Monday, September 7, 2009
Janet Halley proves that third-wave feminism is wrong - wrongly decribed, that is. Young feminists in the United States tout a "third wave" of feminism that is hip, ironic and playful - the supposed opposite of the dour and strident "second wave" of 1970's feminism. Goodbye frumpy sandals; hello sexy fishnets, according to third-wave feminism. Initially young women themselves (and now writers and scholars) embraced a pervasive wave metaphor to convey the belief that differences within feminism are generational. Youth crashes against (and ultimately overtakes) its elders. But rifts within feminism cannot be so neatly explained. The story is more complicated than third-wave vs. second-wave, young vs. old, fertile vs. menopausal. The wave metaphor obscures a more complicated story of the power of labels. "Feminism" is such mighty label that third-wave feminists want to remake it and Janet Halley wants to take a break from it. In spite of their different vocabulary, though, third-wave feminists and Janet Halley share similar goals and methods. Feminism has no use as a label -- a theory, even -- unless it yields to the complex realities of human experience.
This essay explores the goals that third-wave feminists and Janet Halley share. They have similar purposes and methodologies, but they differ in the vocabularly they use to describe their goals. Third-wave feminists embrace the feminist label when Halley wants to leave it aside, at least temporarily. The core idea of both third-wave feminism and Janet Halley's Split Decisions is a departure from a certain kind of feminism -- a feminism does not account in a meaningful way for some women's desires for sex, subordination and (sometimes) sex that is subordinating. Third-wave feminists and Janet Halley and third-wave feminists share an affection for the interstitial, the spaces between theory and experience. That space remains unexplored and messy - with no neat division between waves or breaks to be made.