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26. Feminist waves and different generations


shutterstock_178065278-matrioshkaIn light of recent feminist activisms that have attained a high degree of media visibility – such as the campaign to have women represented on bank notes and the Everyday Sexism project – a fourth wave of feminism has been proclaimed.  When feminism is understood as a series of waves it implies that there is a feminism that is specific to each generation. As many of the third wave feminists were the daughters of second wave feminists, it has been understood through the metaphor of the mother-daughter relationship (Henry, 2004). Each new wave is seen as a criticism of previous waves, as each generation sees themselves as more ‘knowing’ than the past.  Whilst thinking about feminism in terms of waves of subsequent generations allows a focus upon what is new, sociologists have started to highlight that there are also important continuities.

Much has been made of the capacities of technology to transform feminism – seen in terms of how the internet enables activism – yet there are also persistences in inequalities in everyday life and also in how activisms are organised – seen for example in the resurgence of Reclaim the Night marches. Seeing feminism as a series of waves also seems to imply that there is an absence of feminist activism in between; when we reconsider the supposed 4th wave of feminism – this is also a question of what activisms attain media visibility. In the book Why Feminism Matters, Woodward and Woodward (2009) argue that we need to look at these continuities and to build an intergenerational dialogue to see how to develop and build upon previous feminist critiques through the lens of the present moment.


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