Archive for August 3rd, 2009

… I’ve puzzled for most of my adult life about the third wave of feminism, longing for a connection with an organized and active women’s movement that always seemed just beyond my vantage point. I searched diligently for it in my undergraduate and graduate careers, in quests that led me to join women’s groups and co-found a feminist blog. I read countless collections and many first-person essays. And after almost 15 years of searching, I’ve finally come to the disappointing conclusion that the designation third wave is a profound misnomer, and that looking for a groundswell is a fool’s errand. Even as I had that thought last year, calls for the fourth wave began in earnest, though again, as of this writing, no feminist tsunamis are evident.

After a disappointing wade into the shallow third wave, I’ve come to think that the watery metaphor should be tossed out altogether, and our focus aligned away from the coming of the next bout of sisterhood-is-powerful. Instead, we should set our sights on tangible, civic-minded outcomes: documenting and protesting the inequality that still structures women’s lives in the United States and abroad, for example, rather than debating the nature of feminism itself. In this work we can perhaps inspire generations to come, but more importantly, we will create productive action today. Feminism has been so utterly focused on the engagement of new generations and the faults of the past that it has for some time misplaced its sense of purpose in the now. …

The focus on newness inherent in our current use of the wave metaphor has made feminism vulnerable to consumerism. The quickest way for younger feminists to appear as the next new hot thing has been to call the second wave passé. “Strident feminism can seem out of place — even tacky — in a world where women have come so demonstrably far” … The passé problem is particularly evident in the third wave’s output, as it seeks to truss up feminism as desirable and sell it to women in their thirties and younger by defanging the political edge of the movement, essentially making feminism marketable. Mainstream feminists organizations are also guilty of trussing up feminism for a new age. … The result of such fuzzy campaigns, says feminist scholar Jane Elliott, author of the recent book Popular Feminist Fiction as American Allegory, is a level of feminist engagement comparable to green-minded consumers who call themselves environmentalists after buying a bar of herb-infused eco-friendly soap.

If an easy and palatable feminism is antithetical to feminism’s real task—to incite major, structural change—then what has been the use of third wave feminism? At this point, its major accomplishment seems to have been selling books and supporting speaking tours of minor celebrities who have attached themselves to the third wave brand. Where earlier generations of feminism formed press collectives to circulate their work to eager audiences, third wavers find themselves at home in major publishing houses, from Random House to Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Viewed kindly, the third wave of feminism ensured that women’s rights remained an issue in the public’s mind, despite these shortcomings. Viewed uncharitably, a position I am inclined to take, the third wave channelled what was left of the women’s movement into mainstream banality. …

The quality—and the significance—of work offered by third wave feminism suffers from this intermediary position. For example, both second and third wave feminists are concerned with violence against women. But while second wave feminist Susan Brownmiller’s groundbreaking book Against Our Will: Men Women and Rape helped institutionalize legislative and procedural changes and attacked the idea that women “were asking for it,” Jennifer Baumgardner recently began a multimedia public awareness campaign about the continued prevalence of rape to “inspire discussion”. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with public discussions of rape; indeed there is so little wrong with it, so little controversial about it some thirty years after Brownmiller’s game-changing book, I wonder if a third wave campaign is needed to make the point, particularly as it sheds little new light on rape today, other than to point out it still occurs and is still painful, facts noted on an annual basis by the Take Back the Night rallies on college campuses across the U.S.

These marked contrasts and sharp exchanges between the second and third wave of feminism result from a larger cultural conversation from the turn of the century post-backlash years. The argument engaged in intergenerational spats and the softer approach of the third wave is primarily about popular perceptions of feminists: Are they militant, sexless, and dogmatic or sexy, freethinking, and label-less advocates for equal rights for women (and men)? The problem is, as others including Faludi have noted, this is a false dichotomy. The vision of 1970s feminists as eunuch cranks is not actual history, it’s a fantasy produced by the widespread cultural rejection of and ridicule for feminists, perhaps best exemplified by the label feminazi, popularized by Rush Limbaugh’ radio show and still widely used to discount any feminist conversation challenging enough to cause discomfort. In this definition, feminism seeks not equality but domination, and feminists are unappealing shrews who systematically stomp out the traditional joys of life: beauty, sex, children, love, and pleasure altogether. …

Rather than dismissing ridiculous claims about the feminists and proceeding with the work at hand, feminists—younger feminists in particular— responded to the caricature of feminists as if it was a reality. To make feminism more appealing and less dogmatic, “choice feminism” arose as a defining element of the third wave …

Choice feminism, also called lifestyle feminism, marked a transition from addressing social inequity to a celebration of the individual, focusing so much on personal choices that first-person narrative defines much of third wave writing. Indeed, its genesis was a 1992 first-person article in Ms. Magazine where college sophomore Rebecca Walker, daughter of famed novelist Alice Walker, declared herself the third wave (quite baldly: “I am the third wave,” she wrote). …

The basic problem with this vision of feminism, as Faludi noted in her exchange with Lehrman, is that “for most women, the choices you are talking about are a bourgeois luxury.” Women who chose to stay at home or work, to crank out the zines and websites that Manafista touts, even to spend their time reflecting leisurely on their life choices, are for the most part women of a particular class. “My idea of feminism is all about changing underlying socioeconomic conditions,” Faludi says pointedly, asking “Is yours?” Lehrman freely admits that it is not, saying that women need equal opportunity, not an equal outcome.

The lack of a broadly imagined social justice continuum in which feminism is placed robs the first person reflections of the third wave of a rightful claim to the slogan “the personal is the political.” “Feminism promised that one could become more conscious of the social forces limiting one’s life, and that from this new awareness positive change could come. That is what the much-maligned slogan ‘the personal is political’ meant,” Katha Pollitt explains in The Atlantic in 1997. “It’s precisely the presence of sisterhood and a women’s movement,” Faludi argues, “that keeps personal improvement from becoming navel-gazing or consumerism.”

Choice feminism’s focus is profoundly misplaced, taking up the wrong issues, and not only in its anger directed at earlier feminists. Rather than displacing the idea that feminists are all the same—presumably this was the point of Baumgardner and Richards’ description of their dinner party guests—what falls by the wayside is the idea that gender inequality exists, that it affects women disproportionately depending on class status, race, and nationality, and that feminists have a responsibility to address this inequality. …

Perhaps the neglect of these serious chasms is why feminists of color and feminists from working class backgrounds dismiss the third wave out of hand. “In my experience, I have not met people of color in my age group who identify as third wave feminists,” said Daisy Hernandez, managing editor of Colorlines and co-editor of Colonize This!, in an interview for this article. “The whole third wave thing—and I’m willing to say that this may be limited of me—but I just really think of that as a white conversation. That’s their thing.” Adding that she identifies as a woman of color feminist, Hernandez said much of the discussion of the newness of third wave feminism comes out of an active desire from daughters to separate themselves from the previous generation: “A lot of it is in opposition, a very particular mother-daughter dynamic,” Hernandez said, noting many women of color have a very different attachment to the older generation: “We very much see ourselves as proud daughters.” (This is perhaps why Walker, who famously fell out with her mother, noted novelist Alice Walker, felt inclined to proclaim a new movement.) …

… contrast the treatment of feminism in our national culture to the canonization of the civil rights movement, noting that no statues, national holidays, or annual tributes mark feminism in our cultural history. Women’s rights are the “result of a hardcore struggle and that isn’t out there in the way that the race narrative is,” Simmons argued.

This historical erasure, replaced with a caricature of feminism, is one of the serious challenges posed by the popular backlash against feminism. “I think the major accomplishment of my generation has been in keeping feminism alive in a very difficult political climate,” Elliott said. “Although we have had the advantage of the gains second wave feminism made for women, we have also had to face the ascendancy of the neo-cons, the general conservatism created by a declining economy, and the exhaustion and defeatism of the Left.”

My take is more pessimistic than Elliott’s: rather than reaching a critical tipping point of anger, our generation was redirected. What might have emerged if third wave writers hadn’t rushed to respond to the backlash against feminism with partial acquiescence and marshmallow fluff? I ask this question not to lay the blame for women’s inequality at the feet of third wave feminists, but rather to urge us not to rush into calls for a new wave of feminism, not to replace the organic and deeply felt with a feminism that is packaged and sold. …

a fourth wave of feminism cannot help but repeat the mistakes of the third. Calling for a wave does not a movement make, and manufacturing one will only invite us to continue drowning in the shallow end. Broadening the third wave’s general focus on women’s rights invites the likes of Sarah Palin to brand herself as a quasi-feminist role model, as if “strong woman” and “pro-women” were interchangeable terms. Continuing with the wave metaphor damns us to replicate the same ineffectual model of early twenty-first century feminism. The wave metaphor should not splash along at the expense of the progressive change we still desperately need.

We have long passed the time to stop our navel-gazing as feminists and resume our work on behalf of ourselves and other women; we can wait for and argue about the coming of another wave no longer. Our rights, such as they are, were won by the tireless work of earlier generations of feminists, and obligate us to correct the inequality that continues to structure women’s lives, starting right now.

Edited version of longer article in which Heather Tirado Gilligan explores this issue through interviews with feminist scholar Jane Elliott, Colorlines managing editor Daisy Hernandez, lesbian filmmaker Aishah Simmons, and Chicana feminist Cherrie Moraga. Gilligan proposes feminists drop the wave metaphor and organize around the less socially palatable but more pressing goal of addressing inequities printed at


Although skeptical, I entered Nepal’s development-NGO work formally as a worker five years ago. I wanted to basically test the water. I stress on formally because informally, I have been involved in the NGO-led women’s movement for more than a decade. Let’s say it just comes with one´s family!

My experiences and observations after being a part of this world are shared by many, reinforcing my skepticisms. Even as I write this, I know I am not writing anything new. I merely wish to reflect on my own observations and sentiments, which I hope will allow us to be more innovative in shaping our own reality.

What are we as women’s rights activists so satisfied about? Is it our work? Work, if delved a little deeper has only attempted to scratch the surface of the agenda on social justice and women’s emancipation. We become so self-righteous – to the extent that we blind ourselves from seeing the repeated pattern of the same “rural woman” showing up for every capital-centered meeting on women’s empowerment. Selective empowerment has become the norm of development work in Nepal, that is, if we are to even stick with the term empowerment, which has become meaningless due to overuse.

“Modern” development’s race in modernizing women is such an obvious game; however we pretend to remain oblivious. And the cacophonous NGO-led women’s movement in Nepal knowingly bypasses it. Perhaps, we remain oblivious simply because it is a way of expressing our class solidarity. The phenomenon called the “solidarity of classes” spreads and makes itself comfortable in the most impoverished areas. Development work in Nepal provides more for the class that already has more. The area that I have lived in witnessing the phenomenon is the far-west. The baisi rajyas of the far-west in modern times have only transformed and have taken the new form of NGOs. So what that these far-west rulers of old rajyas cannot collect tax in this modern state Nepal; they can still make more profit running the development business quite visible from their lavish lifestyle and the distorted reality they live in. Then, of course, selective empowerment of a few of their family members or relative-women makes perfect sense and is a brilliant practice of brotherhood, familyhood and even sisterhood. The feminist notion of sisterhood, soul-sister bonding then completely shatters and remains just an illusion. Then, one wonders about the slogans, the marches and the rallies in the capital as well as other accessible district headquarters that takes place honoring and celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8.

Why is it so difficult for us to understand the historical context? The notion of development briefly described above came along with the political rearrangement of the world that occurred after the Second World War when old colonial systems were breaking down. This new notion was and still is so focused in managing the social, economic and now increasingly political affairs of countries, conveniently labeled the third world. Tying to localize this notion within Nepal, far-west can be vouched for as a brilliant example. People (people here means only the upper sections of the society in the far-west, who have great exposure to the development discourses) in the far-west eat, sleep, walk and talk development-NGOised language. Every action is weighed in monetary terms. The most capitalist industrialists would be intrigued by the tricks of monetary dealings that happen under the façade of development work in the far-west.

Seminal work by Siera Tamang critiquing the notion of homogenous Hindu Nepali woman so prevalent in the development discourse here has started making a huge difference. But unfortunately, we (women’s rights activists) are still in a crawling phase when it comes to honing ourselves based on constructive criticism and feedback. As a result, we are still talking the talk, pretending to empathize, which, in reality, yields nothing.

However, a word of caution for those activists and scholars adhering to the very prevalent utopian notion that all women should be united for the larger cause of women’s emancipation and strengthen Nepal’s nascent women’s movement. This might be a little tough to achieve. First, for it to happen requires innovation, not regurgitation of the development discourse that has been handed down to us from the Western world, for whom modernizing means taming the rest of the world in order to continue their hegemony. Purported women’s rights activists have become mere facilitators in modernizing and hence pleasing the Western world. And second, given class contradictions and interests, such coalition requires tremendous effort.

These efforts should bear in mind that every movement anywhere in the world has always had two sides to the coin. The two sides will always be equidistant and parallel to each other. For the socialist women’s movement in Russia, the other side of the coin was the liberal feminists at the time who were primarily elite women. Alexandra Kollontai in a lot of her writings talks in details about the boundaries and class-induced differences among women. The limited notion of equality professed by the liberal feminists was what kept the two movements apart. Their fight for rights and privileges at par with men without challenging the-then existing rights and privileges was in complete contrast to socialist women’s movement’s core of social and economic transformation without which women’s liberation was impossible. The elite and the working class hence could never come together as a single movement as the nature of the fight was so different.

And for us, here in Nepal, the other side of the NGO-led women’s movement (which itself is flawed; how can a movement ever be aid-driven?) is the inability for all women to come together in a unified collective manner. The idea of collective action also has a lot to do with our social class position. Unified, collective voice of the elites itself sounds like an oxymoron as the very nature of the upper class is to single handedly rule. It is also essentially a characteristic of the bourgeoisie that limits itself within the confines of charity, “do-good feeling” so ones ego is boosted and nothing else. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that the NGO-led women’s movement here is almost of the same nature. Women’s rights activists are at loggerheads with each other revealing the very class nature of such competition, so driven by the liberal, individualist notion promoted by the human rights discourse where one only seeks to attain individual name, fame and power. The women’s movement here is a conundrum of wanting to be different and yet desiring to stay the same. The development phenomena further fuelled this possibility and aided the confused upper middle class women of Nepal.

We have yet to witness and be a part of an unadulterated version of women’s movement that sees no individual benefit but a collective commitment to liberate women, recognizing, embracing and acting upon the differences.

Reinforcing poverty, reinforcing the gap and reinforcing a certain class solidarity (that, of course, looked in a historical context serves its complete purpose of hegemony and control) is the gain that Nepal has seen through various aid-driven development schema, a strand of which is the vibrant (?) NGO-led women’s movement.

Retika Rajbhandari

Ukraine has officially made it illegal to publish or hold any pornographic content within the confines of Ukraine. Many groups are asking the President to veto the law that would fine and or imprison you.

In legislation signed last week by Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko, pornography, unless used for medicinal purposes, is officially illegal in Ukraine. Censorship can be anywhere from publishing porn to possessing it.

Any holding of pornography will be a punishable fine of either 850 Hryvnia ($111 USD) or up to three years in prison. Human rights activists and members of the Ukrainian artistic community have asked Pres. Yushchenko to veto the law.

The draft of this new legislation was prepared directly by the Ukrainian government and passed by the Ukrainian Parliament on June 11th, 2009.

Ukraine is not the first nation to ban porn. Many countries are banning it, trying to ban it or have banned it in the past but did not work. Currently, Indonesia has made pornography illegal however, many pornography websites are from Indonesia. Singapore has blocked access to pornographic websites. Hamas authorities of the Gaza Strip have began blocking internet pornography. Australia highly regulates pornographic content in all media formats.

Possession of pornography is now a criminal offense in Ukraine, reports, after Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko signed a law to that effect today. Human rights activists and members of the Ukrainian artistic community had asked the president to veto the law.

The draft of the law was prepared by the Ukrainian government. It was passed by the Ukrainian parliament, the Supreme Rada, on June 11.

Now pornography can be kept only “for medical purposes,” according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice. The ministry also warns that possession of a large number of identical images will be considered evidence of trading in pornography, which is also criminalized.

Punishment for possession of pornography will include fines and imprisonment for up to three years.