Leslie Heywood, Jennifer Drake, eds. Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Doing Feminism. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. x + 268 pp. $20.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8166-3005-9; $44.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8166-3004-2.
Reviewed by Lauri Umansky (Suffolk University)
Published on H-Women (June, 1998)
Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Doing Feminism, edited by Leslie Heywood and Jennifer Drake, attempts to do a lot. While its success is only partial, it a valuable addition to a growing literature on "third wave feminism."
As the editors state in their introduction, contemporary feminism, as articulated by young women (third wavers were born between 1963-1974, according to Heywood and Drake), cries out for definition and recognition. One agenda here is to reclaim feminism from those who have declared it dead or no longer necessary. Another agenda is to wrestle ownership of the vast and variegated project of feminism from the few, highly visible, media-anointed generational spokespersons--namely Naomi Wolf, Katie Roiphe, Rene Denfeld--who present a constricted and "conservative" politics to those who will listen. (Older media darlings like Camille Paglia and Christina Hoff Sommers come in for a lot of criticism, too.) Toward these goals, the anthology goes far. The editors and several of the contributors make one thing clear: the bifurcated model of "victim feminism versus power feminism" propagated by some young, self-proclaimed, feminist writers obscures the full content and process of "feminism," as defined by other young women with an equally strong investment in feminist theory and praxis.
What then is the agenda of the third wave, according to the writers here? That information is hard to extricate from the dense, heavily jargoned prose of most of these essays. But perhaps the jargon itself provides the answer. In the editors' seventeen-and-a-half page introduction, the word "hybrid" (or hybridity or hybridizing) appears no fewer than ten times. "Contradiction" is another favorite term throughout the volume. In other words, these writers seem intent on not defining, categorizing, or narrowing arbitrarily the meanings of feminism. Pointing to the foibles of second-wave feminism (e.g. the often unintended politics of exclusion created by women who declared "sisterhood" among all women, but in terms relevant only to their own lives), third-wavers possess a dauntingly astute awareness of difference, particularity, malleability, and identity. In other words, they bring a thoroughly postmodernist sensibility to their thinking. This makes for rough reading, because almost every declaration of belief, thought, and perception gets hedged with caveats about internal contradictions and the like. However, the intention behind this hedging is good, and it points to one of the central premises of the feminisms presented here: no one's experience speaks for another; feminism, like everything else, cannot be universalized across all the categories it embraces.
In terms of content, the thirteen essays in this volume take up a number of topics. The delineation of third wave feminism itself fills a lot of space. Beyond that, the writers explore the meanings of various representations of feminism, femininity, and masculinity in contemporary society and popular culture. Leigh Shoemaker revisits her youthful obsession with the Rollins Band, troubled now by the "fascist" masculinity groups such as this parade. In a long conversation (some editing would have helped here), Ana Marie Cox, Freya Johnson, Annalee Newitz, and Jillian Sandell puzzle over the complicated ways they have played with masculinity as part of their own identities; they show how unstable such concepts really are, for better and for worse. Jennifer Reed writes a lively piece on "Roseanne: A 'Killer Bitch' for Generation X," showing how Roseanne Arnold, older though she is, exhibits "third wave sensibilities" (p. 124). Indeed, Reed sums up nicely what others here take much too long to say:
For third wave feminists, there is no one right way to be: no role, no model. One of the strengths of third wave feminism is its refusal of a singular liberal-humanist subjectivity. With no utopic vision of the perfectly egalitarian society or the fully realized individual, third wave feminists work with the fragmentation of existing identities and institutions. If third wave feminism distinguishes itself from the second wave in any definable way, it is in its emphasis on making room for contradictions. We struggle to accommodate the differences and conflicts between people as well as within them. Third wave feminism looks for, ferrets out, and defines our contradictions--which ones we can live with, which ones we cannot, in ourselves, in our society-and those depend on the context...Roseanne models the courage we need (p. 124).
Two pieces in the anthology stand out. The first, Michelle Sidler's "Living in McJobdom: Third Wave Feminism and Class Inequity,"deals with the angst many young people feel in a shrinking (real, livable) job market, and how that despair relates to feminism. While she offers few answers, Sidler conveys effectively the inner state of progressive-minded young people as they emerge into "real life." The second exceptional piece, "HUES Magazine: The Making of a Movement," by Tali Edut, with Dyann Logwood and Ophira Edut, traces the creation of HUES, a "magazine that encourages intelligence and self- sufficiency 'for women of all sizes, ethnic backgrounds, and lifestyles'" (p. 83). Edut tells a good story, interweaving her own college experiences with the trials of getting an independent feminist magazine off the ground. Her piece, alone in the volume, makes for good, narrative-based reading.
It is no accident that I praise most highly the least theoretical essay in the volume. This assessment reflects my own discomfort with literary theory and cultural studies generally. However, if, as the editors state at the outset, they wish to reach beyond academe with their message, to present essays that "give an emotional life and a personal stake sometimes missing from academic writing, while maintaining an analytic focus" (p. 2), they have not fully achieved their goal. Analytical to the extreme, these essays will be comprehensible to only the few, trained in certain academic departments, conversant in the highly specialized language spoken there. And that is too bad, because the messages behind the buzz of language in Third Wave Agenda seem important for more of us to hear and understand. Someone translate, please!
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Lauri Umansky. Review of Heywood, Leslie; Drake, Jennifer, eds., Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Doing Feminism.
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