Feminism Surges With A Third Wave
By Jo-Ann Pilardi
This is a slightly shortened version of the original essay titled American Feminism Surges On With a Third Wave, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Johns Hopkins, Fall/Winter 2017, Vol. 27, No.2.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, an activist women’s movement arose in the U.S., then internationally; it would later be labeled “the Second Wave,” and our 19th century movement—ending in 1920 with the suffrage amendment—would be called “the First Wave.” Reflecting the spirit of the ‘60s, the movement called itself not a “wave” but a liberation movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement: liberation fighters for women’s rights. I was one of them.
In fall of 1969, when I moved to Baltimore and started teaching Philosophy at then “Towson State College” (now Towson University), I jumped right into the movement, joining an energetic collective of women who’d started the magazine Women: A Journal of Liberation. We worked from a modest second story office on Greenmount Avenue. I was active in Baltimore Women’s Liberation (BWL) as well (office: same building—3028 Greenmount Ave., Waverly, also home to the People’s Free Medical Clinic). BWL formed coalitions (e.g., with Welfare Rights); engaged in projects (e.g., Red Wagon Day Care Center; Women’s Growth Center); published a newsletter (Cold Day in August); and created the Speaker’s Bureau, for the numerous requests we received, e.g., from the Kiwanis Club, high schools, community groups.
So much was accomplished during the ‘70s: women’s studies programs were created; rape crisis centers and women’s law centers were founded; critical issues were fought in the courts—reproductive rights and pay equity, to name just two. One of the most famous, the Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade (1973), paved the way for full control by women of their bodies. Sadly, its power was immediately weakened by the Hyde Amendment outlawing the use of federal funds for abortions, meaning poor women were denied that right.
Then came the ‘80s backlash—caused by the Religious Right; Falwell’s Moral Majority and Schlafly’s Eagle Forum were central. New books praised the traditional secondary role of women, some suggesting they use sexual traps to achieve their goals. During this, the Reagan era, many Americans came to share his conservative views. The women’s movement eventually went underground; there was no longer a strong activist presence, though there were important court cases, successful litigation, ongoing projects—even federal legislation: the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, the product of years of activism during the 80s and early 90s. In ‘80s Academia, feminist theory tackled motherhood and incorporated gender difference into its claims of gender equality.[i]
The 1990s saw a re-surgence of feminism develop into what is now called the Third Wave. Twenty years after the women’s liberation movement, and when some said we were post-feminist, our daughters created their own space, issues, and methods. Mothers and daughters don’t always agree, and these daughters disliked the Second Wave’s overriding analysis of oppression; they called it (wrongly, I think) “victim feminism.” They also faulted it (rightly) for its lack of attention to race and class. “Intersectionality” became one of the touchstones of this wave: seeing interlocking connections between race, gender, sexuality, class, religion, abled/disabled, and more. Just before the great Women’s March of January 21, 2017, a Huffington Post article described the Third Wave: “The new feminist icons must include women of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, races, religions, sexual orientations, and ethnicities . . . (because) the remedy for the age-old criticism of feminism is so simple—the third wave . . . must be this: when all women (not just the ones that happen to be just like we are) are more equal, we are all more free.”[ii]
Inspired by the success of the gay rights movement, a critical area of this wave has become sexual preference, eventually to be labeled “sexual diversity.” No longer a question of accepting lesbians into the movement (Betty Friedan famously refused to do that in NOW’s early days), today we celebrate sexual diversity—bisexuality, homosexuality, heterosexuality, transgendering—even asexuality, as “LGBTQIA” replaces “LGBT”: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual.
Raised in the rigid ‘50s and early ‘60s when “the madonna and the whore” (Doris Day/Marilyn Monroe) were girls’ only options, Second Wave women objected to the sexual objectification of women as embodied in fashion, makeup, and film, as well as in the behavior of males. But now its daughters decide which fashion, makeup, body decoration (including tattoos and piercings) they’ll use, leading to a “Girlie Culture” of uniqueness in decoration, hair, clothing. And as young women have changed, so have young men; many (not all) are no longer stuck in the “women are sex objects” mind-set of the Mad Men era. They’re more willing to move beyond macho masculinity, allowing themselves to develop as sensitive human beings. Unfortunately, online dating culture is undoing some of this progress.
The Third Wave also influences popular culture, as some performers (indie and mainstream) work out their own brand of feminism, e.g., Le Tigre, Ani DiFranco, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Regina Spektor. The feminist blogosphere is phenomenal as well. (I was introduced to much of this developing my last course before retiring: “American Women and Popular Culture.”)
If you’re looking for a good introduction to the Third Wave, read Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future (2000), the “bible” of the Third Wave, now almost two decades old. Authors Baumgardner and Richards, both born in 1970, fairly credit the Second Wave for its accomplishments but also express the Third Wave’s disappointments in it.
SO: While there have been conservative setbacks in the U.S, there is also a body of feminist accomplishments and legislation that will continue to grow—out of the First and Second Waves, and through the Third Wave, Fourth Wave, and beyond, into what we hope will be a happier and healthier future for all.
Jo-Ann Pilardi is retired from Towson University where she taught Philosophy and Women’s Studies for 38 years. A working-class Italian from Pittsburgh, she moved to Baltimore in 1969 and was active in women’s movement groups through the 1970s. Currently, she teaches for Johns Hopkins and TU’s Osher Institutes, reads and writes, gardens, travels, and studies jazz piano.
Two paragraphs and an image from a Wikipedia entry:
“May you live in interesting times” is an English expression purported to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse. While seemingly a blessing, the expression is always used ironically, with the clear implication that ‘uninteresting times’, of peace and tranquillity, are more life-enhancing than interesting ones, which from historical perspective usually include disorder and conflict.
Despite being so common in English as to be known as “the Chinese curse”, the saying is apocryphal, and no actual Chinese source has ever been produced. The most likely connection to Chinese culture may be deduced from analysis of the late-19th century speeches of Joseph Chamberlain, probably erroneously transmitted and revised through his son Austen Chamberlain.
“The pursuit of knowing was freedom to me, the right to declare your own curiosities and follow them through all manner of books. I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.”
Between the World and Me
Spiegel & Grau, New York
“I identify with the millions of working-class white Americans of Scots-Irish descent who have no college degree. To these folks, poverty is the family tradition—their ancestors were day laborers in the Southern slave economy, share-croppers after that, coal miners after that, and machinists and mill-workers during more recent times. Americans call them hillbillies, rednecks, or white trash. I call them neighbors, friends, and family.”
J. D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy
Harper Collins, New York, 2016
David Lean was known to say this about the film making process: “I love making motion pictures . . . I love getting behind a camera and trying to get images on the screen. I love cutting and editing. I love putting all the parts together at the end: The sounds, the music, the dialogue. Making a movie is the greatest excitement of my life . . . I love life and I don’t want to die. I want to go on making movies.”
I’m no filmmaker myself, but Mr. Lean’s words give me a sense of what it must feel like to be one. A good quotation can do that. Here are several more small gems of wisdom from famous filmmakers, beginning with that genius Ingmar Bergman, who tells us what he thinks film isn’t: “Film has nothing to do with literature; the character and form of the two art forms are usually in conflict. This probably has something to do with the receptive process of the mind. The written word is read and assimilated by a conscious act of the will in alliance with the intellect; little by little it affects the imagination and the emotions. The process is different with a motion picture. Putting aside will and intellect, we make way for it in our imagination. The sequence of pictures plays directly on our feelings.”
Meanwhile, movie director Robert Penn put’s his attraction to film this way: “In the theater, the reliance is on the verbal. Film is how one looks, as against what one says. On the stage, you can’t document that. You’re too far back. So what one says is what one is . . . You don’t have to say it in a film. A look, a simple look, will do it.”
Milos Forman, points out the difference, in terms of reality and unreality, between theater and film: “ . . . you know, in the theater you don’t pretend that what you see on the stage is reality. But in films. . . . automatically the photography enables you to pretend what you see on the screen is reality. So I am disturbed when in that reality I see theater.”
Bernardo Bertolucci seconds that: “My primary choice is one against the theater. I believe it is easier and better for me to shoot from reality, to take a position in the geography and environment of real space.”
Director and former standup comic, Elaine May, also compared film to life, and found life wanting: “Yes, there is truth in movies. No, movies are not like life. They are constructed in advance. They have a beginning that has probably been rewritten several times, a middle that has been cut and reshaped, and an end that often has music over it. Most movies . . . have a confrontation scene that provides some kind of insight that affects the characters or the audience, or both. In life we have hundreds of such scenes, scenes in which we say the worst thing we can say, in which each person tells what he thinks is the whole truth. Two hours later we have the same scene again. Nothing has really changed. You can’t get any insights. You usually just get mad. Movies or plays can sound natural, or seem real, or have truth, but they can never be like life. After all, they’re not supposed to run over two hours. “
For some, film offers a unique opportunity to explore the unconscious mind. “I think that the nature of movies is images that are more concerned with our desires than any other part of reality. The nature of movies is to connect with our unreal selves. Freud said that every unexplained dream is a letter from the unconscious which is not opened. Dreams can put us in touch with deep realities, and films are very good nightmares.” Dusan Makavejev, Yugoslav director, offered that pithy opinion in Ciné-tracts, the Spring, 1977 issue.
That master of cinema surrealism and automatism, Luis Buñuel, agrees: “The screen is the superior way of expressing the world of dreams . . . . The cinema seems to have been invented for the expression of the subconscious.” But he thinks films often fail to do this: “My aspiration as a film viewer is to have the movie uncover something for me and this happens rarely.”
Director Arthur Penn, says: “Film offers the opportunity for constant contradiction between what is said and what is done. It’s closer to how we really experience life. I’m saying that, but I’m really feeling this. And these two things are going on at once. Ambivalence is closer to the human feeling than the simple Eugene O’Neil statement: ‘My father was a bastard.’ That sort of statement that says everything and nothing. Well, film is the exquisite medium for expressing ambivalence. A man says one thing, but his eyes are saying another thing.”
The great film director and former cartoonist—and therefore, beginning with the walls of caves, one of the original image makers—Frederico Fellini, adds this: “Indeed, what is it to make a film? It is naturally, a question of trying to bring order to certain fantasies and of narrating them with a certain exactness.”
Up to this point, our film directors have been dealing, mostly, with abstraction. Now giving his view on the story—the creative “spine” of the film as some might call it—here is actor-director Dennis Hopper: “I believe that you start a movie very slow, very slowly drag people in up to a certain point. Then, just as they get a little restless, you start socking it to them. This makes me favor the episodic structure, like music—something that moves along with short breaks in it: you keep giving people something new, keep building pressure. The you cut off, relax, go for a ride.”
Robert Bresson claims he drags people into his movies: “As Dostoevsky frequently does, I present the effect before the cause. I think this is a good idea, because it increases the mystery; to witness events without knowing why they are occurring makes you want to find out the reason.”
And finally, directly addressing our original question, former standup comic (with Elaine May) and award-winning film director, Mike Nichols, defined film most simply and perhaps best: “Movies are mood . . . . The thing about something that’s made right—whether it’s a novel, or an opera, or a film—has to do with being hung on a spine . . . The more solid it is, maybe the truer it is.”