it is not posted yet.

    Bottom line, I am taking the post-modern tack that if our perception of reality is culturally constructed, then we, ourselves, are culturally constructed. So my new working definition of humanity is not “creature with free will whose reason is the key to survival,” (the definition which has been used to deny women full member ship in the species); I choose to see humanity as the only species which is biologically determined to be culturally constructed, with our cultural constructs being the key to our survival. Which means, if the current constuction isn’t working in humanity’s best interests, we are forced to come up with other, more beneficial constructs.

    Clearly, patriarchal values are no longer working and we need something new. So, I am looking forward to your New Agenda. Meanwhile, I’ll continue trying to do my part.

    Thanks, again. Your post was just what I needed this morning.

  2. Gayle says:

    I’m in.

  3. Anna Belle says:

    Awesome, Violet. We’re still on the same page. I’m working on the rhetoric of conversion right now, trying to reach as many women as I can. I’ve got the first part of the series up, and will post the second and third parts later this week. Readers can click on my name to access my blog. (I’m trying not to spam your blog with links to mine)

    I like Second Wave Squared, but I don’t think this is reminiscent of just the second wave. It’s equally reminiscent of the 1st wave, especially the Alice Paul faction which radicalized many comfortable women into participating. I’ve been bandying about titles myself. So for, I’m thinking of The Working Wave as a possibility, because working class women really are leading this wave so far. What do you think?

    ps. I’m so checking out The New Agenda. Sounds really exciting.

  4. Violet says:

    You’re not spamming Anna Belle. I’m always happy to hear about your posts.

    I think the Fourth Wave is the name that’s going to stick. A surprising number of people who write to us at The New Agenda say, “so, is this the fourth wave?”

  5. Er says:

    This is really exciting to me.

    This is the first election I’ll be able to vote in, and let me tell you it’s not exactly the best welcome into politics. Although I guess that’s sort of the nature of politics.

    Anyway, my point is: thanks.

    I think I’d like to be a part of this new wave.

  6. Briar says:

    Another great post. I have just points to add. The first is that marxism, socialism and the rest didn’t succeed in freeing men either, or not poor, working class men. The middle class took over and ensured the benefits were strictly rationed and differentiated and they got them. Maybe if the movements hadn’t been run by men but by women, and if they had targeted women and not men, everyone would have benefited. There would have been real progress.

    My belief is that all real progressives are feminists and all real progress starts with women.

    My second point is that much of the misogyny and sexism was promoted by women. Women turned on Hillary and attacked her with venom. And I am not talking about religious right women. I am talking about “creative class” liberal women. They could be trusted to ignore the sexism and celebrate any tool that took down the bitch they hated. Gloria Steinem rocks now she is attacking Palin. When she supported Clinton, she was attacked for doing so.

    So long as women fail to see that any kind of misogyny, whichever woman it is directed at, hurts us all, we will all be hurt by it. The Obama-supporting women who turned on Hillary and are now, sniggering girlishly as they invent nastily sexist slanders and sneers against her, attacking Palin as a woman, not a toxically right wing politician, have much to answer for. The problem is, they can’t even see that *they* are a large part of the problem. They’ve turned their backs on feminism and forgotten why it is so vital, not just to women, but the entire human race.

  7. Janis says:

    I like to think of it as a realignment of feminism, and a slap in the face reminder to all of us that feminism has more to do with setting concrete legal goals of access, money, and power than in crowing about your pink gel vibrator collection and your book contract.

    This feminism is about WORK.

  8. Janis says:

    Briar, I’ve said elsewhere that for white-collar creative class women, feminism isn’t a movement. It’s a HOBBY. An excuse to collect books. Nothing more.

  9. marirebel says:

    In response to the dismissal of prior waves of feminism by later wave feminists, Ecofeminist theologian Catherine Keller critiques the idea of the linear progression of feminism . . . first, second, third, wave etc. She proposes instead a more elliptical understanding less trustful of linear progress. She talks about recycling “the grand creativity of these beginning-feminisms counter-apocalyptically. It is less important to count the waves of feminism than to practice the wave-action of our movement.” So feminism is not about coming full circle or coming to closure, it is about picking-up, gathering and splaying out in myriad old/new directions of wave-action.

  10. Sis says:

    Fourth wave sounds good. Twice two, puts paid to three.

  11. Sis says:

    Janis says:

    Briar, I’ve said elsewhere that for white-collar creative class women, feminism isn’t a movement. It’s a HOBBY. An excuse to collect books. Nothing more.


    Fuck you Janis.

  12. anna says:

    Let’s not call it “the working wave” since that might alienate homemakers. The Fourth Wave souds good to me. What do you all think?

  13. kenoshaMarge says:

    Count me in. I’ve been waiting a long time to see the women’s movement rise from the dead.

  14. r.sikes says:

    Disclosure: I’m a guy, and a Utilitarian Feminist, meaning talent is spread so thinly on the ground, that to pay attention to the shape or appearance of the talent’s packaging – is, almost surely, impoverishing.

    I am also Southern and Western, and strong women who make their mark by dint of talent, hard work, … rather than connections/husbands/fathers are pretty special: think Ann Richards and Condi Rice as equal and equivalently admirable bookends.

    Hillary was an immensely polarising figure, for reasons both: valid & in- , including her sex, but one fact stands out very clearly: she ran an incompetent, reactive, pedestrian campaign and Obama’s campaign was brilliantly conceived and executed.

    For the life of me, I cannot understand why anybody who has paid even scant and passing attention to Democrat/left politics is one bit surprised or hurt: a) ‘power’ is the end, b) the means are justifiable, unimportant and forgivable, and c) sacrifice/scarification/amputation of any minority group (no matter how loyal) is … unfortunate, but … ‘Hey, look at the bigger pikker – We Win.’

    The New Agenda and all other ‘Fourth Wave’ approaches are interesting, however if ‘feminism’ is to be a real, serious, perpetual force and power, it has to have a bigger tent, this iteration, else it will continue to be ‘a group’ in the political sense. A pawn, if you wish, or perhaps a knight, in the great game.

    Frankly, I don’t see it (bigger tent, inclusion, recognising of self-proving non-movement feminists (read: Sarah Palin AND Condi Rice AND Ann Richards who have walked their own path) happening.

    my dos pesos and YMMV


  15. MountainSage says:

    I think we have a huge challenge in reaching out to younger women. Recently on my message board there was a young female supporter who joined to apologize to the Hillary Clinton supporters for not seeing the sexism earlier and for being a part of the sexist slurs against her.

    I think many of us were caught unawares by the sexism leveled at Hillary Clinton…the changes in the workplace had lulled us into believing sexism was at least almost a thing of the past. Basically we got blindsided.

    I don’t agree with much of Sarah Palin’s politics but I’ll defend her against sexism.

  16. Ugsome says:

    rsikes, I think you could stand to read this:


  17. Violet says:

    That Riverdaughter link is to a comment by Janis, and it’s a great, great comment.

    Sis, I gather you’re mad at Janis, but she can make one hell of a point. Go read that comment.

  18. r.sikes says:

    rsikes, I think you could stand to read this:

    Yep. Thanks.

    I had read the post, but not the comments. Janis was more eloquent and complete than I in her synopsis.

    And, of course, Obama IS laughing at the silly, angsty, shrill, whiny Clintonistas & PUMAs.

    He knows ‘you’ WILL ‘come home’. Most already have, of course, if the polls can be believed.

    As a poster on an earlier thread here suggested, the Clintonistas SHOULD flow downhill into McCain/Palin filling vugs, folds and crevices, insinuating and begining the process of broadening and deepening their influence – but they won’t, of course. Anybody that does not believe in the power of ONE was not paying attention to the faces of the old white hardshells at the RNC … ‘now THERE’s a woman we can respect.’ There are jillions like her, (albeit invisible) of both the left and right persuasion.

    Obama is right, however. And he’s laughing at ‘you’.

  19. Ciccina says:

    Fourth wave – I love it!

    I’m the right demographic to be Third Wave, but right from the start (early nineties) I never felt part of it. I always felt that there was a group of women who were doing the hard work in obscurity, staffing this or that social justice group with grinding hours and low pay, or working as social workers and teachers and nurse-midwives (and so on), or just regular working hard and carrying the feminist torch. And then there was a group of “annointed” Third Wave feminists, daughters of privilege and in some cases daughters of wealthy Second Wavers, who had their leadership roles handed to them on a silver platter. Like the daughter of a certain feminist author who, right out of college, was annointed a leader by dint of a “freedom ride” on buses across the U.S., which accomplished zero.

    (Actually, I could have said all that with the much shorter “As a have-not, I’ve always resented the celebrity Third Wave haves, and still do.”)

    I like “Fourth Wave” because it is inclusive of newly awakened and/or young feminists as well as those who feel excluded from, or are critical of, Third Wave feminism. I’m not Second Wave – my mother is. But I don’t consider myself Third Wave. Fourth Wave sounds good to me!

    Sorry about the rambling…

  20. Janis says:

    … white-collar creative class women …

    In reply to the “fuck you,” are we making an unwarranted assumption about my OWN collar color and the type of work I do for a living?

  21. Anna Belle says:

    I think that “fuck you” directly translates as “ouch,” Janis.

  22. FemB4Dem says:

    I doubt Obama is laughing in the face of the polls showing the Palin bounce not only whupped his sorry Greek Temple bounce, but vaulted McCain/Palin into the lead. In fact, I had a run-in with an Obamabot fundraiser that tells me Obama is more likely crying. For the past month or so when this formerly trustworthy source for Dem money has been called on at least a weekly basis, I have declined, saying I am a Clinton voter not voting for Obama. The response had been uniformly polite — thank you, sorry to hear that, please listen to Obama and give him a chance, blah, blah, blah, thank you for voting for downstream Dems. Since Palin, the Bots are screaming mad, wanting to fight. I debated one for a good 15 minutes the other day (I enjoy wasting their time). He was primed with an array of BS that at times made me laugh out loud. Had another one today — same BS. Seems to me the Obots now have orders to argue us “home.” Plus, the letters to the editor in my Sunday hometown paper were filled with “you stupid women” letters from recognized Obots, saying “how dare you not accept that Obama is good for women and Palin is not.” Yep, running scared. I love it.

  23. RKMK says:

    Plus, the letters to the editor in my Sunday hometown paper were filled with “you stupid women” letters from recognized Obots, saying “how dare you not accept that Obama is good for women and Palin is not.” Yep, running scared. I love it.

    Someone needs to take a clue-by-four to these nitwit Obots, because, holy crap, they do not get that they are going to lose this election for him.

  24. anna says:

    So Violet, are you ever going to write about the Olympics, or at least the opening ceremonies? I really would love to read it.

  25. Sis says:

    Ahhh no on both counts Janis and defender. It’s a wry “fuck you” with bemused expression. I educated myself by reading. And reading and reading. I love books but bought few.

    It’s quite lopsided, my education, but for the most part was free. Libraries are free.

    Yes, I think you’re telling me something. You envision a white collar, maybe white academic or aspiring to be enrolled in WS or trolling nightly with book budget. Well no. Books are available to anyone, an eduction for the taking.

    Carry on. This thread as all here, educational.


  26. Sis says:

    Oh Vi I’m sending you to my very favourite Canadian journalist, right now. Heather Mallick will love it here too.



  27. Yanni.Znaio says:

    Ugsome says:

    rsikes, I think you could stand to read this:

    Well said.

    Thank you, Ugsome, for pointing out Riverdaughter’s post to us.

    And thank you, Riverdaughter, for one of the most perceptive analyses I’ve read on the Web in quite some time, not to mention for exercising neurons so deftly.

    Best regards,


  28. slythwolf says:

    Ciccina, please do not apologize for your rambling, because I identify with every little bit of it. You said everything I wanted to say. Hooray for the Fourth Wave!

  29. julia says:

    Violet, this is great. I’ve been waiting for you to write a post on this. I feel it in my blood and it’s ben building ever since December, and gotten stronger every time they attacked Hillary.

    Feminism is not just organized activism, it’s helping other women in everyday life. I stand up for women every day, help women emotionally and financially, call out sexism when I see/hear it.
    This may sound small but all of this adds up – to make one woman in my day feel less alone is a lot.

    It’s rarely popular being the only onwe to call out oppression, but I refuse to pretend that I don’t see it, or that it doesn’t hurt me.

  30. Keri says:

    Definitely in. Can’t believe I’ve been forgetting to read your blog! All your latest post have been echoing what I’ve either thought or said.

    Except one comment- the Third wave started out exactly the way you described this new wave, but got co-opted by younger upper class whites (and a few elite African American women like Rebecca Walker) who turned what started as a young lower middle clas and poor multiracial, many sexual orientations group of people who admired second wavers and were happy to recieve aid from some of them- into sex-poz elitists who trashed the second wave and the third wave founders as “man-hating prudes” “feminazis”, etc… They co-opted the third wave because the women like me who founded that wave had to go out into the real world and work and didn’t have the time or resources (no WWW back in the early 90′s to blog on, and few places had public access to the early semipublic internet (and most those places were colleges and universities.) Thankfully, now many of us who aren’t of the upper economic classes do have access to the internet and can connect through blogs. The difference with this wave will be is that is not going to be generationally based, but class centered (of all races) We are almost all people who make less than 50K a year. (the majority of Americans earn less than 50K a year- 75% of us.)

  31. donna darko says:

    The Obama Movement and the Third Wave are cults. Sociologist Leon Festinger wrote that cults require a change in thoughts, information, behavior or emotions to diminish the cognitive dissonance required of its members to remain in the cults. The Obama Movement and the Third Wave change emotions about race and racism to diminish cognitive dissonance in the Obama Movement in which nothing adds up and the Third Wave which is essentially anti-feminist.

  32. someofparts says:


    What you are saying fits with what I’ve observed. Conservative women I’ve known all my life spoke about what happened to Hillary – women who never noticed before. And I was just posting at Echidne’s blog that I get the impression well-heeled Republican women are as unhappy with their party’s sexism (Palin over Hutchinson?) as I am with the Democrats (please stop using that photoshopped picture of Palin in the stars-and-stripes bikini!).

    I remember what the heyday of Second Wave felt like. Watching the generations after me have to come of age during the backlash has been horrible. I’ve always wished women born after me could know what it felt like when feminism mainstreamed – women everywhere speaking to each other with new respect, all those pathetic turf wars for male approval forgotten in the excitement of building something together for our daughters.

    If a new generation of women is about to have that experience, please excuse me while I weep for joy.