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.
Much of the credit for the proclamation should go to a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale. A prominent writer and editor, Hale had written the children’s poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in 1830, and helped found the American Ladies Magazine, which she used as a platform to promote women’s issues. In addition to her publishing work, Hale was a committed advocate for women’s education (including the creation of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York).
She had grown up regularly celebrating an annual Thanksgiving holiday, and in 1827 published a novel, “Northwood: A Tale of New England,” that included an entire chapter about the fall tradition, already popular in parts of the nation. Hale often wrote editorials and articles about the holiday and she lobbied state and federal officials to pass legislation creating a fixed, national day of thanks on the last Thursday of November—a unifying measure, she believed that could help ease growing tensions between North and South. Her efforts paid off: By 1854, more than 30 states and U.S. territories had a Thanksgiving celebration.
She continued to write editorials on the subject, urging Americans to “put aside sectional feelings and local incidents” and rally around the unifying cause of Thanksgiving. Abraham Lincoln himself called for a day of thanks in April 1862, following Union victories at Fort Donelson, Fort Henry and at Shiloh, and again in the summer of 1863 after the Battle of Gettysburg.
Shortly after Lincoln’s summer proclamation, Hale wrote to both the president and Secretary of State William Seward, urging them to declare a national Thanksgiving, stating that only the chief executive had the power to make the holiday, “permanently, an American custom and institution.” Within a week, Seward had drafted Lincoln’s official proclamation fixing the national observation of Thanksgiving on the final Thursday in November, a move the two men hoped would help “heal the wounds of the nation.”
After more than three decades of lobbying, Sarah Josepha Hale (and the United States) had a new national holiday.
Footnote: In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt briefly moved Thanksgiving up a week, in an effort to extend the already important shopping period before Christmas and spur economic activity during the Great Depression. Several states followed FDR’s lead, others balked, with 16 states refusing to honor the calendar shift. Just two years later, in the fall of 1941, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution returning the holiday to the fourth Thursday of November.
“Historical mythmaking is made possible only by forgetting. We have to begin, then, with the first refusal to face reality: most colonizing schemes that took root in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British America were built on privilege and subordination, not any kind of proto-democracy. The generation of 1776 certainly underplayed that fact. And all subsequent generations took their cue from the nation’s founders.”
Quote from page 5 of the Introduction to White Trash.
The Boys of Summer, 1954
By Jim Sizemore
I’m in my bedroom, lights out. It’s my mother’s third-floor apartment on Linden Avenue, two blocks south of North Avenue. Ernie Harwell’s words seem to float to me out of the glowing orange dial of my tabletop radio. The small fan next to it is set on high with scant effect in the humid heat. Ernie is telling me—play-by-play—that our new Baltimore Orioles are losing another game at Memorial Stadium. But that’s okay, at last we finally have a big league team. Thank goodness the radio is loud enough to muffle the voices of my mother and her new boyfriend, William “Wild Bill” Denton. They are in their bedroom arguing about money.
Meanwhile, I peer out of my window at the couple across the street in their second floor apartment, rolling around on what appears to be a daybed. It can’t be a regular bed, because it’s low enough to fit just below the lip of the windowsill. They’re covered by a white sheet, out of which an occasional pale body-part juts. I guess they’re trying to catch what little cool air there is. My one wish is that if I watch long enough, the sheet will magically work its way off and slide to the floor. They must believe—like radio’s Lamont Cranston, aka The Shadow—that they have “the power to cloud men’s minds,” making them all but invisible.
(Click images to enlarge.)
In the summer of 1954 I was sixteen, my seventeenth birthday due in early October. When I was twelve, after many years of violent conflict, my parents had separated. Over the next four years I was farmed out to various relatives in Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky—mostly my three half-sisters’ families. But now I wanted to control my own fate and had worked my way back to Baltimore to share my mother’s home. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
It wasn’t long before I realized that “Mr. Denton,” as I called the small and wiry Wild Bill, was a problem. With regular construction work, he treated my mother and me pretty well. But a slack time in the building trades became an invitation to booze-ville for Mr. D. He needed my help with expenses, and seemed to resent me for it. I didn’t mind helping because I sold lots of newspapers out of a large green newsstand where North and Linden Avenues met—a dynamic corner with several streetcar and bus routes converging. I easily earned enough to help with food. At times I even managed part of the rent money. In fact, there were weeks when the only cash coming into the apartment was from my newspaper sales. I loved being able to help my mother financially. That summer—for the first time in my life—I felt like a grownup.
That said, I was edgy about our living arrangement. My mother was right back in a situation similar to the one we had experienced with my father, and once more I felt powerless to protect her. At some point, concern about the fights with Mr. Denton must have overcome what common sense I had, and I bought a large hunting knife, complete with scabbard. “Just in case.” One sweltering evening, during an extra-mean fight when he grabbed her—or at least grabbed at her—it all happened too fast for me to be sure—I wound up face to face with Wild Bill. It was all very confused; I was in some sort of frenetic daze. Mostly I remember forcing myself in between them, he and I spitting out blasts of profanity. Despite my bad case of the shakes, I somehow found the courage to pull my shirttail up to display the weapon, and at that the action slowed to a sweat-like trickle. Then my mother’s desperate pleas from the sidelines shut our little scene completely down.
The very next morning, my mother sat me down for The Talk. We quickly agreed it was time for a change—that I had to move on again. My only good option was the military, but since by law I was still a minor, she had to sign so I could enlist. And of course she did. My induction date was set for early October—all I needed do was to survive the rest of that summer.
On the nights my Baltimore O’s were far behind, I’d turn the radio off and go to sleep. Other times I’d leave it on, very low, and let Mr. Harwell’s southern-accented voice lull me to sleep. And there were those nights—the Orioles ahead or behind—when I was just too wound-up to nod off. Then, inspired by the drawings of the Morning Sun cartoonist, Jim Hartzell—especially his animated Oriole Bird sketches—I’d try to make up a cartoon about the game I’d just heard on the radio; the drama and frustration and elation of it all. I’m sure the images—the best of which I would eventually find the courage to send to Ernie Harwell—were crude and amateurish, little more than sketches, doodle-like. But I worked hard to make the ideas better than the visuals—and I hoped, funnier. Of course they were never near the professional quality of a Jim Hartzell cartoon. Up to then, my only art training had been finger-painting in elementary school. When I sent my first batch of “work” to Ernie Harwell, care of WCBM, I didn’t expect much. I certainly didn’t expect Ernie’s voice, a day or so later, saying my name on the radio. He praised my cartoon idea and even the drawing. I was shocked.
After I’d mailed in more drawings, Mr. Harwell shocked me again. Again he spoke to me by name and praised my work. But this time he also invited me to visit Memorial Stadium. He even gave me a phone number to call for my free pass to the game of my choice. Plus the biggest prize of all—a special pass that would get me into the broadcast booth. On the appointed day I remember being at the stadium, walking the steep ramp to the upper levels, running down the hallway to the broadcast booth. I knocked on the unmarked door and was admitted, out of breath and in an emotional fog. I know I spoke to Mr. Harwell, his partner Bailey Goss and a radio sound tech guy, but I don’t remember what anyone said. When the meeting was over—it seemed to have gone by so quickly—I do remember Mr. Harwell announcing to his radio audience: “This young man is going into the army in October, and I’m very proud of him, as we all should be.” Then, winking at me, he smartly saluted.
60+ years on I view the summer of 1954 as a mash-up of bad and good. Sure, I lost the dream of a fresh start with my mother, but on the other hand I learned that—to coin a cliché—growing up simply means moving on. And yes, the Orioles lost 100 games that first season, winning only 57. But, thanks to those O’s being there for me, and Mr. Harwell’s encouragement, and discovering the cartoon work of Jim Hartzell—plus moving on to three years of interesting military experiences—I gained a glimmer of several career possibilities. Even today I’m still on the path to—to what? Well, for one thing, I think I’m smart enough now to know that it’s always too soon to speculate about what may come next. The one thing I do know is that I’m really curious to discover what it may be.
Copyright © 2017, Jim Sizemore.
This is an edited re-post.
Thanks to Florence Newman for her expert help on this essay.
“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